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Celia Birtwell

As her accessories range launches in high street chain Boots, the textile designer tells Charlotte Marrion where she gets her ideas from

You’ve designed prints for fashion fabrics, interiors, camping gear and now sunglasses and beauty accessories. How do you decide which projects to get involved with?
It’s great if you can pick and choose projects and if you see eye to eye with the team. All the brands I get involved with tend to be solid British brands. For instance, Topshop, Millets and Boots all have a democracy and heritage. The collaboration with Topshop was fabulous, it was fun and it reintroduced me to a younger audience. I admire how supportive Topshop is to young designers in a world that can be full of unfriendly attitudes that try to confine students to
being commercial before they’ve started. Likewise, this project with Boots is fresh and exciting for me.

Where do you find your inspiration?
I go to the V&A Museum and have a day wandering around. I always seem to end up in the medieval area. I also take inspiration from nature and I visit Kew Gardens a lot. I see everything in patterns, which I think is something I share with people who have a visual or art school background.

Do you think a slow economic climate can drive creativity?
Although I sometimes suspect that people might get frightened and go creatively downhill in this climate, I really admire that 1940s spirit of ‘make do and mend’. Somehow people still manage to express themselves; austerity can produce very interesting things. We are due for a cultural change though, so hopefully the recession will give people a big message and we can all stop being so greedy and start being more spiritual.

How does your work differ now from 30 years ago?
The biggest difference is that I now use computers to manipulate the images, which is excellent for working out repeats. I can now do in a day what used to take weeks. I’m spoilt now as the computer makes it so easy to pick out components from a design. I never start on the computer though; it’s so boring and it’s not from the heart.

When you are designing a print, do you imagine it in its final use or simply as a conceptual print?
It’s quite exciting that as a textile designer your work can go all over the place and that you can dissect elements of it. I’m designing a book jacket at the moment which requires me to watch Wuthering Heights and approach it in a figurative way. I’ve also designed a pack of cards for [homeless charity] Shelter and cakes for [bakery] Konditor & Cook as well as, of course, my home furnishings collection.

What advice would you give to an aspiring textile designer?
Textile designers have a hard time as they are always behind a big designer name. I think Zandra Rhodes and myself are the only two whose names are known independently of the designers we work with. My advice would certainly be to link up with a designer who will give you credit for what you do. For instance, with Ossie [Clark, her ex-husband and former business partner], I always felt I was more than just the fabric designer. However, I have noticed that fashion students and textile students often don’t like each other.

Celia Birtwell is a textile designer who has worked for Topshop and more recently for high street health and beauty chain Boots

My icon

Who is your fashion icon and why?
Coco Chanel. I went to one of her shows with my then husband Ossie Clark in the 1960s and I thought she was the cat’s whiskers. I have always liked what I call ‘schoolgirl clothes’ - that quite prim, uniform look.

Coco Chanel

Chanel broke down so many barriers and created a lot of fashion freedoms that many women take for granted today. Coco Chanel Gabrielle Coco Chanel was born in Saumur, France, in 1883 (although she claimed her birth year as 1893) and was renowned for creating timeless classics such as the little black dress and the instantly recognisable Chanel bouclé suit.

“Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening,” said Chanel. The designer is widely credited with liberating women from their restrictive corsets by offering them a sporty, comfortable, drop-waisted alternative. Chanel was still working up until her death in 1971. The brand has been under the direction of designer Karl Lagerfeld since 1983.

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