Not many designers get their names in print before releasing a collection, but Scottish fashion designer Natalie Riachi has approached everything about her fledgling label with the philosophy of doing things just a little bit differently, embracing new and old techniques and learning more each step of the way. With her collection due to be released this winter, Natalie has already established a profile in the industry through her blog Living in Clips – which showcases her extensive portfolio of street photography from various Paris Fashion Weeks as well as some insights into her own style. Living and working out of her mezzanine apartment in Paris’ second arrondissement, it’s easy to see why she has inhabited this space for many years now. You enter into her sun-drenched retreat, far removed from the busy streets below, through a small entry passage over-flowing with flowers and plants. The comfortable environs of the compact studio, filled with the eclectic accessories you would expect from a fashion designer, seem like a tranquil place to work, with enough room to live and work separately although seamlessly.
Natalie moved to Paris from Edinburgh around six years ago – fresh from her studies she was eager to tap into the critical mass of the city’s fashion scene. Interning with several large French and British fashion houses one of Natalie’s most cherished memories of this time was working along-side the women in the ateliers, who still practise many crafts by hand, skilled in the fine, intricate work necessary for haute-couture. Despite the opportunity to work and learn with this calibre of people, she quickly realised working with big brands was not for her, although she laughingly admitted that “I always said I never wanted to have my own brand, I never wanted to have my own label” as she never wanted to be tied down to an atelier or manage a team .
So what changed her mind? More than anything, it was meeting Dutch graphic designer Nina Warmerdam, who she has collaborated with on her collection. Originally deciding to make some scarves, inspired by patterns and details found in the distinctive clothing of a particular Chinese tribe, Natalie solicited some help from Craigslist to digitalise her hand-drawn designs. Fortunately, from one of the many people who responded to her request was Nina, with whom she instantly connected. Their professional partnership was so successful that out of the original six scarves grew the full collection of 14 looks, and Natalie readily recognises that Nina’s input helped her to get her to this point with her label. The looks are all based around the same Chinese tribe and the collection will feature a suite of t-shirts, skirts and accessories, all digitally printed with colourful, graphic patterns. Traditional pieces such as the tribe’s formal tailcoats and layered skirts have been rendered into simplified, contemporary styles. Streamlined production (the entire collection only uses two fabrics) and an emphasis on wearability is something that was important for Natalie, after witnessing the large amount of fabric wastage in the ateliers she has worked at: “I want it to be something that is long-lasting, and not something that is just seasonal. I’m not so keen on this disposable fashion world”.
Another important aim for Natalie was to support the UK by basing as much production as possible within her home region. She explained that her Scottish heritage is extremely important to her, although she feels while she has been living in Paris, it has been difficult for this to be recognized back home. She hopes that after one or two collections the momentum of her brand will be enough to allow her to move home, but right now Paris offers more networks and exposure than she could have access to in Scotland. “I just don’t think I could have reached where I wanted to reach at home” she said, although she has developed a workstyle that allows her to get back home and stay in contact over skype. Describing Scottish style, Natalie said that it’s much less conservative than Paris – “it’s very elaborate and extravagant, people are willing to make bold choices with colours – even with hair” she said, although she admitted that the downside can sometimes be “questionable taste”. Looking ahead to her next collection Natalie has aspirations to bring her Scottish heritage to the foreground by working with the knitting and cashmere industry based around the Scottish Borders, as well as some of the older shoemakers.
That future focus was also behind Natalie’s decision to familiarise herself with the growing online fashion blog scene before launching her label. Working within, she saw how social media had begun to dominate the industry and she knew that for her own collection this would be crucial to establishing awareness and recognition so decided to give herself a headstart. Natalie is positive about the benefits of social media and commented “it’s a great place to show your work for free, and update is as often as you like, so that people can really delve into your world and see how you live”. The blog has also allowed her to show her street photography, a hobby she started “by accident” while attending Paris Fashion Week in February 2013: “One day I noticed there were photographers taking photos of all the show-goers and I thought, well I should bring my camera along”. The next day she came back with an analogue camera and as she confessed, “it got me and now I can’t stop…it’s a show in itself, it’s really exciting”. In the over-saturated world of street photography, Natalie’s shots stand out not only due to quality of image that her film photography offers, but as she described, she focuses on the clothes rather than who is wearing them,“I really get excited by seeing embroidery details on a coat, so I’ll take a photo of just that”. Her passion has certainly had an influence on her designs as well – one of her favourite people to photograph, fashion casting agent and consultant Natalie Joos, is the muse for her current collection, “I love the way she shoots, it’s really colourful, she has taken me somewhere else. I wear a lot of black but I wanted to do something with colour so she has really pushed me in that direction”.
Although she said she often wonders “where is this all going” when she is at fashion shows, she can’t predict what’s next for fashion, although she is confident that social media will continue to play a big part especially for smaller designers and brands, as “fashion bloggers are exposing designers the most”. In terms of her own designs Natalie said she is currently strategising how she could use her online networks to launch her label. She said this might involve approaching some of the buyers who she has photographed during fashion week, or circumventing the usual live fashion show by launching the collection via a lookbook, or by supplying fashion bloggers with prototypes. “That’s another thing I’d like to take in a different way” she said, reflecting on the options available. It’s clear that for Natalie, her new collection is giving her the chance to design not only her own clothes, but her own pathway in the industry as well.