By Eva Whalen
designer Gill Connon
Gill Connon designs her creations in a Basque country studio near San Sebastion, and at her home in Hendye, France. A long-time New Yorker who lived in the Chelsea Hotel, and Scottish by birth with a lovely lilting accent, Connon’s aesthetic is vintage, tímeless, elegant, and distinctive. There’s a touch of endearing whimsy in many of her creations, too. BN NYC interviews her here to shed light on her creative process.
BN: Tell us about the inspiration for your work. Why vintage?
GC: This stems from a love of memories; as a child, the dressing-up
box was a world of its own. My granny, grandma and great aunts had collections of their clothes and other bits and pieces that they let my sister and I go through and dress up in — we would invent our own little world. I always loved jumble sales, and as I grew up, second hand shops and the Red Cross Sale on a Thursday were places for finding my style! Buying and restyling clothes, or just wearing them as they were at school, I used to wear 1940’s suits or the jacket from them with some drainpipe jeans and great auntie Kates blouse! It wasn’t as easy to buy the clothes you would like to wear back then. So this is where my love for vintage started. In reference to my work the vintage comes from here too I reackon. I was always surrounded by it, and where else do you find such fabulous fabrics ,textures, prints and colours? I adore the Victorian trimmings and buttons made with black lace, jet buttons and beads; the Victorian mourning era is something I find fascinating .
BN: How do you come up with creative ideas for designs?
GC: It takes anywhere from a couple of days to years in the studio before anything comes together. I start and then leave things for up to a year at times. Last week I finally found the finish to a piece I had put aside, and it was a great success! I am continuously visiting museums by foot or online. Everyday objects are always an influence: the shape of a plant, something in the kitchen, a sieve, or an old tea cup. I love wandering around junk shops and rummage sales. I used to relish just roaming the streets and watching people go by in Edinburgh and New York, and of course, the influence of what designers are doing – maybe colours, prints, shapes and other stuff.
BN: Where do you find your materials?
GC: All over – I’ve been collecting bits and bobs for years, from vintage trimmings to retail. The best is when I come across a store that’s closing, and all of the old stock has been pulled out; it’s amazing how one person’s rubbish is another person’s treasure. I like mixing new with old usually, using quality silks and cottons, ribbons and feathers from all over the world, purchased online or on visits. All the felts and straws are new, but are mixed with lace from the early 1900s the ‘60s, etc. I found some amazing metallic lace from the 1600’s recently: http://gillconnon.blogspot.fr/2011/06/amazing-metal-bobbin-lace-on-my-bandeau.html
BN: How often do you present new designs, or is that not something that you necessarily plan out?
GC: My designs go on continuously! I’m starting to make moments of presentation, but to be honest, it just happens. My designs are one-offs, and I’m still growing .
BN: Do you have plans to branch out into another design area?
GC: I would love to make blouses and coats. I think blouses will come first , but I dream about making 1930’s to ‘40s fitted coats in wools and twills. I’ve made bags in the past, and always say I will make more…
BN: Are there any vintage designers you especially admire?
GC: Romain de Tirtoff… Erté was my first idol! I bought my first design book in New York in 1979. Elsa Schiaparelli, Barbara Hulanicki, Charles Frederick Worth, Christian Dior (the new look), Nina Ricci, Bill Cunningham, Victorian unknowns, and my Great Aunts made their own clothes, so they too would have to be mentioned .
BN: Who are some of your favorite designers in general?
GC: Vivianne Westwood, Sonia Rykiel, John Galliano, Comme des Garçons, Betty Jackson, Alexander McQueen, and of course without a doubt Stephen Jones — oh so many more!
BN: Who are some of your cultural style icons?
GC: Loulou de la Falaise, David Bowie, Marlène Dietrich, Iris Apfel, Jane Birkin, Debbie Harry, Annie Lennox, James Dean, Katherine Hepburn, Coco Chanel, Marc Bolan, Bianca Jagger.
BN: Why did you choose to become a designer, were there early influences in your life, or was it an inherent talent, or both?
GC: My mum made clothes. I had pieces my great aunts had made, and recently I found out that my aunt had wanted to be a milliner.
BN: What’s your favorite era for fashion, apart from the present?
GC: The ‘40’s, without a doubt.
BN: What’s your favorite fabric?
GC: One would be impossible. Felt, wool and silk crepes and Strauss, but I could go on and on if I started on trimings! My designs are made of various materials: felts, cashmere, wool, straw, silks and more.
BN: Has there been a fashion trend that you’ve really disliked?
GC: Yes, but as time goes on you see them in a different light. I do wish girls would wear undies, and empire line dresses must be worn with respect! I wasn’t crazy about the big clumpy shoes from the early 2000s or the fact it was difficult to find trousers that covered your belly button for a while.
BN: Are there any movies or TV shows with fashion/stylist/costume designers that really stand out in terms of great design and fashion inspiration?
GC: Tim Burton – all of his films are fabulous. And costume designers Coleen Atwood, Milena Canonero, Sonia Grande and many more… Diane Keaton in Annie Hall.
BN: If you weren’t a designer, what else would you be doing right now?
GC: Restoring costumes in a museum (my dream job).
BN: Where can people purchase your creations /designs?
GC: I’m working with a shop called Altantis in San Sebastian in Spain: http://gillconnon.blogspot.fr/2011/05/we-are-in-may-already.html and the rest by order, and from my studio in Hendye France. I hope to be online too in the near future, but pieces can be viewed — and I can be contacted — through my blog: http://gillconnon.blogspot.fr/