Young designer takes cue from Hollywood

Caitlin Crisp won the coveted PITCH industry award from the Ara Institute of Canterbury.
Danielle Colvin

Caitlin Crisp won the coveted PITCH industry award from the Ara Institute of Canterbury.

At 12 years of age, Caitlin Crisp picked up her grandmother's sewing machine and began sewing as if it were second nature. The Christchurch girl did not know her grandmother, Marjorie Jarvis, who died when Caitlin was a baby, was a seamstress, but she inherited her skills nonetheless. 

Now, the 21-year- old has won awards for her self-taught talent and has worked as an intern for Karen Walker and Georgia Alice in their production and sample rooms.

But before her hobby became a promising career, it brought her comfort in her early teenage years. During the years Caitlin spent boarding at St Cuthbert's College in Auckland, she would often feel homesick.

Caitlin Crisp used the Hollywood actress, Katharine Hepburn, as inspiration.
Danielle Colvin

Caitlin Crisp used the Hollywood actress, Katharine Hepburn, as inspiration.

"My high school sewing teacher would leave the classroom door open for me so if I was homesick at night I could go in and sew. It was such a lifesaver."

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Crisp has worked as an intern for Karen Walker and Georgia Alice in their production and sample rooms.
Danielle Colvin

Crisp has worked as an intern for Karen Walker and Georgia Alice in their production and sample rooms.

At first, Caitlin made clothes for herself. Then, one day, a school friend noticed her designs and asked her to make her a ball dress. "She went to the ball and looked gorgeous."

The following ball season, half the schoolgirls wore Caitlin Crisp original designs. Caitlin graduated from Ara Institute of Canterbury last year with a diploma in fashion technology and design.

Her third and final year of study was spent designing two full collections of clothing, one of which was sent down the runway at Ara's PITCH fashion show.

Caitlin digitally designed the material herself using a Los Angeles fabric supplier.
Danielle Colvin

Caitlin digitally designed the material herself using a Los Angeles fabric supplier.

The fashion show is the pinnacle of the course for students, as their collections are paraded in front of industry judges and compete for the coveted PITCH industry award. "I didn't think I'd win," Caitlin says, but her modest attitude did not stop the judges from noticing her impeccably crafted clothing and selecting her as the winner.

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Many designers use their personal style to influence their collections, but Caitlin admits she's still forming hers. "I know some people at my age who have got their own look, and I think that's awesome, but I know I'm still young and it's developing."

Instead of designing for herself, she prefers to make clothes for other people, so when it came time to create her graduate collection, she looked to stylish international women.

"I really identify with Katharine Hepburn, who had a big impact on fashion in the 1950s. When I was researching her, I noticed our lives share a lot of similarities. "I lost my boyfriend, Andrew Orr, in a car accident a couple of years ago and she lost her boyfriend at around a similar age, too."

Using the Hollywood actress as inspiration, she crafted her award-winning resort collection with flowing silk pants and dresses, denim shirts, swimwear, wool coats and even a faux fur jacket.

Caitlin digitally designed the material herself using a Los Angeles fabric supplier.  "It's very 1950s-themed. I used a lot of pure material, like cotton and wool, because back in the day they didn't have the ability to blend fabrics.

"Even though it's not my personal taste, I'm really proud of it, because I know I put in so much hard work and it's technically very strong."

Many graduates from the course dream of starting their own label, but not Caitlin. At least, not right now. Her focus is on the technical aspect of clothing manufacturing. "I'm passionate about sewing. I take a lot of pride in it and appreciate clothes for their technicality; how they drape and how they're cut.

"I don't want to be a designer, not yet anyway. When I start having strong opinions on style, then I'll look at it. I don't want to do anything half-hearted. For now, I'm happy working in the fashion industry and learning from the inside."

Fresh out of Ara, Caitlin has already landed an exciting job in the industry. She moved to Auckland early this year to take up a position at a production company that manufactures clothes for New Zealand designers. 

"My mum often says my grandma would be proud of me, and now I think I agree with her."

 - Avenues

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