Judith R Clark is a young designer from Scotland who produces handmade garments using fine Scottish wools and Harris Tweed. Since graduating Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh in 2006, Judy showed her work at various fashion shows throughout Scotland and England and did an internship with fashion designer Alexander McQueen in London. Back in Scotland, Judy is based in Edinburgh and selling her handmade fashions in boutiques across the country. I spoke with Judy about her fashions and how her Scottish heritage has influenced her work.
When did you start sewing?
I began sewing when I first went to university. The pieces I designed before this at secondary school were made from recycled objects using chicken wire and old crisp packets to name a few – they were very sculptural. Definitely wearable art works!
Did you always want to become a fashion designer?
Our class produced the first catwalk production at Lochaber High and it went down in a storm. This is where I got my first taste for clothes making. Before this, I was always into design and expressionist painting. My first award was from The Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow where I won a painting competition at the age of eleven. My picture was exhibited in the gallery for a few weeks.
My love of fabrics and creating new designs is a process which I have to be involved in; it’s what I do. I think people are becoming more interested in bespoke (handmade) clothing that will remain timeless in their wardrobe. People are becoming less impressed by manufactured, inexpensive clothing. They want some unique garments that make them feel incredible. I am very proud to be able to produce my own clothing. Nothing beats the feeling of seeing all that hard work come together, whether it be coming down the catwalk or meeting a client and seeing their face when they try on their jacket for the first time.
I see that your collection titled, "Frock-Coats and High Hats" features Harris Tweed panels that are embroidered with the Gaelic language. Are your Scottish roots the main influence in your work? Are there other influences too?
My Scottish roots definitely play a big role. For instance, I used embroidered tweed fabrics in this collection from Alison MacLeod, a talented textile designer, whose designs are inspired from the Gaelic culture and natural surroundings of the Isle of Lewis in the Hebrides, where she lives. Alison stitches Gaelic songs and poems into the tweed to keep the Gaelic culture alive. Our first collaboration was the "The Gaelic Frock Coat" (below). (If you look closely you can see some embroidered writing on the white sash (lower right.)
The Gaelic Frock-Coat has traveled the world this year. It made its debut at the Scottish Style Awards, traveled to Japan for the ‘Tweed Goes to Tokyo’ show, and then came to New York for the ‘Dressed to Kilt’ show and Saks Fifth Avenue. It was one of the winners of the Harris Tweed Hebrides, at the Scottish Fashion Awards earlier this month.
Your Harris Tweeds are hand woven by your great-uncle in the Hebrides. Has he done this kind of weaving all his life? Please tell me a little about him.
Donald was the first person to introduce me to Harris Tweed. He sent me a bag of left over fabric remnants from his weaving shed, so I have a lot to thank him for. Last year, when I visited him, he showed me where he works and taught me how to use the loom. He is a great man whose work and culture have definitely inspired my designs. Donald’s wife Mary works in the mill ensuring the cloth is up to snuff in the quality control department.
You also use hand-dyed vintage silks and hand carved buttons that you bought while in Nepal. What led you there?
For my final year at university, I produced a 16-piece collection called, "21st Century Slaves," based on my investigations of the trafficking of women and children across the border from Nepal to India. I arranged a trip with a few of my friends to visit Kathmandu, collecting exquisite hand dyed fabrics and buttons along the way. It was a fantastic journey with the most interesting people and spectacular surroundings.This is a collaborative piece I made with my twin sister Christine. Christine is an artist also based in Edinburgh. The woman's panel (left) features a digital print of one of Christine’s paintings. It is an original piece; the first we produced of its kind. We are still working together on some new products which will be exhibited at Che Camille in Glasgow in December.
Your studio is in the Scottish Highlands. Have you considered moving to London, which seems to be a hub for young designers?
I am currently based in Edinburgh and enjoying being a designer here. London is only an hour away. If need be, I can jump on a plane. London is definitely a market which I am trying to reach. We will see where my career takes me!
Congratulations on being nominated for designer of the year in the 2009 Scottish Style Awards. How has this distinction changed things for you?
I was delighted to be nominated and proud that my work is being recognized within the industry. It was an excellent platform for showcasing my work. I think being nominated will help push my career in the right direction.
What’s next for you?
I will keep you up to date on my website, Judith R Clark! There are some great opportunities in the pipeline.