Author: kettlewellcolours

Kettlewell Colours use seasonal and tonal colour palettes to create garments that are of an exceptional high quality using only the finest yarns. Have you discovered your colour?

Colour conversations with Fiona Douglas from Bluebell Gray

At Kettlewell, we are always excited to discover people who share our passion for colour. In the first of a new series of Colour Conversations with colour champions we admire, Fiona Douglas, founder of the Scottish design studio Bluebell Gray, famous for its exquisite watercolour florals, tells Melissa about her adventures in colour – and why the future has never been brighter…

Your watercolour florals are beautiful. How did you start designing them for the home? 
I’ve always loved home things. As a teenager I begged my mum and dad to let me paint my room bright lime green and orange, and I covered the walls in all sorts of things and pictures I had made – flowers featured everywhere. Our home growing up was colourful and full of interesting things, so I think interiors have always been something that has been around me. My prints are usually quite large scale so they lend themselves well to interiors. When I was starting out, cushions seemed like the best, and simplest, way for me to transfer my designs on to textiles.

Where did the name Bluebellgray come from?
Bluebells are my favourite flowers. I love seeing them carpet a beautiful wood in springtime, and they always make my heart happy. The word ‘gray’ refers to the fact that I print on to a lot of linen cloth that has a grey tone to it.

How does colour make you feel? 
It really uplifts me, and it definitely affects my mood. I love using it in a positive way. Wearing something colourful reflects me and what I do; it’s an important part of who I am. So much of my identity is wrapped up in colour – it’s a big part of my life.

Where do you find your design inspiration?  
I find inspiration everywhere. I love just soaking up experiences and the world around me. It could be something as simple as looking at the leaves in the light on trees that line my street, the colour of the ocean when I’m on holiday, or the colours that are left over on my palette when I paint that feeds my creative mind. I do plan specific inspiration trips as well, though. I usually go somewhere twice a year with my creative team to spark some new ideas and feel inspired.

Describe your design studio.
It’s in a beautiful old townhouse in the West End of Glasgow, with huge ceilings, lots of period detailing and big double-aspect windows that let in lots of light. The space I work in is really important to me and how I work. I need light and space and walls to hang images. I love having inspirational things around me; it all feeds in creatively. The floors are whitewashed wood and the walls are painted in various colours that change quite frequently depending on what I’m working on. We often do our photo shoots in the studio as it’s such a beautiful space, so we always need to freshen the colours. Right now I have a deep dusty rose-pink wall and an amazing deep, almost cobalt blue, on the walls.

Do you have a favourite Bluebellgray product? 
The ‘Abstract’ design always has a special place in my heart. It was so new at the time when I launched it; there was nothing else like it around and it’s become the design people really associate with the brand, which is lovely. The punchy colours and fun nature of the design really sum up my design style.

Abstract design

How much has colour made its way into your wardrobe?
My wardrobe is absolutely filled with colour! I adore clothes. I wear colourful things every day. I actually had my colours done a few years ago and I’m a Summer, which fits me so well as I love pinks, blues and turquoises. I wear a lot of blue jeans and then colourful tops and jackets. I usually add a colourful bag and earrings too – that’s my go-to look. I have a jumper I got given as a gift recently which is an amazing aqua blue – it looks hand-knitted and has big belled-shaped sleeves. It’s a really special piece that a love wearing.

Colour is everywhere right now, from homeware to fashion. Do you feel beige has had its day? 
I think the amazing thing about this point in time is that there are so many options for people! When I was in my late teens/early twenties it was right in the middle of the trend for minimalism and everything being black. I really struggled finding my clothing identity as I just couldn’t find what I wanted to wear; it just didn’t exist. The thing I love so much about now and the trend for colour is that it’s given people options and choices, there is no one overriding trend, so people can choose from an amazing variety of colours and designs that are on the market.

I’m just so happy that there is so much colour out there to choose from in homeware and fashion. It really lets people choose things that make them happy. I don’t think people will ever want to go back to times of less choice and colour. I think it’s here to stay.

 

Last great colourful buy?
I bought a beautiful Anya Hindmarch tote bag. It was an investment but I use it almost every day and the colour works with everything in my wardrobe.

And finally, do you have a favourite colour? 
I find it so hard to choose just one! I love pink, blue and turquoise all equally and in all their shades.

Colours for Life – by Melissa

One of the joys of doing what I do at Kettlewell is being able to see the impact on other people, whether it’s a teenage goddaughter having her clothing personality analysed for the first time or a lifestyle blogger having her colours refreshed  after 25 years.

It takes me back to the first time I had my colours done in my late twenties (John had his analysed first and, assuming I was a Summer too, would buy me beautiful cashmere jumpers in his palette of baby blues, pinks and lilacs, before I decided to try it for myself and discovered I was a Spring). Without putting too fine a point on it, it changed my life. Out went the black and grey, and in came yellow, turquoise and coral, like a burst of fresh Spring air. I’d never had so many compliments.

Since then I’ve convinced almost all my friends and family to get theirs colours done, including my three children, who were eight, six and two at the time (Tasha is a Winter Sprinter, Trixie is Vibrant Autumn and Tom is a Summer). Tom must be one of the youngest people ever to have had his colours done, although in all truthfulness it was more for fun than anything else and we only managed a few drapes before he wriggled away.

 

Recently, for her 18th birthday present, I took my goddaughter Mimi to Battersea in London to have both her colours updated and her style analysed by Rachel at the award-winning style consultancy Red Leopard , to help her avoid expensive shopping mistakes early on and set her up for life with a wardrobe of clothes in colours that genuinely suit and flatter her. Mimi had already been analysed as an Autumn when she was a child, and the minute the warm, earthy Autumn colours were draped around her, her eyes lit up and her skin glowed, and it was plain to see what palette she belonged to.

Just as important as identifying the colours that make you glow is finding styles that highlight your best bits and draw attention away from problem areas, and the fun part of any style journey is finding out your clothing personality. Having analysed everything from body architecture to face shape, Rachel identified Mimi as a ‘Bohemian’ (feminine, sexy, glamorous, yet earthy: think Julianne Moore, Sienna Miller and Sophie Dahl). She also advised her what to wear to a couple of important events in the diary, including bridesmaid at her sister’s summer wedding and an upcoming university interview (if she wanted to wear a jacket for authority, for example, it would be better curved with some texture or pattern, rather than the classic suit look).

Armed with this new-found knowledge, we headed off for an afternoon of shopping at nearby King’s Road and the home of boho chic, Anthropologie. To say that Mimi looked great in everything she tried on is an understatement. From the butter-soft chestnut suede jacket to the sage green ruffle-fronted linen top, one piece after another looked like it had been designed especially for her. The Red Leopard magic had worked.

But the final word goes to Mimi herself, who messaged me later to say how much she had enjoyed her day out. “Thank you for such a unique and thoughtful present – I had so much fun but also learnt so much. I know everything I found out today I will use for many years to come.” I think that says it all.

 

Inside the Studio – by Melissa

While the rest of the world has been focused on what to wear on holiday this summer, here at Kettlewell we’ve been busy concentrating on what they will be wearing next Autumn. Over the past weeks, we’ve been putting the finishing touches to our A/W17 collection ready for the upcoming photo shoot in early summer, as well as making headway with S/S18.

That’s the nature of fashion – always a couple of seasons ahead. The endless pursuit of fresh new looks is what I love about this industry, and I must admit that tracking them down has become something of an obsession of mine over the years. Nowadays, when I’m out shopping, it’s less about me and what I want to wear, and much more about sourcing potential styles and fabrics that I think our customers might like. I’ll feel all the fabrics, inspect all the labels and try as many clothes on as I have the energy for.

I’ve also been known to subtly take a snapshot of a print someone is wearing in front of me in a queue, and wherever I go – whether it’s a party, out on the street, on the Tube – I’ll go up to strangers and talk to them about their clothes and have a good look at the label. You can imagine how much my children love that!

As anyone who works in fashion retail will tell you, building a new collection is a long and complex journey, from inception to delivery. For us, the creative process starts with research on a shopping expedition – a shop report, where we check what’s currently in the stores and look at fabrics, shapes, necklines, prints and styles. There’s also a trend report, where our designer, Sarah, will create mood boards based on trends relevant to Kettlewell. After we’ve considered which designs will work in our available fabric groups, the sketching begins in earnest, before specs (measurement and detail specifications) are then sent to our factories to produce samples.

Naturally, being Kettlewell, colour is a huge consideration for us, and each season we’ll select 80 new colours, 20 each for Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. As we already have so many colours (150 at the last count), we will literally spend hours poring over the Pantone books and consultant swatches, searching for fabulous new colours that we haven’t done before (Winters are the hardest to achieve as they have to be spot-on: intense and vibrant or icy and sharp, with no shades in between). We’ll also look at best-selling colours and good neutrals, and consider customer requests and online comments.

And then, of course, I’m also continually photographing colours on my travels, taking inspiration from everything around me, from a pebble or a strand of seaweed on the beach to blossom on a branch or the rooftops of Rome. Colour inspiration, as I have come to learn over the years, can come from the unlikeliest of places – you just have to go out looking for it.

Hit colour refresh

What a month March is turning out to be. Not only have we been busy putting the finishing touches to our A/W17 collection, but we’ve been zipping between location recces in Bath, high summer brochure photo shoots in London and filming in Henley-upon-Thames. Added to that, Kettlewell has had the best start to a season ever, for which I must say a huge thank you for all your continued support.

Anyway, there’s nothing like the shift from winter to spring to get everyone talking about colour, and that’s what we were doing last week in Henley with our good friends at Country Wives . For those of you who may not have heard of it, Country Wives is an online magazine, set up by Annabel, Grace and Ellie, three friends from their London days, who have come together to share tips and ideas about everything from food to fashion. We’ve been lucky enough to team up with them once before , but this time we were videoing Grace having a colour refresh  with Helen Venables, MD at House of Colour.

It turns out that 25 years after she first had her colours analysed, Grace’s wow colours have shifted in her seasonal palette and she is now a vibrant autumn, which, I have to say, is a perfect match for her personality. Enthusiastic, vivacious and ever open to suggestion, Grace embraced Helen’s wonderful bright colour drapes with an open-mindedness that was refreshing to see, and loved our Acid Lime, Fiesta Orange, Saffron and Mallard tops, which I highlighted in the second of the vlogs, How to (successfully) wear bright colours .

Back at Kettlewell HQ, we’ve been busy doing some filming of our own this month, and the eagle-eyed among you may have spotted a number of short Style Guide video clips dotted around the website, as I talk through a range of styles, including the Striped Boat Neck, Silky Tee, Print Daphne blouse and Butterfly Print Tee. We’ve had some really positive feedback so far, with one customer telling us that the style clips give her a good idea of “whether I’ll like it on myself… It makes outfit ideas come alive when you can see them in real life.” Look out for more as they pop up over the next couple of months, as well as some longer ones where I’ll be sharing my favourite pieces for Spring/Summer 17, and do let us know what you think. After all, it’s because of you that we’re here!

 

Time for tees – by Melissa

There’s something about the arrival of spring, the sun shining, the birds tweeting and that hint of warmer summer days to come, that has got me excited about wearing T-shirts again, this time unencumbered by winter cardis and jackets.

As well as being one of the most useful pieces in my wardrobe, tees for me are bound up with nostalgia. They remind me of sunshine and happy holidays as a child in Cornwall and Brittany; of ice-creams and seaside and being together as a family. They also remind me of being at school in the 1980s, sporting my favourite oversized bright orange tee with the words ‘Relax’ from Frankie Goes to Hollywood emblazoned across the front, and then later, when I moved to London and started working for a fashion mail-order company, buying a 100% cotton Ralph Lauren tee for the princely sum of £45 (what seemed to me like a small fortune for a T-shirt 20 years ago), which felt fabulous.

Tees have followed me right through life and, as you probably know, are the reason John and I started Kettlewell in the first place, wanting to provide this simple basic to the very highest quality and in a range of colours that had never been done before.

The first Kettlewell catalogue from 2005

I also love the fact that few other items of clothing have such a long, cool and varied past – something my daughter, Tash, and I discovered a couple of years ago when we went along to the History of the Tee exhibition at the V&A. Did you know, for example, that the T-shirt is 106 years old, originating from underwear and only officially becoming outerwear in 1913 when it became regulation uniform for the US Navy? It grew in popularity as sport became a common activity, and was a teenage staple in the 1950s, due in no small part to the dashing screen icons of the day like James Dean and Marlon Brando, and in the 1960s the T-shirt became a pop art canvas for boutique designers. Flick through any fashion magazine today and you won’t be able to turn for images of the slogan tee, saying it loud and proud. The tee has certainly earned its place in fashion history.

From a design point of view, people tend to assume that nothing could be simpler than a tee, but as we have come to realise over the years, the basics can often be the most difficult to perfect, as there’s no hiding from the shape, fabric and stitching. The hard-working tee must accommodate the tall, short, straight, curvy, broad shouldered, narrow shouldered, busty and flat-chested among us (I’m always amazed by how many different body shapes actually fit into a size M), as well as those who like a smooth fabric, a thick cotton or one with stretch. Then there’s the question of how short or long do you like your sleeve, which colour to choose from your seasonal palette (if you’ve had your colours analysed you’ll know about wearing your best colours close to your face), and what sort of neckline flatters your shape, from v and crew to scoop and boat. Who would have thought that such a simple basic could throw up so many choices?

Style considerations aside, the T-shirt has always been a wardrobe stalwart for me – versatile, feminine, hard-working, super-comfortable… and always, at the back of my mind, evoking memories of childhood holidays and ice-cream. Roll on summer.

Melissa’s Four Favourite Tees:

1 Stripe Boat Neck (True Red Stripe)

2 Butterfly Print Tee (Apple/Soft White)

3 Love Colour Tee (Flamingo Pink)

4 Silky Tee (Blue Jewel)

 

To see our Pinterest board ‘Time for Tee’ visit Kettlewell on Pinterest

It’s all in the detail – by Melissa

threadEach season, before all the garments are shipped, I make a point of visiting our factories to inspect the production. With a matter of weeks now to go before the new SS17 collection lands, I’ve been out to Portugal with my Quality Control Manager, Anna, to visit two new factories that we’ve recently started working with – an exciting time because the new collection has a more diverse range of fabrics than ever, including linen jersey, cotton lyocell and more styles in 100% cotton.  linenmelissa_colours

 Meanwhile, John and our in-house designer Sarah have been busy making the final production quality checks over at our other factory in Turkey to ensure every sleeve is even, every button hole neatly finished, every label stitched on straight, and every sleeve the perfect length. It’s no mean feat working your way through a checklist with more than different 20 styles, each in small, medium, large and LL, but we know you won’t settle for anything less than the best, and neither will we.

john_fabricsyarn

 When John and I first set out in our search for a factory, we agreed that we wanted to produce quality T-shirts that would wash and wear like a dream. The reality was that it was almost impossible to find somewhere that would produce small quantities in several styles in lots of different colours at a cost that wasn’t through the roof – a nightmare for any factory as the sewing lines are forced to keep stopping and starting to change the thread colours, and consistency is easily lost. It soon became clear to us why other manufacturers were offering only a limited palette. Thankfully, we found a family-run factory in Izmir, Turkey, which understood what we were trying to achieve in terms of quality of fabric, accuracy in colour and detail in fit, and we’ve been working with the same factory for the past ten years.

sewing_label

I must admit that in the early days, a quality control inspection was a slightly drawn-out process, but nowadays we know exactly what to look for. While a few of the repeat styles that have been going for two or three seasons, such as the camisoles and long vests, will need minimal changes, we make doubly sure any new pieces meet our specifications, from ensuring all the stripes line up on the seam and around the arm holes on our new Stripe Pocket Dress to the checking that the button holes are in a straight line down the front of our new Jersey Shirt. In fact, I usually try everything on in a size medium to make sure the fit is right and that there are no niggling quirks, and if there are, it’ll be whisked away and changed right there and then on the spot.

machinistjohn

 Having seen the first of the boxes packed up and ready to go, I can’t wait for early next month when the SS17 collection hits the website (the catalogue will be dropping through your letterbox any day now, so keep an eye out). Later in March, I’ll be back to Turkey finalise the design and fit of the Autumn/Winter collection. We’ve had the first samples back, chosen the colours and prints, and I’ll also be checking out ideas at London Fashion Week for SS18. It goes without saying that I’m looking for colour. And lots of it!   

factory

The colourful Rooster of Barcelos - from a famous Portuguese legend

The colourful Rooster of Barcelos – from a famous Portuguese legend

Location, location, location by Melissa

The eagle-eyed among you may remember I blogged about shooting our Spring and Winter models for the Spring 2017 catalogue in a London studio back in November. Well, that was only part of the story because the other half of the book – Autumn and Summer – was photographed this month in Cape Town, and John and I are just back from the shoot.

blue_sky

People have asked in the past why we photograph our spring catalogue abroad, and my answer is that blue skies make the models look great in their colours, simple as that. Colour is joyful in itself – all you have to do is add a drop of sunshine. And to the question “Why do you always shoot in South Africa and not somewhere like Miami or Morocco?” Well, for one, there are some incredibly beautiful open-plan houses to rent as locations in South Africa, which are all set up for shoots, and they have great production teams just ready to go, including a make-up artist whom we have worked with for the past eight years. She really understands the seasons and how to choose the right colours for the right girls, which is a real bonus for us. Plus, there are a couple of excellent model agencies over in Cape Town, and their models’ schedules neatly tie in with ours – so when the girls are over modelling in Europe for six months of the year, we’ll meet them and get their colours done, ready to photograph them when they’re back in South Africa for the other six months.

ben_melissa_john

As always we were accompanied by our talented photographer, Ben, who has worked with us from the start. Ben also happens to be John’s brother and together they work like a well-oiled machine – while Ben shoots, John will be setting up equipment, ensuring everyone has what they need to do their job, and generally making himself indispensable around the studio. It’s all about being able to anticipate the other person’s needs and that crucial little thing called team work.

Our first shoot, for our high summer book, was with “Spring” Michelle and “Winter” Christina, in Western Cape, which has to be one of the most beautiful of South Africa’s provinces – a mix of Winelands and fabulous sandy beaches and, of course, Cape Town and Table Mountain. The location, a white clapperboard house with an infinity pool and breathtaking views of the ocean, was in Grotto Bay, a place which I can only describe as being a little like Cornwall in the sunshine, with its rocky outcrops, fynboss grass and sandy beaches and lovely white wooden villas dotted along the coastline. To say that the house looks like it’s straight off the pages of Elle Decoration is to understate it – it is absolutely stunning, and the perfect backdrop to make our colours pop.

grotto_bay_shotsFor the Spring catalogue, with “Summer” Maria and “Autumn” Lenka, our location this time was the Tree House, an incredible contemporary glass house which just so happens to have its own waterfall inside, a glass spiral staircase, a contemporary Japanese kitchen and decking which is built around a huge tree with a staircase you must climb to access the bedroom. Lenka had flown in the day before from Slovakia, where they had just had 10ft of snow fall before she’d left, and this was her first time in South Africa. I can only imagine what a contrast that must have been for her, with the mercury hitting 27C and not a Puffa jacket in sight.

tree_house_shots

For both shoots the team was up at 5am, ready to start at first light. Six o’clock is when the Cape Town sun is at its softest and easiest to work with and the clothes look their best (as opposed to later in the day when the harsh rays run the risk of creating dark shadows across the model’s face or bleaching out the colours). Plus, starting early means we are able to squeeze a lot in before the wind gets up around midday, which can be a bit challenging when you have floaty clothes and models like Christina with long flowing hair.

the_shoot

It’s knowing these things that makes it so much easier to create the shots we know will bring our clothes to life. It’s also the reason we keep coming back year after year. Eight at the last count.

See the shoots in the new Spring/Summer 2017 catalogue, which is due out at the beginning of March. Make sure you are signed up to receive your copy!