Q&A with Milliner Karen Henriksen
Q Tell us a bit about your fashion background, where you studied, people you worked for etcâ€¦
Karen: I worked in the millinery industry for a number of years before going to the Royal College of Art, 2001-2003. The milliners I worked for were mostly on the more traditional side â€“ e.g. Frederick Fox, Herbert Johnson, Mitzi Lorenz, and Herald & Heart.
The RCA was great for really finding my own style. Although Iâ€™d learnt a lot about making hats and the trade itself, Iâ€™d only ever made things to othersâ€™ designs. I originally had done a degree in fashion, but that was so long agoâ€¦! Between my first degree and my MA was more than a gap year, a decade even!
Q When did you officially begin your own label?
Karen: After graduating from the RCA in 2003
Q Tell us about the UKTI/Crafts Council Award for Export that you recently received?
Karen: This was at Origin The London Crafts Fair 2006 â€“ a great new exhibition organised by the Crafts Council. It takes place in a specially designed and built pavilion in the courtyard at Somerset House each October. Iâ€™ll be showing there again this year. The award was judged and sponsored by UKTI, and â€˜presented to the exhibitor whose work demonstrates innovation and creativity in design and use of materials and is judged most appropriate for export to a new market.â€™
Q We hear youâ€™ve just got back from Japan for selling and research â€“ how was that experience?
Karen: Amazing; a really interesting place with great food! A very different culture, but strangely familiar in some ways (a Louis Vuitton store on every corner, or so it seemed!) I went there straight after showing at Premiere Classe for the first time, in March, so that was quite a month!
I think Japan could be an important market for my Windswept Collection. I have two good orders, including Takashimaya, one of the oldest and most prestigious department stores, who were keen to promote my debut season in Japan. Although the big, luxury brands have a major presence there, itâ€™s great that they are also willing and happy to take on unknown labels; itâ€™s a shame our own stores here donâ€™t have the same policy.
Q Tell us a bit about your collections for S/S 07 – the aesthetics – the inspirationâ€¦
Karen: I was particularly interested in contemporary architecture, and also the natural elementsâ€¦ natureâ€™s textures applied to sculptural shapes, incorporating both curves and corners: on both a generous, sweeping scale, and with intricate detailing.
Q Are there particular materials you prefer to work with?
Karen: At the moment Iâ€™m keen on contrasts â€“ using natural straw with exotic skins. I have some beautiful vintage extra-fine straws; Iâ€™m also obsessed slightly with stingray and other skins, and also encrusted beads and stones.
Q What about collaborations â€“ didnâ€™t your hats recently appear on the catwalk at LFW?
Karen: By happy coincidence, my A/W 2007/08 collection â€˜Best in Showâ€™ worked really well with Gavin Douglasâ€™s super glamorous, feminine collection. The stylist Karen Binns was working with him on his catwalk show at LFW, and contacted me, to borrow some pieces. It was great seeing the hats work so well with the beautiful clothing, and not even needing to think about it as a separate project!
Q Have the press been good to you since your initial launch into the fashion world?
Karen: Well, I regularly send hats out for fashion shoots, so I guess they like my work!
Q Are there any designers/artists that you particularly admire?
Karen: I love seeing the fantastical catwalk shows in Paris each season, although Iâ€™m not sure I have a particular favouriteâ€¦ As far as artists are concerned – Iâ€™ve always found Henry Moore inspiring, also Jacob Epstein and Brancusiâ€¦ I guess thatâ€™s typical for a milliner to find sculpture particularly inspiring and interesting.
Q What are the best and worst aspects of working in fashion so far?
Karen: I love being self-employed, despite the very long hours. I donâ€™t think I could work for somebody else again; Iâ€™m probably unemployable by now!
Fashion though is such a treadmill; so many deadlines, season after season. I consider myself a crafts person as well as designer in many ways, and when I speak to other crafts people in other disciplines I do get quite envious that they donâ€™t have the same pressures that we do, at least not on the same scale.
Q And your future plans for your label?
Karen: After a couple of years growing the retail side (since moving into Cockpit Arts in Holborn, Central London), I am now spending more time on wholesale, particularly the Windswept Collection, and particularly in Japan. I have registered the designs in Europe, and am about to do so for Japan. I also am registering the brand as a trademark. I hope that the Windswept Collection will sell throughout the world; I plan to extend the range.
Q Where can we find your hats?
Karen: In London, from my studio at Cockpit Arts, by appointment. Also, a selection from the Windswept Collection at www.slightlyperfect.com and a selection of couture pieces at www.theshopfloorproject.com. For next autumn, at Takashimaya (6 stores around Japan), and at Arth, specialist hat shops in Japan. And soon, a selection of Windswept styles at Melissa Jackson in Victoria, Australia!
Q Karen Henriksen quote of the day…
â€œWhere did you get that hat?â€
T: +44 (0)20 7430 1569