LONDON — When Caroline Charles began her design career, London had just begun to swing, The Beatles had been around for two years, Mary Quant was the high priestess of street style and a dress that cost $40 was considered highly...
LONDON — When Caroline Charles began her design career, London had just begun to swing, The Beatles had been around for two years, Mary Quant was the high priestess of street style and a dress that cost $40 was considered highly expensive.
That was then. Now, Charles is one of London fashion’s few survivors of that era, celebrating 40 years in business and still looking forward to doing her next collection.
"Every season there’s a new bit of fun — new fabrics, new technology. It’s a complete addiction for me. No other industry or trade has new material every six months," said Charles during an anniversary party at the Victoria & Albert museum in November. "It’s so nice. I’ve never understood why people retire and give it up. It’s no tougher than any other business and it’s much more fun."
In the U.S., Caroline Charles sells at Neiman Marcus, Wilkes Bashford and Harari in Los Angeles. Her company’s annual sales are approximately $16 million, the bulk of which — like those of so many British designers — are in Japan through a licensing deal with Itochu. The Charles collection now spans everything from ready-to-wear to bridal to home furnishings.
"If you go to Japan, you’ll find there are three English designers consumers immediately think of: Alexander McQueen, Paul Smith and Caroline Charles," said Nicholas Coleridge, chairman of the British Fashion Council, who presented the designer with a lifetime achievement award at her anniversary party.
Coleridge called her career sensational. "For a British designer to last 40 years successfully is almost unique. And she was ahead of her time. Twenty-five years before Versace and Tommy Hilfiger were dressing the music industry, Caroline was making jackets for Ringo Starr and Mick Jagger."
Charles broke into the industry picking up pins and dressing models for Norman Norell, and later got a job as a saleswoman for Mary Quant at her Knightsbridge store. She designed in her spare time, and eventually, in typical London designer style, turned her apartment into a design studio. She was selling to private clients, and to Harrods and partying like mad at Annabel’s, the Saddle Room and Ad Lib."We danced like mad in those days. You know — the Twist and the Madison," giggles Charles, whose apparent shyness and soft-spoken demeanor hide an inquisitive business mind coupled with a wry wit.
Jean Shrimpton’s sister, Chrissy, was Charles’ house model and receptionist, and she was dating Mick Jagger at the time, which was clearly a boon. In addition to Jagger, her celebrity clients have included Rudolf Nureyev, Barbra Streisand, Dionne Warwick and the late Princess Margaret. In 1964, she made her U.S. debut at Macy’s, at the height of Brit-mania. WWD called her "astonishingly self-possessed and radiant, with composure and self-confidence," and hailed her as a swinging member of London’s young fashion cult, who was "fiercely devoted to a Ladylike Look."
In the Seventies, Charles’ youthful and feminine designs gave way to more hippie-inspired looks. "I discovered old textiles through the hippie clothes route, and would use old trimmings and ribbons. I also went to India for my printing and embroidering," she said over tea one morning at her shop on Beauchamp Place. The Caroline Charles look in those years was about tiered skirts, gypsy clothes and satin tops.
In the early Eighties, Lady Diana Spencer came to call just after she became engaged to Prince Charles. "She was adorable and easy to dress, and there were about five or six designers working with her at the time — and she made us all famous," Charles said. "I made her peasant skirts, little tartan jackets with puff sleeves, and short black skirts paired with bright, tailored jackets."
Her collections, like Charles herself, are still fiercely feminine, and many have couture-quality detailing. Her spring 2003 collection, shown in London in September, has beaded jackets that will retail for $632, tweed skirts for $440 and stretch cotton trousers for $312.
"She makes impact pieces, special jackets and coats that you know you’re going to keep for a long time," said Peta-Gene Goodman, chief operating officer of AGA Group, the buying office for Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman, Lane Crawford and Holt Renfrew in London. "Her tapestry embroideries, jeweled and beaded coats and jackets have incredible workmanship and a classic style. The nice thing about Caroline is her consistency and loyal client following."So what does Charles have in store for the next four decades?
"I’d like to do men’s wear, jackets made out of textured fabrics rather than grey flannel suits or linen ones. They’ll be discreet and special," she said. "And I think I want to establish a store in New York. Something small and perfect. It’s time to put a marker down there."
@fearofgod and @maxfieldla have teamed up on a pop-up installation. The store, located in the gallery space across from Maxfield’s Melrose Ave location, is the site of the brand’s House of God pop-up in which Fear of God founder @jerrylorenzo has created a church-inspired installation. A dozen vintage church pews sit in front of an LED screen playing 90s gospel singers in an effort to re-create an environment akin to a Southern Baptist Church, Lorenzo explained. Read more about the pop-up on WWD.com #wwdfashion (📷: Jennifer Johnson)
Known for his sleek, sophisticated American glamour, Norman Norell is the subject of an upcoming exhibition at @fitnyc. “Norell: Dean of American Fashion,” which runs from February 9 through April 14, will feature approximately 100 ensembles and accessories. His best work is exemplified by the designer’s glittering “mermaid” gowns frosted with thousands of hand-sewn sequins – like the one pictured. (📷: William Helburn) #wwdfashion
For pre-fall 2018, @balmain didn’t let go of the glitz. A crystal embroidered baseball jacket priced at around $40,000 hangs in the “couture” section of the brand’s first men’s pre-collection. Sporting the words “Balmain Army” across the back, the item took around two months to make. “When it was completed, it was like Christmas, it was like, ‘It’s done, it’s exactly what I wanted,’” said Balmain’s creative director @olivier_rousteing during a tour of the collection in a Paris showroom on Monday. #wwdfashion
Eighty degree temperatures and outdoor installations at the annual Art Basel Miami Beach called for bright, elevated beachwear. See more street style pictures on WWD.com. #theyarewearing #ABMB (📷: @lifeinreverie)
Following September’s emotional tribute to her brother Gianni, Donatella Versace wanted to bring the spring show’s deep sense of intimacy to her @versace_official pre-fall collection. Donatella found inspiration in Versace Palazzo in Milan and from Gianni’s opulent apartment. Archival patterns and new motifs were splashed on silk shirtdresses and fitted jersey frocks. See the rest of the photos on WWD.com. #wwdfashion
Demna Gvasalia continues to shake up the Paris fashion calendar — and experiment with new runway timetables for his @vetements_official brand. WWD has learned that Vetements plans to stage its next coed show for the fall 2018 season on January 19 during Men’s Fashion Week in the French capital. Details about the timing and venue have not been confirmed — stay tuned on WWD.com to catch the latest. #wwdnews (📷: @giovanni_giannoni_photo)
@zacposen's go-to holiday gift? Cookies! "I'll usually bake cookies and send them as a gift," said the designer, who recently released his cookbook "Cooking With Zac: Recipes from Rustic to Refined." Get the recipe for his Brown Butter-Chocolate Chip Cookies via link in bio 🍪🍪🍪 #wwdeye #cookingwithzac
For @monsemaison’s pre-fall 2018 collection, Fernando Garcia and Laura Kim honed in on the brand’s many signatures — men’s wear, which was tweaked and feminized through deconstruction, proportion play and lots of bare shoulders. See the rest of the photos on WWD.com #wwdfashion (📷: George Chinese)
On Friday night, @yohjiyamamotoofficial received the Design for Asia Lifetime Achievement Award in Hong Kong. The 75-year-old designer has been celebrated for many years and is best known for his dark and avant-garde tailoring. “In my long career, in design, architecture, [I’ve been to] so many parties, this is the very first time that I have such a warm feeling, I really appreciate this,” Yamamoto said. #wwdfashion (📷: @dominiquemaitre)