The Fashion Week marathon begins in New York tomorrow and the last in our ones-to-watch extravanganza is witty knitter, Helen Lawrence.
Joining Ashley Williams and Louise Alsop, Helen Lawrence is the final designer to join this season's Fashion East line-up. Graduating from Central Saint Martins in 2012, she showed her last collection with Fashion Scout and is the girl behind all of Craig Green's extraordinary knitwear. She has a super-talent for mixing finished and unfinished perfectly, combining shiny and matte and uses a trademark scribble-stitch embroidery to join them all together. Plus she has tons of personality. We talk Eastenders, Sugarbabes and glam, tanned Newcastle gals. Let the knitwear funfair begin!
Congratulations on getting Fashion East! You must be really excited…
Yeah, really excited, and really nervous.
How did you find out?
I applied, and then I got an email from Fashion East saying I’d been shortlisted and to come in for an interview, nothing formal, I just brought in some work to show Lulu and a couple of the other guys that work there and showed them some of my work, talked to them and theysaid they'd let me know after that. Then they sent me an email and I was like ‘What!’ I couldn’t believe it, I was so happy.
What was Lulu Kennedy like?
She was really nice, I’d met her quite a few times because I worked with Craig Green and he shows at Fashion East so when he did the show I’d be backstage and things like that. She’s really lovely, really helpful and had loads of really good advice.
Have things gone crazy since it was announced?
The day it was announced I couldn’t leave my computer because every ten seconds I’d have an email, it just went crazy and I was like, oh my god, this is ridiculous! I’d just love someone to come in and just sit at my computer and just send emails.
What was it like working with Craig Green?
Really good, we were friends throughout the MA, we sat next to each other so I always joked like "if you start your own label I’ll do your knitwear!" and then he did and asked if I’d do the knitwear. We graduated in March 2012, so it took me quite a while because I went to Fashion Scout. I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do, so I did a few seasons with Craig and then wanted to try it myself. But I want to work with lots of other people as well. I think it’s really good that I got to work with Craig because I do womenswear and his is menswear but they have a similar vibe and it’s just nice to work for a different market and push some men’s knits because I love menswear.
Would you ever go into menswear?
I don’t know, I just want to make really nice jumpers! But maybe. Maybe I’ll just work with Craig forever! I made jumpers for his collection in January.
How similar is your work?
I think we’re similar in the textures that we use and we both like to push it in a certain way so something quite traditional looks new and interesting. He has his big statement pieces and I don’t, I think I’m a bit scared at the moment! I’m not there yet. I’m not a sculptural kind of person.
You’re Fashion Scout collection is amazing.
That’s so mental because I literally found out I’d got Fashion Scout really close to the show and I was still doing production for Craig. It was a really small collection, there were ten looks.
Any clues as to what your next collection will look like?
I’m collaborating with a jewelry designer, her name’s Lily Kamper. We graduated together from the BA and she makes this really amazing jewelry, she’s stocked in Liberty. There will be really chunky, big pieces. It’s going to be quite casual but it’s still going to have crafty - not crafty like ‘old lady' - but some hand-made elements to it, it’s going to be all hand-done which is really time consuming. I do it on a machine but all by hand. The actual knit of the pieces we made last season was so simple but we did it all in an ecru colour first, then linked it, then dyed them as a whole jumper which was really risky because if it didn’t take to the dye it could have been blotchy. So I was dipping whole jumpers in the dye like “please work, please work, please work!” One wasn’t quite the right colour but it came out even better so I was like "I don’t care, it’s beautiful!"
Where are you from originally?
I’m from a little seaside town just outside of Newcastle, called Whitley Bay. I moved down here six years ago for my BA so I did my A-levels and then Art Foundation and then took a year out last minute. I was supposed to be coming down here for uni but I hadn’t got into Chelsea and I really wanted to go so I reapplied and got in. I came down and went to Chelsea in 2007 and went straight to Saint Martins. The MA was crazy, I loved it, best thing I ever did.
Were you nervous joining such a prestigious course?
Yeah, I was absolutely crapping my pants! I fainted on enrolment day, it was really hot and I was wearing a wool coat - it was still October so it was warm - and I just went all the way down the stairs. Always causing some kind of scene, I’m really clumsy… It’s kind of competitive but then everyone’s in the same boat, everyone’s so scared. I was always really interested by other people’s work – and scared by it but I think everyone’s like that.
And now you’re in Fashion East!
Yeah I don’t know how that happened, I think it’s a mistake!
Who are some of your favourite knitwear designers?
SIBLING are amazing but there were so many knitwear designers not long ago and they’ve all gone away a bit. Céline always have really nice knitwear, but you know, all those big power-houses have nice knitwear.
Who are your favourite non-knitwear designers?
I really love Marques’Almeida. I love everything that comes down the catwalk. They were in the year above me on the MA, I remember. And Simone Rocha had a really beautiful coat in her spring/summer 14 collection, it was like a big, green, leather oversized coat, I love it. It’s so feminine but really cool. I’m going to a wedding soon and I really wish I could wear that!
What are you going to wear to the wedding?
No idea, a binbag?! This is back home so they’re all going to be really girly and pretty. I’m quite lucky that my group of friends at home aren’t really girly, they’re just really chilled so I think if I went and hung out with them in something weird they wouldn’t even notice. Last time I went home we went to a chilled pub but if we were in the city-centre – like I could go out like this, in a jeans and jumper - but you couldn’t do that in Newcastle. You’d spend three hours doing your hair and make-up and the girls are all tanned with no coats. I used to be like that, but I was really young and it was all you’d see. I’m not glam, I feel like such a scruff. I always wear these £1 T-shirts from Ridley Road Market.
Who would be your dream person to dress?
I recently sent some to Solange not long ago, and Katy Perry and Lady Gaga and MKS, you know, the original Sugarbabes. Quite a lot of boys want to wear my stuff, is that weird? They all want the pink jumper. I don’t know, I’ll have a think, I’m really funny about stuff like that. Rihanna wants to wear it though. She better!
What TV programs do you watch?
I have to watch Eastenders. I live for Eastenders. If I don’t watch it everyday I’m gutted. If I missed it I will totally take a night and just watch them all. And I watch Homeland, I’m obsessed with crime drama’s. I was obsessed with Luther.
How do you think life will change after Fashion East?
I think I’ll be more busy! I’m just hoping to sell some jumpers for a start. I’d quite like to do consultancy for a lot of people and do more projects with other people so I could have a massive portfolio of all different things. I think it will help my own work. And Fashion East have been amazing, they’re always there if I just need to call them. I think it’s really hard trying to start up a business if you’re coming from fashion school because you don’t know anything about that sort of thing so you’re trying to balance that with making your own stuff. We’ll see what happens.