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Celia Birtwell

The textile designer tells about her Uniqlo collaboration and why those working in textiles get a raw deal.

Your second collaboration with Uniqlo launched this week, was it always the plan to do two?

Not really. It grew out of just a couple of prints into a full collection for spring 13 and as soon as we finished they asked if I would like to do one using silks for autumn 13. Silk is a lovely fabric which I’ve always enjoyed using and Uniqlo are also pushing their heat tech fibre, which is interesting for me to work with. I have to say I really enjoyed working with them; they were open to all my suggestions which is unusual.

What was it about Uniqlo that attracted you?

They got my prints really well and that’s so important. If they don’t get you then don’t bother is my advice. But they were sympathetic to my work and allowed me to enjoy myself.

Do you have influence on the silhouettes or is it just the prints?

Well they tell you that they’re going to do t-shirts or scarves etc. and they have blocks that they use which are tried and tested so you don’t really have a say there. But the gathered trousers in the first collection were our idea.

Is it mostly prints from your archives?

They’re from the home collection, they’re really furnishing prints and so you just reduce or enlarge the scale.

You’ve worked with Topshop, Millets and John Lewis– do you have any other stores in mind?

I might be doing a children’s collection with a different high street store, but it’s not set in stone. I like a challenge and I like that people enjoy what I do. Things keep happening and it’s a very good profile for me. Topshop was a great one, it was the first time I’d reached a young audience which was very nice for me. I was rather scared, but in fact it was a complete success.

Are textile designers less acknowledged than fashion designers?

Yes, so much is done on the computer now and it shows. High street prints now are done on a computer, which I never agree to because you have to have hand drawn it first. Then you get the eye, hand and heart feeling from it, but on a computer it’s very cold. Textile designers have a raw deal, I was lucky, but not many textile designers have their own name. They get swallowed up by the fashion designer and they take all the acclaim.

Your recognition came through your work with [Birtwell’s deceased ex-husband] Ossie Clark. Have you seen the re-launch of the Ossie Clark label this year?

Well, I didn’t really bother to look at it too much actually. They didn’t speak to me; they didn’t say anything about Ossie’s beautiful past. It’s very hard to go back, it’s all a bit sad in a way as it didn’t really work out as one would have liked and they’re very hard designs to re-create.

Some of the most famous women in the world have worn your prints, is there anyone who epitomises your look?

Rachael Weiss wears my clothes quite a lot, she’s got a collection. I think she’s quite a beauty, so I’d mention her as a current person rather than going back to the golden oldies.

Do you wear much print yourself?

Not really, I wear my scarves and some bits of print but I don’t think it suits me too much, as I’m quite short.

What are some of your favourite pieces in your autumn 13 collection for Uniqlo?

There’s one called Darcy, a T-shirt with vertical stripes and posies on the bottom, which was a surprise piece I really like. There’s also a simple trellis dress, and I always have trellis in my collections. It’s very wearable.

How does it feel to be opened up to a newer, more affordable market, given that your rarer vintage pieces are now so expensive?

Well they’re just so reasonable; I mean a scarf for £10 is really a joy. They’re so well-made; it’s been a revelation to me. The digitised printing is very clever.

How did it feel to become a CBE in 2011?

I was very honoured, very surprised. I went and met the Queen which was such a high honour. I’d say it was one of my proudest moments really.

Who is your favourite fashion designer?

It’s evolving always, but I suppose my all-time favourite is Chanel. I’m still keen on black and cream and I liked those pieces best really.

Do you have a favourite item of clothing that you own?

I’m a big Agnès B fan, so I’ve got quite a few of her clothes.

Where is your favourite place in London?

I’ve got a soft spot for Portobello Road. It’s where I learnt my craft.

What is your favourite song?

My favourite composer is Puccini, but I’m also rather keen on Adele. She has a lovely voice.

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