Forget piles of paperwork and empty coffee cups, we discover what the desks of top fashion designers look like
Words: Katie O’Malley
Photography: Phill Taylor
Sophie (above) has made her name designing luxury leather accessories at her eponymous label. She shares a studio in Islington, London, with 32 colleagues
1. s/s 2016 bag
I like to leave my desk tidy so I can start fresh on new ideas, but I always have some of my favourite things out, like this bag, which was inspired by David Hockney. Last year, I went to The Rake’s Progress at Glyndebourne where Hockney had designed the sets. They were amazing. All the plants, walls and even the costumes were cross-hatched layers of red, green, blue and black lines which made everyone part of the scenery. As a result, we designed the bag so each panel was in a different cross-hatch print to make it appear more dimensional.
2. Colour swatches
I take craftsmanship and beautiful materials very seriously, so spend a lot of time looking through fabric swatches at my desk, whether it be choosing between laser-cut and saddle leathers to prints and colours – always with a cup of tea to help me focus. But I don’t believe that top-quality products can’t also be fun. I love injecting a playful element into beautiful things, so we’ll make a bag charm or keyring with googly eyes but we’ll make it in the best leather or with Swarovski crystals. We all love luxury goods but why shouldn’t that element of fun be there too?
When I was a child, my mum used to take me to the Hello Kitty section in Harrods for my birthday and let me pick out lots of stationery. It was so special to me. I’m still obsessed – I’ve got a drawer of Hello Kitty stickers in my desk and give them out around the office to boost morale. Luckily this antique desk by Danish designer Gunni Omann has loads of drawers for stationery. It gets messy when I design because I like to get out all my inspiration and mock up ideas in 3D but I always tidy up afterwards because I need a clear space for other aspects of my job.
4. Gold robots
I’ve been collecting these old Japanese transformer robots from junk shops and online for years. I love how the engineering aspect conceals what they are and when you open them up, they transform into something completely different. Having them on my desk reminds me that you can make beautiful things out of items you use every day. I am often in meetings which we have around the meeting table in my office so I only sit at my desk when I’m alone – I like to have this time to think and reflect. I’ll put on music and have some quiet time to myself.
5. Small dictionary
The dictionary on my desk is covered in silver and has gold edges. I don’t really use it, it’s there for inspiration, but I love that someone has taken this ordinary item and made it into something so intricate that can last a lifetime. I love the idea of taking something undervalued and making it striking. I’ve been going to antique shops since I was a child and I’m fascinated by miniature versions of things, like these toy soldiers from an antique market – they’re made from plastic but cast in gold and were part of my research into developing our charms.
The Italian-born designer founded her Isa Arfen womenswear line five years ago. She works in west London with a team of five
1. Flowers and candles
I love having these on my desk to brighten up the space. Diptyque and Bella Freud candles are my favourite – I recycle empty ones as pen holders. I have so many pencils for my sketches and usually work in a state of organised mess, so it’s nice to tidy them away in attractive containers. I often have lunch, and sometimes dinner, at my desk, as I feel most inspired in the evening when everyone’s left. If I didn’t have a husband and a child at home I’d probably sleep here too.
Whenever I go to Paris, I stock up on Astier de Villatte notebooks. I always carry them around to write down ideas, notes from fabric fairs or for my son’s homework. When I start designing, I do a rough sketch in pencil on a plain page to get an idea of silhouettes and then draw over it in pen.
3. Inspirational books
I keep a lot of books on my desk for inspiration, from this one from Studio 54, to one on Henri Cartier-Bresson’s photography. My research often turns up on the catwalk; an old photo of a woman wearing a turban and exaggerated, elongated sunglasses inspired aspects of my s/s 2016 collection.
Serbian-born womenswear designer Roksanda launched her eponymous label in 2002. She works in north-east London with a staff of 50
The geometric bangle on my desk is from my debut jewellery collection last year which stemmed from my love of cubism. It features thin gold lines twisted into angular, almost hand-drawn shapes. It can be combined with other pieces from the collection. My love for colour and cubism can also clearly be seen in my collaboration with Smythson last year. My notebooks are packed with everything from collection drawings and inspiration to reminders about important meetings.
2. Vintage pen holder
I keep my pens in this vintage pen holder in the shape of a hand. I found it during one of my trips to Paris in a little vintage shop at the Clignancourt Market. I would say I’m a very tidy worker. With so many collections to design throughout the year being orderly is the only way to keep up with busy schedules.
3. Paper dress
When I’m designing a garment with intricate detailing, I make a moquette to help me solve its construction. They’re a practical tool, but they turn into beautiful objects in their own right and I often get asked by visitors to the studio if they can keep one of them so I never throw them away.
Emma Hill CBE
Co-founder of luxury accessories brand Hill and Friends, Emma designs in a west London studio with a team of 12
1. Fibreglass apples
I like that my trestle desk is really simple. I think a desk should just be functional and it’s white because I like a clean palette. I keep these apples on my desk because of my connection to New York. I lived there for 14 years and my 10-year-old son Hudson was born there. I have a photo of him when he was a day old on my desk as well as drawings he’s done or funny things he’s written. A few years ago I was in New York during Fashion Week, which fell over Valentine’s Day. He sent me a card saying ‘Happy Fashiontine’s Day’ – it’s next to the apples.
2. Wind-up toys
I started collecting wind-up toys when my son was little. I keep them on my desk and often play around with them – when someone’s having a bad day, it’s hard not to smile if a banana starts bouncing around the desk. It’s similar to our design perspective – the idea of making something really fun but grown-up is key to the brand, and I love incorporating fun with the super-classical. Our logo, for example, is a winking face, but it’s very subtle. In fact, faces are an enduring motif for me — I even have two giant googly eyes on my pink front door at home.
3. Bag from s/s 2016
I could never be one of those ‘clean desk policy’ people. Unsurprisingly, I always have lots of bags on my desk. Bright colours – like this pink leopard bag – make me so happy. I loved Seventies cartoons growing up and crazy, clashing colours are still a big inspiration. Even my pencil case is bright and fluffy. In contrast, our office is white and minimal. While I like quirky things I’m quite analytical, which is why I always have my Chanel tape measure on hand. My dad was a mathematician and my mum was an artist so it’s second nature to me to check scale and dimensions.
4. Smythson notebooks
Even though everything’s quite chaotic in the office, I try to keep my desk very ordered. I own several Smythson notebooks in seasonal colours to help me remember which one is for what. This green one is my master notebook though; it contains a bit of everything – sketches, notes, recipes and pages from magazines. The digital world and Pinterest are fabulous but I love keeping physical records too. I recently came across a notebook of mine that must have been 10 years old and there were tears from magazines that I would still pull out today.
5. Bell Boy polaroids
These polaroids are of bellboys carrying our bags at Claridge’s after our launch during Fashion Week last year. They ended up inspiring a little theme for us, and the bellboys will be featuring in several of our events this month. We’re quintessentially a British company and we loved The Grand Budapest Hotel so we took that idea and put our own twist on the traditional Claridge’s bellboy uniform. I find it helps to have a visual reminder of our brand identity on my desk so I often have keepsakes like this dotted around.
Designer and founder of House Of Holland, launched in 2008, Henry works in London Fields, north-east London, with 16 members of staff
1. Mini fan
We have a distributor and manufacturer in Hong Kong so I visit about four times a year. Everyone in Hong Kong wears these fans around their neck on a lanyard because it’s so humid — I think of it as my sweaty top lip eraser. You rest it on your chest and it sprays cold air towards you.
2. Smythson diary
I like bright colours, I’m a bit of a magpie. I buy the brightest Smythson diaries each year and cover them with stickers – this year’s is green. It’s nice to be able to go to a meeting with it and not look like a total mess. However, Smythson need to add a year planner – I have to print one off every time.
I definitely view my desk as a relaxed space. I like lots of personal things around me, like the flashing Jägermeister pin from when I went on a ski trip and drank so many bottles I was awarded a badge, or the picture of me with cornrows from about 20 years ago on holiday in Antigua with my little sister – silly bits that make me laugh. I’m very messy – I lose my phone about 17 times a day – but as I work on several different things at once, my brain lends itself to that style of working.
Shoe designer and founder of footwear line Sophia Webster, launched in 2012, Sophia works in east London with a team of 30
My love for flamingos is well known – they regularly feature in my designs and were dotted around my Mermaid Launderette s/s 2016 presentation, so it’s perhaps no surprise that this big pink flamingo sits almost under my desk. I have several other flamingos dotted around Sophia Webster headquarters and they often feature in our Snapchat account. The see-through desk in my studio is from Habitat – glass desks are perfect for designing as they double up as a lightbox.
2. Promarker pens
I draw my designs in pencil then go over them with ProMarkers. I keep them all lined up and colour coded. I’m very protective over them – I think that comes from my student days when I used to spend all my wages on them – if one’s missing from my desk I know straight away. My favourite is a fiery pink.
3. Dial-up telephone
I used this telephone in my a/w 2014 LFW presentation as part of our ‘Heartbreak Hotel’. It doesn’t work but it’s on Snapchat a lot. Behind it is a photo of my husband Bobby and I at our wedding and of my daughter Bibi Blossom. I love photos of my nearest and dearest on my desk.
Hair and make-up: Kim Kiefer at Frank Agency using Bobbi Brown cosmetics and GHD styling tools