24 Hours With Karen Phelps
This is a snapshot into the life of GOLDSIGN’s Creative Director Karen Phelps. Literally.
First thing you think about when you wake up?
A cup of Yorkshire Tea.
What’s the best way to start a day?
Tea, a call to my family in England and tuning into Radio 4.
What’s the first app you go to in the morning and how do you stop yourself from scrolling?
The Modern House, a design-led estate agency, is very difficult to stop looking at! I collect mid-century English ceramics and glassware and recently bought a Whitefriars knobbly glass vase from eBay too, which is another favourite app.
Describe yourself in three words…
Generous, strong-willed, independent.
How would your friends describe you in three words?
Loyal, generous and someone with a dry sense of humour.
What’s been your biggest ever fashion faux-pas?
What purchase has been your biggest wardrobe extravagance?
A pair of fantastic custom made Henry Duarte jeans, which were a financially ecstatic purchase and one very much of their time.
Who do you most admire and why?
Vivienne Westwood, for all the obvious reasons: uncompromising, radical and unconditionally creative.
Can you tell us about the story behind GOLDSIGN?
Since 2005, GOLDSIGN has represented the highest expression of denim, which had originally been implemented by its founding fathers. When I joined the team in 2016, we reinvented the collection using a refined and minimalistic approach to denim design based on the idea of an architectural, clean and forward-thinking silhouettes. We have really focused on the idea of a stripped back jean, utilising considered tailoring techniques not traditionally associated with denim construction, which has become inherent to the aesthetic of the brand. We are fully integrated as a brand in the sense that we design, develop, wash and manufacture the entire collection in-house, making us a denim atelier of sorts.
How Soon Is Now? by The Smiths.
Favourite piece of art?
The Madcap Laughs by Mick Rock, which I own a copy of. It hangs in my study in London and I never tire of its colours, soft focus, simplicity and of course the mystical energy of Syd Barrett depicted in the photograph.
What palette have you used over this season’s pieces, why were you drawn to those particular shades?
Last year, I went to see an incredible exhibition at Tate Britain of Rachel Whiteread’s pieces. Her translucent resin sculptures featured heavily on our mood boards and, from a color perspective, were a continuous point of reference throughout the season.
Can you speak more to GOLDSIGN’s silhouettes this season?
The emphasis is on structured sculptural shapes, exaggerated shoulders and neat waists.
You’ve said that GOLDSIGN isn’t simply fashion-led, what are the benefits of dressing independent of trends?
I’ve always been drawn to timeless, easy, functional garments, which are intrinsic in my thought process and philosophy for the brand. We want to offer the GOLDSIGN woman versatile pieces that are interchangeable, adaptable and can withstand the test of time. How our woman feels when wearing GOLDSIGN is incredibly important and I think we have really identified the subtle nuances that she desires when wearing denim. I am constantly wear-testing our new fits and fabrics to ensure each style holds to our high standard of quality and ease. Although we evolve each season, we always make sure to keep to this approach in mind when designing.
How would you describe your design process?
Organic and collaborative.
The best advice you've ever been given?
The brilliant Paul Shriek, my former lecturer at Newcastle College of Arts, once said to me "Shy bairns get nowt," which, when translated from Geordie dialect, means never be afraid to ask. His words have stayed with me throughout my life.
How has your upbringing influenced who you are today?
Being from the North East of England, I took on the sense of honesty associated with people from there along with inheriting a strong work ethic from my parents.
How did you become a designer, what’s been your career progression?
My path has been a natural progression through a combination of many years of hard work and making the most out of every opportunity. I grew up in the seventies when everybody knitted and crafted by hand and watching my grandmother create things sparked my interest in design. I went on to study Fashion at Northumbria University, where I was awarded Womenswear Designer of the Year at Graduate Fashion Week in London. The honour garnered interest within the industry and led me to New York where I worked with iconic American companies as well as smaller, niche British labels such as Calvin Klein, Levi’s, J. Brand and Margaret Howell. Now as Group Creative Director across the Citizens of Humanity portfolio of brands including GOLDSIGN, I have been able to push my creative abilities further. Following the collection through the entire process allows me to be hands on and essentially a maker as opposed to a designer. Being able to nurture the line from concept through to production allows the team full control of our quality, which is incredibly important given the refined aesthetic of the brand.
Your favourite place in the world to window shop?
Surfing Cowboys recently closed their Venice Boulevard store front, however they now have everything available to purchase online. The owners have a really great eye and taste level specialising in American mid-century furniture.
Who do you consider to be the true creatives in the world and why are they important now more than ever?
Those working creatively to address environmental pressures and a more sustainable future.
Top tip for lazy dressers…
A great pair of jeans!
Your city’s best kept secret…
Tsubaki in L.A and Bocca di Lupo in London.
Why do you think denim has such appeal across the globe and throughout history?
Denim is a blank canvas, a cloth that can express the individual, and most importantly can be accessible to all.
Where do you look to if you’re stuck for inspiration?
Photography books have been a consistent point of inspiration throughout my career, particularly those by Mick Rock, Sam Knee and Derek Ridgers. L.A’s Long Beach and Santa Monica flea markets are also a great resource together with stores like Scout and A Current Affair, both excellent for curated designer pieces, they never fail to make an impression on me.
What's the most exciting thing about the fashion industry today?
What would your last meal be?
My partner’s crab linguine followed by cheese and Eccles cakes from St John Bread and Wine, one of my favourite restaurants in London.
How do you waste time when your work schedule is clear?
I spend my time between the United States and Britain. In L.A, being outside on my deck in Echo Park is an idyllic antidote to anything and stands in stark contrast to the surroundings of my home in Camberwell, South London.
Favourite after-work drink and place to have it?
A glass of rose at L&E Oyster Bar in Silverlake, Los Angeles.
What would we find you doing at the weekend?
The lure of L.A's bright blue skies and amazing weather means that I spend a lot of time outdoors in nature and whilst in London, a frequent stop is Columbia Road Flower market on a Sunday for the great people watching.
Best home-spun beauty secret?
An ice cube, swept across skin it can boost circulation and eliminate dark circles.
What are you reading right now?
Cameraworks by David Hockney.
What’s usually the last thing you think before you fall asleep?
I try not to think too much before sleep!
Interview by Ross Aston