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Angy's Blog February - May 2008

The trials and tribulations of a fashion designer in the Lake District!


22 May 2008: Cumbria Life

The lastest issue of Cumbria Life (June/ July) has arrived. My new ad (right) is in the Town and Country section on page 204. Cumbria Life is one of my favourite magazines - it describes itself as 'the best writing, the best pictures, the best magazine in the Lakes'. I have subscribed for several years and tend to agree because it is crammed with useful information and interesting, well-written, relevant and topical articles. For example in this issue there is a special feature about Lake Windermere and the people that live and work around the lake like myself.

There are always mouthwatering features about restaurants, and food in Cumbria, in addition to regular sections on walks, gardens, places to visit and the Cumbria of yesteryear. More importantly, Cumbria Life is a magazine which really lives up to its name and represents the people that live in Cumbria. You will always find nice stories about people who have set up interesting small businesses in the county, often crafts people with immense talent. In the current issue there is also a fascinating debate about the tensions between the needs of local communities in the Lake District and the threats and opportunities posed by our reliance on tourism. This is very close to my heart as a small business based in the region. Some of my best clients are visitors, or people that have retired to the Lake District or have second homes here. I therefore depend on them for a proportion of my business. Yet, like many young people here I am concerned because property prices forced up by second homes mean that, like many other local people, I cannot afford to buy a house of my owm. Catch 22. I'm not complaining, but it is sad when so many young people growing up here are forced to move away to find a job or a home elsewhere.

Romantique Couture
1 Atkinson Court
Fell Foot
Newby Bridge
United Kingdom
LA12 8NW

T: +44 (0) 15395 30648
M: +44 (0) 7812 210880


Watch out for the next issue (August/ September) which will include
Special Summer-autumn Fashion and Wedding sections.

17 May 2008: Vivienne Westwood

The V&A is organising an exhibition at Museums Sheffield Millennium Gallery called ‘Vivienne Westwood – The Exhibition’. Hooray! 29 May – 21 September 2008. It will showcase the work of Vivienne Westwood, one of the most influential fashion designers of the twentieth century, and somebody I deeply admire. Her quote sums up perfectly how I sometimes feel: “The only reason I’m in fashion is to destroy the word ‘conformity. Nothing’s interesting to me unless it’s got that element.” There will also be a series of fashion workshops and day courses – Hooray! Hooray!

8 May 2008: The Customer is King (or Queen)

A couple of days ago, I received a call from a potential client. She wanted alterations making to some garments. Not a problem, but due to commitments with other customers the first available date was in a fortnight. I pencilled her in. She turned up on the doorstep today just before five. She apologised for being nearly an hour late. She was actually two weeks early. I already had a client in the studio. I asked if she could wait ten to fifteen minutes. She wasn’t happy. She couldn’t wait. You win some. You lose some. Perhaps it was a Godsend?

7 May 2008: More Bluebells!

I work long hours. Sometimes very long hours. Weekends and evenings included. But I can put up with that because when I look out of the window I see the Lake District – the woods and hills over Windermere, and if I take a ten-minute walk I can gaze over a panorama of Lake Windermere and the Coniston Fells. Paradise. And sometimes, on special days like today when there isn’t a single cloud in the blue sky, I close the studio door, put on my walking boots and venture out into that paradise. It is an endless source of inspiration to me, just as it was to Wordsworth, Beatrix Potter, Arthur Ransome, Wainwright or the dozens of artists, writers, chefs and local business people who have made the Lake District their home.
There were still tourists around after the Bank Holiday so we headed west, to Buttermere and Crummock Water where we took an easy walk up the hidden valley of
Rannerdale and up to Rannerdale Knotts. At this time of year I am used to bluebells, indeed I love this time of year because of the bluebells.

There is barely woodland in the district, which isn’t blessed with a blue carpet. In this respect Rannerdale is a shock to the system. There are no trees unless you count the solitary hawthorns already budding with May blossom. But, there are swathes of bluebells extending to the lower slopes of the fells.
Bluebells in Rannerdale
According to legend this area resisted the Norman Conquest for 50 years after 1066 and the Norman army was ambushed and defeated by the native Britons and Norsemen in the so-called Battle of Rannerdale. It is also said that the bluebells sprang from the spilt blood of the slain Norman warriors! Bluebells and Blood? Maybe? I found a perfect bluebell blue fabric, but the textile wasn’t quite right … will keep searching!

Other flowers provide me with inspiration in the Lake District – Wordsworth’s nodding daffodils, the primroses and clouds of cow parsley in the hedgerows, the blaze of silky, vanilla-scented, golden-yellow gorse blossoms which never seems to be extinguished from the fells, the rhododendrons that run riot where they are not wanted, but reach their absolute pinnacle at Muncaster Gardens, the Bloody Cranesbills which colour the sand dunes in the west and, of course, the heather of the high fells.

If you are heading to Buttermere two recommendations: (1) ice cream at
Buttermere Ayrshires (I chose creamy peach flavour this time – a meal in itself – I also had seconds, but then I have to confess to being an ice cream addict! Yum! Yum!) and, (2) dinner at the Kirkstile Inn. If the weather is nice you can sit outside overshadowed by the heather-covered peaks of Melbreak and Grasmoor.

Gorse - inspiration throughout the year!
3 May 2008: Eskdale

Today we drove over to Eskdale on the western side of the Lake District. There was a gala at the ‘Ratty’, the miniature Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway. Little engines painted in all manner of colours, had gathered from all over the country, and were going through their paces, tested by the gradients of a line which terminates in the shadow of Scafell Pike, England’s highest mountain.
However, it was the scenery and the spring flowers, which captivated me. A dazzling carpet of bluebells carpeted the forests of the Duddon Valley, while nearer the coast bluebells were competing with primroses in a beguiling patchwork of colour. The fresh, pale yellow seemed to complement the purple-blue perfectly. It is a combination worth remembering for the future.

'La'al Ratty' - little train to the hills
Bluebells and Primroses
The ragged mosses hanging in clumps from trees in the valley also fascinated me. They reminded me of a wood near to my studio, which I often call ‘Sleepy Hollow’ on account of its mysterious, primeval appearance. I am presently working on a complex design for a wedding dress inspired by forest trees and the texture of the moss would be ideal for detail on the bodice, the trunk of the tree. The nearest likeness would be light velvet but even that is not quite right. I suspect I may need to find a suitable technique to distress and tear the fabric first. I also wish to represent ivy in my design since it is often used in wedding bouquets to represent eternal fidelity and wedded bliss. This dress is a spectacular project, which is very much in the planning stage. Hopefully, a few more forays into the woods will ensure my inspiration to complete it in time for the autumn wedding shows.

Distressed Velvet? Creepy 'Sleepy Hollow' Lichen - another nice texture

14 April 2008: Wilderness

It never fails to surprise how much variety of landscape is packed into this ‘little’ island. We took a different route back from Newcastle, over the high moors, and stumbled upon Upper Teesdale – one of those endearing places that you can’t help calling a ‘best kept secret’. It wasn’t only the roar of the mighty High Force waterfall, which struck me, but the endless expanse of the heather moors and the whitewashed farmhouses with their tidy fields and pitch covered Dutch barns. For some reason it brought to mind the Outer Hebrides rather than the Pennines. More food for thought, new ideas for a budding fashion designer!

Upper Teesdale
A view over the Lake District from the Pennines
High Force Waterfall - like a wedding gown and a veil

13 April 2008: The Long Blondes

Newcastle is such a vibrant city, filled with inspiration: from the elegant curve of Grey Street curving down to the Quayside, to the austere brutalist lines of the ‘Get Carter’ car park still dominating the Gateshead skyline – though not for much longer! However, this time there was little time for admiring architecture though I did manage a quick dash round the fashion stores in Eldon Square. Sadly, Vivienne Westwood’s boutique was closed.

My real reason for going to Newcastle was to see one of my favourite bands, ‘The Long Blondes’ who were playing a gig at the Carling Academy. It was a fantastic night. They played a fab selection of high-energy music and material from their new album, ‘Couples,’ from which the new single ‘Century’ is almost reminiscent of the early Human League. Very appropriate for a Sheffield band! The audience joined in from the beginning and the atmosphere was electric. I managed a few words with Screech, the drummer, after the gig and discussed using their hit single, ‘Giddy Stratospheres’ as the backing track for my catwalk show when I launch my new collection at the autumn wedding shows. He gave me their email address and suggested getting in touch.

The real highlight of the evening was meeting front-woman Kate Jackson – featured in The Guardian’s style section, the NME cool list, and described by Vogue as ‘a girl who loves fashion’. She was very, very tired and eager to get some sleep, but was still willing to stop and chat, sign autographs and pose for photographs – brilliant. It would be great if she would wear one of my designs, but she doesn’t use a stylist – she likes to protect her originality. I don’t blame her!

With Kate Jackson of the Long Blondes

PS. Just found the following clips from the gig posted on YouTube:
. Giddy Stratospheres 2. Here Comes the Serious Bit

A photo of me with another 'style guru' -
Clem Burke, drummer of Blondie
(Carlisle, summer 2007)

30 March 2008: ‘Live the Dream’

The big day finally arrives – ‘Live the Dream’ Wedding Show at Carlisle Racecourse, my first opportunity to exhibit my designs as a collection. I was very nervous, especially about fitting my dresses onto the models. But my fear was misplaced. Most of the exhibits on the catwalk were ‘off the peg’ wedding dresses - a sea of ivory and white, frills and glittering crystals. Even the backing music was restrained. Then it was my turn. Six models, six dresses, and a splash of colour all framed between the bars of ‘Mercy’ by Duffy. I was too busy dressing models to really take it all in, but the feedback was encouraging. There was a hush, mumbles and a significant round of applause. Nobody laughed. Nobody scorned my designs. My worries were misplaced, as people came to congratulate me and pass on comments. Suddenly, dresses created on dummies in my studio had come to life, and had even created an impact. There is a still a long way to go, but I finally feel I have actually achieved something and am gaining confidence!

Romantique Couture stand at 'Live the Dream"

Click here for a brief video of the event
from the Cumberland News

'Ice Maiden' 'Wastwater' 'Whitbarrow' & 'Borrowdale'
Click here for more information and pictures
of my
Spring Collection

Dates for your Diary

I will be exhibiting my NEW autumn collection at the following wedding events in Cumbria, where there will be Catwalk shows and
I will be available for advice and to arrange appointments:

DESIGNER WEDDING SHOW - 21 Sepember 2008: Abbey House, Barrow

LIVE THE DREAM WEDDING SHOW - 28 September 2008, Carlisle Racecourse

Please keep checking my website or reading my Blog for additional events.
Email me if you would like tonbe placed on my mailing list for future updates or brochures.

21 March 2008: Brochures and more Brochures

My brochures arrived from the printer today. Hundreds and hundreds of them. All of them to fold in half for the show and some to stuff into envelopes for local mailshots. Sounds like a task for Mike! I am pleased with the final result. My own brochure at last! I have pasted the artwork below. A full copy can be downloaded from the main website.

15 March 2008: Made in Cumbria
It is very important for me that my life and my business have as little impact as possible on the environment, and that everything I do reinforces our local community. As a consequence, in my personal life, I recycle whenever possible, and I make a conscious effort to reduce my carbon footprint through sourcing my food locally and using public transport or my own two feet rather than the car whenever it is practical. In this respect I am lucky living where I do. We have a good bus service, which can bring us back from the cinema after a night out in Bowness or Ulverston and drop us on the doorstep. We even have a regular boat service along the lake! We also live in a region where there is a strong emphasis on local, quality food, which hasn’t been transported half way, round the planet. We have some excellent local suppliers:
Aireys farm shop in the next village which provides us with locally reared meat and free-range eggs, our Margaret who delivers the milk, the much praised Howbarrow Organic Farm at Cartmel, a village bakery in Greenodd, a local post office for stamps, cards and groceries, and the famous ‘Lucy’s’ delicatessen in Ambleside. When we need a supermarket we use Booths who have won a string of awards for sourcing as much food locally as possible. Indeed, it is almost four years since I last stepped into Tesco – and I feel much healthier for it! I also believe that I have contributed in supporting local businesses whenever possible, and as a consequence have gained a real sense of belonging.
However, with my business I have a dilemma. Rampant consumerism has pushed prices for clothes down and down and as a consequence even the textiles I purchase are more often than not produced in far-flung corners of the globe and shipped enormous distances. I am constantly on the lookout for quality fabrics – silk, lace, cotton or tweed from local suppliers, and manufactured closer to home whenever possible. For example
Unique Image in Ulverston stocks some very beautiful printed fabrics, my local market stocks decent cotton, and I use some of the best-known quality manufacturers such as James Hare in Yorkshire. I am a member of ‘Made in Cumbria’ because all of my products are handmade here, in my studio. I even recycle garments and can easily transform a worn out dress or outfit into something new, fashionable and stylish. But the problem I am now faced with is that I would like to produce a few limited ranges of special designs. I will have to outsource the work but I don’t wish to go to factories in Eastern Europe or in China. I am trying to find somewhere closer to home, a family business perhaps which focuses on small runs to the high standards I demand for my creations. Once upon a time there were clothes factories and textile mills throughout the north of England, but over time they have closed, one by one, in the face of cheap imports. I can find nothing in Cumbria and am now looking further afield. Perhaps I will find something in north Lancashire, the Borders or perhaps even over the Pennines? This is my quest. The prices of British produced goods may be slightly higher than imports but they will support local jobs and will not cost the Earth. If anybody out there has any suggestions please Email me!

8 March 2008: Photo Shoot

I invited some friends round for a photo shoot – my hairdresser Zoë, and her elder sister Toni. I need photos so that Mike can create a brochure for me for the show and for future mailshots. It was thrilling to see my designs coming to life. Photos are rather amateurish but adequate for a first attempt. No doubt Photoshop will come in handy!
14 February 2008: What’s in a Name?

St. Valentine’s Day, and a lovely meal with my husband, Mike. But, I can’t really relax. Six weeks to go before the wedding show. Four dresses nearly complete, but there are two I haven’t even started. I am pleased with the ‘Ice Maiden’ – an ivory silk taffeta wedding dress inspired by frosted leaves, which I photographed on Orrest Head. I crafted the leaves from the same fabric with metal embroidery thread. This particular concept has been going round and round in my mind for months now, so I am so relieved to see the finished dress. The name was easy. Others are more difficult. I decided to name my unique designs from the places that have often inspired them. For example my rather bizarre ‘Borrowdale’ evening dress with its sinuous curves brings to mind the clashing ‘Jaws of Borrowdale’ viewed from Friars’ Crag. I was so pleased with the design that I felt it deserved a name first coined by the poets, who feared and exaggerated that dramatic landscape. My ‘Tilberthwaite’ dress gained its name from Beatrix Potter’s favourite valley, a leafy, wooded place reminiscent of the green appliqué I used on the shoulder.

My latest creation is ‘Wastwater’, a contemporary silver and black wedding dress which came to mind late on a winter's day whilst I was sitting, staring at the reflection of the Screes in the lake. The black colour represents the deep water whilst the silver is the reflection of the twilight.

I have just received the fabric for my next design, which I have decided to name ‘Solway Sunset’. This is a stunning, gold satin silk with red and blue swirling patterns. This name was coined after a summer’s evening drive along the back road from Ennerdale to Loweswater beside Kelton Fell. As the sun set over the Scottish hills and the Solway there was a beautiful golden glow which touched the recently harvested fields and brought a warmth to the sweet-scented meadowsweet and the foxgloves along the hedgerows.

Wastwater - recently voted
Britain's favourite view
Sunset over the Solway Firth
- sheer magic!
The Wastwater Screes tumbling into,and reflected in, the depths of England's deepest lake
Cumbria can probably provide names ad infinitum but the difficulty arises where more than one design is inspired by the same place, for example dramatic features of the landscape such as the Screes, Piers Gill, the Jaws of Borrowdale, Aira Force or Lodore.

Angy's Blog is written by Angela Morton, Fashion Designer & Dressmaker
Photographs copyright of Mike and Angela Morton

Copyright Romantique Couture 2008