Her love of fabrics took the textile design consultant from the Welsh hills to the Paris couture houses, via a US road trip.
After leaving her father’s sheep farm in the Welsh hills aged 18, Beryl Gibson pursued her love of textiles all the way to Central Saint Martins College in London. A US road trip and chance encounter at the offices of Vogue followed, kicking off her career as a textile design consultant. She now freelances for retailers, designers and textile mills worldwide, advising the likes of the UK Fashion & Textile Association, the Campaign for Wool and Australian wool authority Woolmark.
How did you first become involved in textiles and design?
I followed my childhood passion for art, design and craft to the Urdd National Eisteddfod competition (the Welsh cultural youth festival), which I won two years in a row at the ages of 12 and 13 for my watercolour views of the local countryside in Powys. Growing up on a sheep farm in the Brecon Beacons, I was always attracted to woollen textiles and left Wales for London at 18 to specialise in woven textiles at Central Saint Martins. Three years later I started at the Royal College of Art (RCA) studying woven textiles design and started spinning wool from our family sheep to make textiles for my final degree show.
What kind of work do you do?
As a freelance textile design consultant I collaborate with UK textile mills like Samuel Tweed [of Huddersfield], Camira [of London] and Ulster Weavers [of North Down, Northern Ireland], as well as international mills such as Shandong Ruyi in China, Banaras Silk in India and Ormo in Turkey. Some mills have in-house design teams, so I act as a consultant. For those with no design team I work on a contractual basis across different projects. I also research, source and develop fabrics for designers and retailers like Arcadia, Asda, Harrods and Disney.
From my London studio, which is packed with handlooms, yarns, fabrics and archives, I work two years ahead of the current season. I use colour and trend information to develop personalised recommendations for clients. I love creating trend mood boards and displays.
Where do you find inspiration?
Travel, art galleries, museums, nature, exhibitions, antique fairs, people watching, magazines, visiting trade shows - the list goes on.
What are the key textile trends for spring 16?
I represent the UK textile industry on the Première Vision colour and textile committee and I can tell you spring 16 fabrics will be more textured and tactile. The emphasis will be on originality and androgyny, and patterns will be oversized or quirky. In terms of colours, look out for the coral and copper family, plus turquoise and greens.
Are there any patterns or weights we should look out for?
Sophisticated ‘raw looks’ made from slubby linens or combed cottons, as well as piqué weaves with a hand-woven feel. Spring 16 will be all about multi-layered fabrics, either bonded or woven, and a mix of transparent and opaque materials. Expect playful and painterly child-like prints with deceptively clumsy motifs, as well as hybrid bouquets of flowers and fruits.
Fabric weights will be a contrast of light and airy materials with weighty and compact fabrics.
What do you love so much about British fabric design?
I am immensely proud of our British textile heritage. Many UK mills, like Hainsworth or Abraham Moon & Sons, were established in the 18th or 19th centuries. I’m also a huge fan of our lovely wool tweeds and cashmere - I own more than 12 winter wool coats both vintage and contemporary. And I’m a big fan of British fine micron wool suiting fabrics, which are perfect for the unisex tailored trend.
Do you think mills or textile designers are using social media effectively?
I think many of them could do much more, especially with Twitter and keeping their websites updated to showcase new fabrics and colour developments. Social media could help them engage with customers.
What are your favourite textile shows?
Première Vision in Paris is always super-stylish with brilliant textile trends and colour information. Intertextile Shanghai Apparel Fabrics has almost 4,000 exhibitors from more than 30 countries, so you get to see what’s happening internationally.
On the yarn side I enjoy going to Filo in Milan. It’s a compact show and easy to get around, also it’s early in the fashion season which helps me explore design possibilities.
What fashion designers do you admire at the moment?
I’m a bit of a vintage/boho girl at heart so for me Dries Van Noten hits the mark due to his play with pattern, colour and textural combinations. I also admire how he researches his designs every season. I’m also impressed with Phoebe Philo’s work at Céline. Her beautifully studied textiles and timeless modernist style always has some surprising touches.
Do you think people are becoming more interested in performance fabrics?
Yes, but not necessarily in an obvious way. I see performance effects like stretch, waterproof and washability becoming integrated into mainstream fabrics as we become more accustomed to comfort in fashion. Technical textiles are such an exciting area now, with developments in communications, tracking and protection driving fabric design forward.
Do you have a standout career moment?
In my second year at the RCA I flew to Miami and caught a Greyhound bus to New York, stopping at the US textile heartlands of North and South Carolina, knocking on the doors of textile firms with questions about their manufacturing processes and working with cotton textiles.
Once in New York I went to show my work to the fabric editor of Vogue and bumped into Hilaire Colcombet in the office. He was the owner of Bucol, a Lyon-based textile company now part of the Hermès group, with amazing connections to the couture houses in Paris. Colcombet loved my work and invited me to collaborate on the special development of wool and woven fabrics for its general collection, much of which was purchased by Chanel. My brief was to ‘simply design something wonderful and beautiful’. There was no restriction on price or manufacturing detail, which was heaven for a young textile graduate. I ended up working with Colcombet for two-and-a-half years.
If you worked in any other industry what would it be?
When I was younger I enjoyed sport at quite a high level, in particular sprinting and the high jump, so I would have been pushing myself in the competitive arena and moving into sports education.
Where is textiles heading this year?
There is no denying the influence of sportswear and casualwear on all areas of textiles and fashion and the cross-over possibilities for quality natural fibres are exciting. Both natural and manmade fibres can unite to offer the best of both worlds and even create new hybrid textiles.