Conjuring up textiles and sequins galore, that’s graduate designer Colleen Leitch’s world
You can’t help but notice a collection like Colleen Leitch’s. Thousands of sequins fused onto oversized silhouettes to create darkly romantic designs. Seemingly taking elements from Parisian style with a hint of the Wild West, there’s a much more personal influence hidden behind her collection. She’s multi-talented – winning awards for both menswear and womenswear – and holds the prestigious title of Fashion Graduate of the Year 2014 from the Scottish Fashion Awards. Did we forget to mention she only graduated a few months ago?
This girl is all about textiles and creating the next big thing. That’s why we’ve chosen Colleen as our latest One to Watch.
Why did you choose fashion design?
I became interested in fashion from a very young age. It wasn’t something that was forced; it just happened naturally.
So you’re studying an MA in Womenswear right now, but last year, you won the Duchamp Menswear Competition. What’s the differences in designing for men and women?
For my final graduate collection, I began designing menswear but it naturally developed into womenswear. I feel that was because my concept was so personal. I think at that point in time I liked the silhouettes that were happening in menswear and they were similar to the clothes I was wearing myself. But womenswear is far more instinctive for me as I find it easier to know what suits the female form. I think menswear is a bit more restrictive in that it’s all about detailing. I’m currently studying my MA in Womenswear at the Royal College of Art so I think I will be sticking to womenswear for a while.
Does your Scottish heritage inspire you at all?
When I studied menswear, it influenced me a lot. I find brands in Edinburgh very inspiring especially Common People and their mix of contemporary style with traditional British craftsmanship. I think designers’ heritage does naturally filter through into their work, so I would say there are elements of Scotland in my work.
Talk us through your graduate collection.
I have a great interest in the development of new textiles so it was my aim to manipulate untraditional fabrics and fibres that aren’t really associated with garment production. One of the fabrics that I wanted to develop was a grip surface mat. I experimented with different ways of bonding the mat to different surfaces. By trapping sequins in between the rubber mats and bonding them together, it created a thin rubber material that looks similar to leather. I then stitched sequins on top to create a gradient effect from black to white. The textiles I created capture and reflect light. I wanted to be as sustainable as possible because of the large amount of plastic I was using, so I used vintage sequins and fabric.
Let’s talk about those sequins. How many did you use and how long did it take to create all your garments?
Around 153,000 sequins. The making of the garments took around two months but the whole process of creating the collection was about eight months.
Your collection seemed to fuse a lot of influences together. There appeared to be a bit of Western with the hats along with glamour and elegance from the sequins and silhouettes. What were your inspirations and how did you balance them all?
My collection was based on my personal religious beliefs. Rather than approach this in a literal sense, I explored it through feelings. I have a strong personal connection with photography and the feeling that’s evoked when capturing photos that concentrate on the effects of light. They symbolise the purity of my belief and I tried to capture the beauty and sense of wonder that I get when viewing this imagery. It has been a search for not only purity but understanding and an interpretation through garments of the feelings I get when capturing these light photos. The material I developed was a literal interpretation of the images I captured.
Who is the Colleen Leitch woman?
Someone who has effortless style. A woman who is powerful and bold but sensitive. Someone like Diana Vreeland – a woman who you instantly respect and are inspired by.
You’ve won quite a few awards already. How does it feel to win these titles?
It’s such an honour! If I’m honest, it still hasn’t sunk in…
What are your hopes for the future?
When I graduate from RCA, I would ideally like to work for a high-end brand like Balenciaga or Bottega Veneta. I have always found these brands inspiring because of their use of new materials and how they manage to create collections that have a balance between femininity and modernity. But the dream of having my own brand will always be there so hopefully, one day it will be achievable.
Photography: Debbie Bowe
Words: Lauren Sharkey