Charlotte and Jane – Silks, Seams and Silhouettes

Exclusive in-depth interview with the co founders of the Irish Vintage Style Design Label – Charlotte and Jane



Charlotte & Jane – Silks, Seams and Silhouettes.

Every year at the London fashion week – quite a noticeable proportion of designers showing have come through the cloistered halls of Central St Martin’s ( ok – there aren’t any Oxford style cloisters in Central St Martins but I embellish !).One graduate of this esteemed college which boasts the likes of Givenchy director Riccardo Tisci, Stella McCartney, John Galliano and Bruce Oldfield as fellow alumni is a certain Charlotte Cargin – who along with long time friend and past tutor- Durban Technikon fine art graduate Jane Skovgaard – set up a unique vintage fashion label based in the mystical port of Kinsale called simply Charlotte & Jane. Just four years old ( founded in 2009) it has become quite a hot name in Irish fashion since their first collaboration ( a lingerie collection ). Imelda May is a fan and even credited them on one of her albums.

Jane Skovgaard , Imelda may and Charlotte Cargin
Jane Skovgaard , Imelda May and Charlotte Cargin

2013 Spring/ Summer Collection.

Their clothes unashamedly celebrate the curves and glamour of the 1940’s and 1950’s. They source their textiles locally in the best tradition of past designers like Sybil Connolly, employ extremely talented seamstresses from Cork and women are voting with their heels – flocking to their showrooms for that ‘personal made to measure’ touch – a rare thing today. You can order a personal outfit online of course – this is 2013, but most of their customers take the trouble to visit the salon in order to get the ‘perfect fit’ and probably also to drool over their collection and fabrics.

Glamourdaze is delighted to meet these two exciting women.
C&J -And we are delighted to meet you!! Thank you!

GD One standout feature in Charlotte & Jane dresses are the elegant silhouettes – calf lengths, hourglass cuts and fitted waistlines. As a fashion blogger enamored by the elegance of women from the post war era, I personally feel like I’m wandering through a parallel universe with my little blog – would it be fair to say you experience a similar feeling in your work as designers?

C&J – Whilst it feels romantic and nostalgic to walk through a parallel universe and in some ways we feel we do, we are very present in this time and this place and the beauty of the classic style of the dresses we make, is that they are timeless and so they are always current. In our dream world, we would love to see a widespread return to women  celebrating their femininity and curves in their dress and to see a return to understated elegance would be a breath of fresh air for us.

CollectionsCharlotte and Jane

GD – Jane – you mentioned that you spent the start of the year touring India for silks and have since set up a customized embroidery service from there – now that’s a pretty cool achievement – how did that come about?

C&J – For the past few years we have been sourcing all of our silks through London and so paying premium prices for them. We are at a stage now where we know how much silk we need for a year and the colors that work best for our designs and Irish coloring and so decided to go to India to source the silks for the coming year for ourselves. We felt strongly that we wanted silks from fair trade factors and so we got in touch with an Irish lady called Aine Edwards who is based in Chennai and works to help develop business links between Ireland and India. She put us in touch with a former head designer for the Oxfam home range who works with a fair trade factory in Hyderabad. We sourced all of our silks through her and her team provided us with delicious hand loom silks too. When we discovered that she could print fabrics for us too, we became really excited and so designed some prints which she then had hand block printed onto silks for us.
Embroidery facilities for our business was one of the things to achieve on our trip to India and the same fair trade factory can do this for us too! We can create embroidery designs, unique to each client, send the pattern pieces to her to be embroidered and she will send them back ready to be made into garments here! It is so wonderful to be able to offer this now and know that the quality of the work will be superb.

GD – You were Charlotte’s art teacher once. Tell us a little about your own art loves, style inspirations and how you came to be teaching Charlotte?  How did your paths cross again to create Charlotte & Jane?

C&J – I have been hugely influenced , as we all are, by the places I have grown up in and the family I am from. Growing up on a farm in the middle of Zimbabwe I have always loved the tradition of textile and print that is so much part of Africa and have been printing, dying and painting textiles since I was a little girl hanging out with my mom! But the other half of me is influenced by the Scandinavian aesthetic as my dad is Danish. I love the Scandinavian  spirit of high craftsmanship, innovation and simple beauty. They manage to combine a sense of the grace of the past  with a contemporary sleekness. Its simple, stylish and chic. That’s what we strive for in our dresses too…….
Once I moved to Ireland (and mind now, I only came for 3 months stay originally, now here 13 years!) I started teaching at the Kinsale Further Education College VEC in the painting and drawing dept., where Charlotte came to study to get her portfolio ready for Central St Martins. She was a model student(of course!) and then years later we reconnected when she made my wedding dress and after throwing some ideas out there involving vintage kimonos, lingerie, bathing suits and summer dresses, we found our niche and have been working on that ever since.

Collections.Charlotte and Jane

GD – Charlotte -as I’ve mentioned, you studied at Central St Martin’s. For any budding designers reading this, what courses can one take there and what did you specialize in?

C&J – I studied Fashion Design at Saint martins, specializing in knitwear. This was fantastic as not only did I learn the art of garment design and construction, but also how to use a multitude of different knitting machines and how to create my own knitted textiles and garments. We both have an excellent knowledge and understanding of fabrics, which is such a bonus for our business. Jane worked as a textile designer for years. We love working with wools particularly and there are so many incredibly rich wool fabrics in Ireland – it’s a joy! The standard of work at Saint Martins is excellent, the expectation of you every minute of every day is so enormous – you are pushed to the edge of your abilities and stamina and if you make it there, you can make it anywhere – perhaps that is what Sinatra was referring to?!  Saint Martins offers a huge variety of courses in the arts, but is most famed for its fashion courses with many of the worlds leading designers, birthing through their doors.

GD – London is – lets face it, a vintage fashion mecca – you must have wandered down Portabello road market more than once?  There are lots of retro / glamour vintage style dresses being sold these days ( a good thing indeed) but you and Jane are  innovatively bringing back to life a real sense of the haute couture of the 40’s and 50’s. Could you describe the process from inspiration to sketch to final dress / collection ?

C&J – More than once….I lived beside Portobello road, it was my haunt for five years! In fact, I had a stand at the market regularly on Saturday mornings selling customized clothing and shoes. I was there at 5am through the winter months, setting up my stall – what memories! I gathered so much inspiration from those years, I was surrounded by incredible fashion, superb style, beautiful clothes, awesome creativity 24 hours a day and constantly challenged, which was enriching for me. C.
The inspiration starts with lots of research into styles and shapes of the time. Once a collection of images have been put together, drawn and brain stormed, we choose colors for the season. We get a couple of new colors dyed each winter  season in our block color wools and for Spring /Summer colors we rustle through silk samples and silk warehouses in India till we find the array we need. J

Collections – Charlotte and Jane

GD – This one’s for you both – the obvious question to ask is – as a team – how do you work together – who does what and who is the most stubborn ?

C&J – Well, the truth is that we are both stubborn! We really are lucky actually, truly blessed, as we are very compatible and work together as a team so well. The secret to this is complete belief and trust in and respect for each others ideas. Though we both have strong ideas of our own, we do listen to each other and in doing so, we both continually learn from one and other. We each have strengths and weaknesses and these compliment each other. We both have an impeccable understanding of and eye for color and detail and are both completely in love with the same eras of fashion and fashion ideals. Importantly, we are both extremely hard working and determined, we are both utterly committed to making this work and taking ourselves to the top and we will! C
Its one of those questions that always makes me laugh as it forces one to evaluate how is it that two creative egos can work together. I think that there are parts of both of us that would like to claim occasionally ….oh God that was my brilliant idea! of some design  or event, but the truth is that we each bring to the table good ideas which we try to meld together. There is tremendous comfort knowing its not all up to one person to make all the decisions ,so less stress and therefore more time to be creative! J

GD – My own studio ( radio jingles production by day!) is wallpapered with a mad mix of inspiration – depending on what I’m at –  from The Goons and Woody Guthrie to old 1930’s fashion prints and Hollywood starlets such as Carole Lombard and Myrna Loy. Do you guys immerse yourselves in the past in this way to get you creating?

C&J – Actually, no – though that sounds great! Our studio walls are remarkably clear, save for images from our photo-shoots of our own creations. We have endless books, old magazines, films from the 40’s and 50’s in each of our lives, which we delve in to regularly in every day life. We have always, since we can remember, had a fascination with those times and so it is effortless. As we are both artistic, I think within our minds we have built up libraries of inspiration over the years as artistic minds absorb inspirational images etc like sponges wherever they go. It’s such a blessing. Wish maths had been the same!

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