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Talent Emerging: Charlie May

Charlie May is the epitome of a modern day designer. Fully engaged with social media – check her Instagram out as soon as you finish reading this – May’s approach to design is one not-so-behind-the-scenes and that’s what I love about her. Business savvy – she launched her own E-commerce site last summer – as well as constantly striving to develop her eponymous label, May offers a distinct take on minimalism, roused by her countryside influences. Constantly inspired by her surroundings having grown up in Devon, studying Fashion Design and Bristol and now living in London, May has captured the attention of the fashion set through her successful social media presence as well as her contemporary designs.

Her signature minimalist style often draws inspiration from landscapes, architecture and design; for AW14 it was the moody, rugged moors that formed the base of the collection. This transpired through the use of pony hair and Mongolian fur to create texture, as well as oversized roll necks and wide leg trousers for depth. The result is a muted colour palette and exaggerated silhouettes, all combined to form a modernist, sport lux appeal. It is immediately clear that May would not design anything she wouldn’t then wear herself, in turn giving the label a stronger brand identity that consumers can relate to. Having worked previously for Louise Goldin and Thomas Tait, May organically grew her own label, which is continually gaining praise from the fashion world. This week, I caught up with the eclectic designer to see how she did it…

Planet Notion: Hi Charlie! So growing up in the countryside, that must have been different?
Charlie May: So much, yes! I didn’t really realise how much North Devon influenced me until I moved to London; I then saw how lucky I was growing up in a place like that. It was quiet there growing up; there’s not a lot to do for young people except roam the countryside. My brother and I would help my dad on the farm all the time with the cows and sheep – all my friends are surfers too. Devon is either farming or surfing it would seem!

PN: Interesting… what influenced you then?
CM: I went through big music phases when I was growing up, goth, punk, and riot grrrl. It was music that led me to fashion really. I had no idea about fashion before I went to Bristol UWE; I just loved altering clothes, sewing patches and lace onto old dresses and jackets. It wasn’t very minimal either; I even had pink and blue hair at one point!


PN: Studying design at Bristol, did you ever feel like you were missing out by not being in London?
I loved Bristol. I didn’t feel like I was losing out really. I moved to London in the second year to intern for Louise Goldin – that was an amazing experience and taught me a good work ethic. I couldn’t wait to move after that.

PN: As much as your degree was about the technical practice of design, did it give you a good grounding to start your own business?
CM: No, I learnt so much from my degree, but it was interning and making the right contacts through my blog that gave me the start I needed.

Charlie_May_001PN: That said, how did Charlie May, the brand venture begin?
I started the brand in late 2011 after many long nights interning. I felt I could perhaps pour the blood, sweat and tears into my own label instead [laughs]!

PN: We understand! What is the label’s aesthetic?
Contemporary minimalism, tailored and clean with beautiful textured fabrics.

PN: More about the clothes! Tell us a bit about what inspired your AW14 collection and how you chose to present it?
For AW14 I was inspired by a trip to the Devon Moors, it was so moody and windswept – the calf, knit, leather and mohair textures came from this landscape. Then the graphic use of black on white was inspired by contemporary sculpture, monochromatic contrasting mazes, such as Tony Smith at the Matthew Marks gallery. We presented it on the catwalk during LFW, with felt caps from a Gigi Burris x Charlie May collab. The knitwear was also a collaboration with Eleven Everything; that chalk look was everyone’s favourite.


PN: With so much talent graduating each year, how much support do you feel is available from the British fashion industry for emerging designers?
There’s a lot of support. CFE and DISC have been especially helpful to me. The business side is never taught to you in university and is often the thing designers struggle with most.

PN: I agree. Do you have any advice for young designers in today’s climate?
Get out there and build your profile as much as possible. It’s not enough to just have good designs. Work on that Instagram!


PN: I love your blog; it’s unique for a designer to have such a strong personal/digital presence, how did this come about?
I actually started the blog whilst I was studying Fashion Design at UWE. It kind of blew up in its own way, which has been amazing for the brand and building contacts along the way. I think it’s an exciting business model, as there’s no one out there doing it. Brands are struggling to get to grips with social media, but luckily that all came first for me. I just want people to know I’m a designer with a blog rather than the other way around!

PN: So social media is key to your brand?
Instagram is the most important. Being able to communicate with your followers what you’re up to every day through imagery is so powerful.

PN: Do you think Internet has changed the way the youth sees fashion?
It’s all very fast fashion I think, and I totally get it. You see something online and you want to buy it right then and there. By the time six months have gone by, you’re already into the next thing. I think fashion shows are the same; it’s all about press and that Instagram moment rather than the collection.


PN: Describe a typical day in the life?
Every day is so different, which is why I love it so much. I can be chained to my email, out in meetings or at the factory. Mostly I’m a mix of emailing, pattern cutting and meetings.

PN: What’s next?
Finalising orders for the new season then onto SS15.

PN: All sounds very exciting. And finally, tell us something no one else knows?
I think I already have, no ones knows I used to have pink and blue hair!

Catch the wonderful Charlie May and her musings at: www.charlie-may.co.uk

Why not also follow her on Twitter, Instagram and find her on Facebook.

- Hardeep Gill

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