Meet the Designer: Christine Hafsten
A defining moment in Christine Hafsten’s life occurred when at the age of 15 she picked up a magazine in a dentist waiting room, of all places. “There was a picture of Karl Lagerfeld standing in front of a palace,” says the Cath Kidston design director.
At the time Paris seemed a million miles from Ski, the small Norwegian village she was raised, however the five-page interview on the late fashion designer enabled her to establish there are jobs in fashion, her biggest love. “It was a wow moment. I remember asking the dentist if I could tear out the interview and from there design became my goal.”
Almost immediately she joined a vocational high school that offered tailoring diplomas where she honed her sewing and sketching skills. Following that she enrolled on the BA Fashion degree at The Academy of Art in San Francisco. It was then that a string of good luck and coincidences came her way. “Lots of things happened by accident but I think you need to be awake in life to see them coming your way so you can go with the flow.”
She describes course leader Simon Ungless as “crazy and innovative”, had recently moved from London and was best friends with the late Lee [Alexander] McQueen, who was a fledgling designer at the time. Sarah Burton, who is now creative director at McQueen and designed Kate Middleton’s wedding dress, cites him as being responsible for where she is now. Seeing potential in Christine, Simon secured her a summer job at the design house, which at the time (1998) comprised a tiny team of four who worked above a café in Shoreditch called ‘The Bean’.
The following summer Simon organised a placement at Fleat studio, which was responsible for printing Donna Karen’s iconic t-shirts. Fleat then suggested she joined the Central St. Martin’s MA course, swapping design for print she was accepted onto the Fashion in Print and Textiles course. She was taught by the prolific Louise Wilson and graduated the same year as Kim Jones, creative director of Dior Homme.
Although signed to agencies she was looking for her “dream job” and it was Kim that introduced her to the Black Book, a holy grail to the fashion industry that lists contact details of every design house.
“So I called all of the people in Paris, I remember being super-scared sitting at home on the sofa dialing number after number saying, ‘Hi can I show you some fabrics?’ And they would reply, ‘OK, come and show us’. I couldn’t actually believe they were saying ‘yes’.”
In fact Christine’s entire graduate collection was brought by the Paris powerhouses including John Galliano, Givenchy, Emilio Ungaro, Karl Lagerfeld (yes, she finally met Karl) and – perhaps most critically – Louis Vuitton, which was under the creative direction of Marc Jacobs.
“I met Marc in his studio and after the meeting I dropped the folder I was carrying that contained my favourite inspiration photos, a picture of Tabitha Getty wearing a quilted coat sitting on a roof in morocco fell out. Marc said, ‘I’ve been looking for that image everywhere, can I photocopy it?’ He also asked to see my other pictures, and he said, ‘These are really inspiring, maybe you can do some research for us?’ It was another one of those times you have to think to yourself, ‘OK this is a moment, focus and make the most of it’.”
She continued to work alongside Marc at Louis Vuitton for six years, before joining Burberry as the British heritage brand’s print designer and working for some big high street brands on a freelance basis.
Then six years ago she joined Cath Kidston, which she says she felt a “synergy” with immediately. Here she tells us about her role as design director and the all-important new print – Freston.
What is important to you when designing?
“That every product in the store feels real and relevant. We are famous for our prints, but bringing the spirit of the brand into plain items is also important. That’s something we are working on. It’s important that items brighten up your day, which can mean many things, it can be something that actually brightens up your day, or something that makes you really happy because it delivers functionally – not necessarily because it is bright yellow or neon pink.
Everything should feel cared for in its design and the best it can be at that price point. When Cath Kidston started she was doing something that no one was doing. To reflect that today we are making something that adds value to someone because care has been put into the design. We are continuing to evolve and develop bringing Cath Kidston forward to today.”
And one of these developments is your newest print is Freston…
“Freston is a new direction for Cath Kidston, but we still wanted to look back to our heritage. Cath Kidston is often inspired by vintage florals and are we known for roses; but we are also recognised for our canvas bags – so Freston kind of combines the two. For this design we wanted something that was neutral and offered choice. Some of our customers may like the brand but their work requires for them to wear something more pared-down. She might be a CEO or a lawyer, so she can’t necessarily have these overt bursts of femininity over her clothes in her day-to-day life. We wanted to offer something new to that customer.”
Where did you start when designing the Freston print?
“We set about saying we wanted it to be quite a new colour palette – with more muted colours. We wanted a motif that could live on for years, and wasn’t season sensitive and we wanted something that was graphic in its layout – to give a feeling of calm, rather than a vibrant bunch of roses, for example.”
What elements are incorporated into the design?
“It is a composition of three elements. The canvas twill fabric that lines a lot of our coats, the ‘CC’ we call it, is used behind the rose inside the scalloped edge of the print, to add dimension. We looked at our archive Provence design and took the rose element from that. And we also experimented with a number of Indian wood block techniques, (where people carve the blocks and roll the colour over and stamp). We were really inspired by the simplicity and texture you achieve from woodblock.”
Was there a lot of trial and error?
“We began using circles, squares and little dots, but we quickly moved away from that as it started to look like a different brand. We did about 20 different sketches and drafts. Then someone started developing a new metal bag hardware
using our old Provence design and we created a scalloped edge from that. When we saw it we thought, ‘Actually that’s really beautiful’ – we loved the scalloped shape: it’s really feminine, but it’s also graphic and modern – and easily repeated as a pattern.”
You’ve talked about nostalgia in your designs…
“Absolutely, I like design to conjur up happy childhood memories, I believe you rejuvenate yourself through memories. Details like the leather trim, which is loosely inspired by childhood nostalgia, from the 70s and early 80s. It makes me think of being little and looking up at my mum and just seeing the bottom of her bag dangling above my head.”
Is it exciting when a design comes together?
“Its very exciting, our print team gets really passionate about what we do. Developing the print we had all of these mood boards up in the hub and we were looking at these designs, saying, ‘I kind of like this one’, or ‘I kind of like that one’. But there was never a bad moment. Then deciding to investigate around the simplicity of the woodblock formation was a light bulb moment. One of the girls in the team, Alice, went away and played with it for a couple of hours and came back and she had mounted all these beautiful colours onto a board – I looked at it and thought, ‘That’s it!”
Where does it go from here?
“Freston is a longevity program for us. We really do see it as adding another dimension to what we already have to offer. We can see it growing into new colours, new styles, possibly into new materials and we may grow the range using the motif in different incarnations. For example, we are also doing an over print on some of the totes with our iconic cowboy and cacti archive print”.
Where do you look for inspiration?
“People I see on the street! I tap them on the shoulder and ask where their clothes or bags are from; and sometimes ask if I can take a photo of them. So I have a random selection of photos of people rushing to work. I think if you want to stay relevant you need to be aware of what people are wearing – and what different groups are thinking. Also, I think if you follow some of the less contrived Instagram accounts you really can travel the world.”
How do you see the future of Cath Kidson?
“I see us growing into a more and more relevant and modern lifestyle brand. It is really important that our products have a purpose. Our customer has a very busy and varied life – so they need products that performs for them.”