Hey Gem! Before founding Nonchalant by Gem you studied in Italy; how would you compare Scottish and Italian fashion?
At the time, I did not feel there was so much Scottish fashion- everything was tarnished with tartan and tweed, and even though I love these fabrics I did not want to be branded as a “Scottish” designer. Italian fashion is very much a way of life; the streets are the catwalk and everyone dresses their best to create the beautiful aesthetics. Italian fashion is elegant, even to the point of conservative, about classical style.
Did you gain anything from studying in Italy that you wouldn’t have received in Scotland?
I feel that personally I gained so much from the time I spent there: a whole new culture and language. It was seriously challenging studying fashion and pattern cutting in Italian; as if patterns were not hard enough, nobody spoke English! I was totally thrown in at the deep end. So I would say it gave me a lot of strength and confidence to go anywhere in the world and realise how we easily can adapt. Most important was my experience of Milan Fashion Week, which we skipped class to attend. We took the train to Milano having decided this was a better use of time than sitting in class!
MFW opened my eyes to the fashion world- the serious, black clad buyers and gazelle-like models. We dressed up, networked and blagged our way into shows, extracting tickets where we could. It was essential to look the part, dress well, and go out and party in order to get to the next days shows! We were so brazen: me and two friends from India and Norway bowled straight up to Roberto Cavalli and said we wanted to go to his show! He was very sweet and wrote his phone number on a napkin and of course, the next day we went. His show was incredible- there was a waterfall created on the stage with dancers leaping through it. I was hooked on the drama, the glamour and excitement. This would never have happened back home.
What do you think of the Scottish fashion industry?
There is an innovative, bold push forward from emerging designers, as well as big names including Christopher Kane. He has smashed this primitive concept of Scottish designers being pigeon-holed into the Tartan/traditional box and so revitalised the idea of Scottish fashion. Now there are events such as the Scottish Fashion Awards and it feels like a more supportive family to help promote and expose the talent that is here. We need to create an open community which is tight-knit and caring. Many people seem to feel forced to move to London to do well; I think it would be better to create our own scene.
How did it feel to be part of Project Catwalk before finishing your degree?
I felt very lucky and privileged to have been chosen out of so many. I was overwhelmed by the fact I was going to be on TV- this was not something I desired but I was willing to do so in order to have the chance to show in LFW. It was an amazing time but a massive challenge too; a double-edged sword where on one hand it was amazing to receive critique from such esteemed fashion contributors such as Isabella Blow, Julien MacDonald, Elizabeth Hurley and FROSTFRENCH, but on the other hand the stress was considerable. We had to work to such tight deadlines and at the same time constantly had a camera shoved in our face.
I did not want to be part of the media/TV/reality show bulls***- I would not say what they wanted and bitch about my friends, the other designers on the show. I maintained a professional outlook as a designer, not a TV puppet, so they defiantly wanted to axe me ASAP!
On the show your work was compared to the work of Vivienne Westwood; how did it feel to be compared to such an established designer?
Vivienne Westwood is one of my role models as her fashion has a message- to go against the norm, to be unconventional, to be political and use fashion as a medium to express not only your creativity but the emotion of the current political and world issues. I love her work, definitive approach and elaborate draping which leaves you with no doubt that is is her creation no matter what the topical theme of the season. She has a distinctive style and is truly iconic.
FROSTFRENCH compared me to my fashion Queen, which was a massive compliment, but even more poignant was when they said that I had my own signature style that runs through all of my work. This was a pinnacle moment; I was overjoyed and developed the self-belief to continue with my endeavours.
Have you always wanted to have your own label or was that developed through working in-house for the likes of Giles Deacon?
Always, yes. Even more so, in fact, after graduating. I felt the pressure to move to London and do the typical fashion route. I worked hard for free, paid to live in London, did my time and learnt what I could but mainly I reacted against the fashion system. I did not want to follow suit, work my youth and creativity away for someone else’s glory. I planned to escape…start my own label and do things my own way even if it meant learning the hard way.
How does your experience working in the production industry as well as designing in India differentiate your label from others?
I chose to work and design in India. I wanted to be self-inspired- not lead by trends and what I saw in shops, magazines or from other designers. I had done some of my graduate collection in Delhi and having seen the hand work and embroideries I was overwhelmed at the vast possibilities that could be explored in terms of fabric, embellishments and colours- it seemed everything was possible. I decided to choose the lifestyle that I wanted and create my label around that. This is where NONCHALANT originated, in Goa. We worked amongst the coconut palms and tropical beaches, creating a hedonistic wild freedom, a carefree concept of enjoying your own nature, consciously creating and living that expression.
After a couple of years I realised I needed a stronger knowledge of production at the same time was offered a dream job as Head Designer of a luxury label, working with a factory of 300 tailors and artisans. The future was wide open, which was just what I needed. When I returned to my own label it was with a gained understanding that in order to be a really good designer it took more than just a talent, a sketch, to create something beautiful. It took the ability to make that into a fully functioning reality and to be able to say yes, I can make 1000 pieces of that style in every size, because you know the factories, the production output, the hundreds of details which need to be altered, checked, fitted and amended along the way. It’s a headf***. Fashion is not full of the glamourous, bitchy people it is portrayed to have. It is a world of very hard-working, industrious, humble individuals all working away on their dreams, every minute of every hour- altering, adapting and re-working. This is fashion. It is hard and humbling, it is making a reality of the fantastical, it is the labour behind the 10 minutes of glamour and glory, but it is so worth it.
LOVE. CREATE. LIVE. BELIEVE. DREAM. EVERYTHING IS POSSIBLE.