There are many hidden creative gems working amongst the Leeds Art Scene. ‘Artist in the Spotlight’ is TSOTA’s attempt to shine a light on some of them. You may or may not have come across them directly, but here at TSOTA we hope to gather them together and give you their lives in few words. You can then decide if you want to know more…
This week’s Artist in the Spotlight is: Marie Stenton
Currently working on: The Marie Stenton label
In a nutshell? Marie Stenton offers luxury, fashion forward accessories with a key focus on scientific, digital prints and experimental techniques, all of which are manufactured in England
TSOTA: Why did uou decide to start the label?
MS: To be honest, my first plan was just to graduate, move to London and (hopefully) get a job with a big name fashion house. I changed my mind at the end of my final year, as I was selected to show my graduate collection at New Designers and won the Clothworker’s award. I got a lot of good press and encouragement, not to mention a handy grant, which gave me something to start up with. I quickly re-assessed my situation and decided, rather than moving to London to work 20-hour days for minimum wage, I would stay in Leeds and have a go at things myself.
TSOTA: What do you think won you the Clothworkers’ Company Printed Textile Design Prize at New Designers 2013?
MS: The collection I exhibited at New Designers was really different to most of the other work on show at the time. Overall, the exhibition was quite commercial and heavy on 2D print. Whereas I had taken a more couture approach and displayed a range of gold, foiled leather cut outs, with laser engraved, biblical images, embroidered silk laser cuts and ruffles.
TSOTA: What has been the most challenging part of starting your own label?
MS: Organising my time. Starting a business on your own, you have to be about 10 different people at once: the designer, accountant, press and PR etc. I’m also working full time as a product developer for a lingerie company in Leeds, so everything gets pushed to evenings and weekends, which doesn’t leave much time for a social life!
TSOTA: What led you to incorporate science into your designs?
MS: I just find it fascinating. To start off with, I’d always had a slight obsession with anatomy, then the more I looked into it the more I found that you can make the most beautiful, detailed patterns out of the most unlikely subjects. I love the idea that everything has beauty in one way or another.
TSOTA: Could you talk me through some of the technical processes you use to create your prints, for example your use of a microscope and macro photography?
MS: I started just using macro photography to look closer at different textures and patterns in nature, such as moth wings or bone structures for example. I then put everything through a continuous process of cropping and blending on Photoshop to create a fluid print. The intention is to keep people guessing at what the original photographs were even of.
After a while of looking even closer at things I bought a digital microscope, my new favourite toy! Although I’m learning to prepare my own slides, I buy most of them ready prepared on eBay across all different subjects from insects to skin tissues. I feel like I’m cheating a bit this way but it beats my attempt to dissect the bugs I find in my flat…
Bag – (c) Marie Stenton
TSOTA: Why is it important to you that your lines are designed, sourced and manufactured in England?
MS: Britain has such a rich history of textile manufacturing and I would love to see it come back again, I could easily outsource my printing etc. abroad and pay a fraction of the price but I would much rather know that I am supporting neighbouring businesses and my local economy.
Manufacturing and sourcing materials close to home also means less need for transportation and therefore fewer emissions. As well as simply knowing that by using British manufacturers, the work is always done in fair and ethical conditions.
TSOTA: How easy is it to maintain a fashion label being sustainable and environmentally friendly?
MS: I find it quite easy at the moment, as it’s just me working from home. I have complete control over ever aspect so I make sure nothing is wasted. Every scrap of fabric is kept in a box and used for sampling or making one off products, paper and packaging is always re-used. As mentioned before I use as many local businesses as possible, some of them within walking distance, reducing issues such as transportation.
In terms of the actual printing, everything is done digitally which means no water, solvents or chemicals are used, no printing plates or UV lighting is required and overall there is much less waste.
TSOTA: What do you think of the Leeds fashion scene, how is it to have a label based here?
MS: I think Leeds is great for fashion. There’s such as mix of small independent/vintage shops, boutiques and departments stores which is definitely reflected on the streets. There’s also a huge music and arts scene in Leeds, which works well together and influences fashion. As I mentioned before I had planned on moving straight to London after graduating, but once I started looking around for related work in Leeds I found a hidden gem of independent studios, manufacturers/designers and printers. All of which have been so helpful to starting the brand, whether it’s using their services or just been on hand for a bit of advice.
TSOTA: How has your previous work at Alexander McQueen and Religion influenced you, both in terms of your creative output and your perception of the fashion world?
MS: They were both such different placements so it was good to get that contrast between designer and high street. I enjoyed both of them for different reasons but ultimately decided it was the high level creativity, imagination and experimentation that I loved about working on high fashion pieces. The only thing I didn’t like was the hours. Working in a place like that consumes your whole life so it’s a big commitment to make, (another reason why I decided to set up myself.)
I was at McQueen for a lot longer than Religion so that’s where I learned the most. My main responsibilities were pattern cutting, embroidery and working with various material manipulation techniques. Having all of these new skills definitely influenced my final collection at University, but mostly it taught me how to think in a new way about the design process and putting a coherent collection together. Sadly, I never got the chance to work in their print department but I found the skills I learned in other departments are still transferable.
(c) Marie Stenton
TSOTA: What are your favourite pieces from your AW/14 collection?
MS: The Feather and Bone print scarf and Moth Wing tote. They were both really fun prints to make as they used some of my favourite original photographs. They’re also not as bright as my other prints so they’re both just really wearable pieces that you can throw on with anything.
TSOTA: What are your plans to expand the label?
MS: As the brand is so young it’s all about expansion at the moment. My main goal is keeping up with press and increasing my number of stockists just to get the name out there and recognised. I’m currently approaching stockists outside of the UK and would love to eventually be known globally. Places such as Berlin and Copenhagen have an amazing fashion scene and are particularly concerned with sustainable fashion so I’d like to branch out there first.
TSOTA: Where would you love to see Marie Stenton being stocked?
MS: I would love to be stocked in places like Liberty, Harvey Nichols and Selfridges. They are the first places I think of when I think luxury goods store. I took part in Liberty’s open call earlier this year and got some really good feedback so I’m going to approach them again next season.
Really though, I’d just like to see my products in a range of independent, designer boutiques across the UK.
TSOTA: Would you like to develop any other ranges? Do you feel clothing or footwear would fit your brand for example, and is there anything you wouldn’t want to produce?
MS: Yes! Not straight away as I am still just starting up but over the next few years. I’ve talked a bit about my love for couture fashion so that’s the ultimate dream. I’ve started with accessories just to get my feat on the ground and hopefully in a year or two I’ll be in a position to introduce a clothing range. I would like to think that as the brand grows it will naturally progress into other areas such as footwear too.
I couldn’t imagine myself having a cosmetics line or perfume. It’s just not something I’ve even been bothered about. Otherwise though I would say anything’s possible and never say never!
TSOTA: What’s does your next collection have in store?
MS: I am really excited about my Spring/Summer collection. It’s my first collection using my new microscope so there are some really intricate, delicate details in the prints. I’m introducing a few new products too such as printed satin clutch bags and hand sewn, chiffon kimonos.