We sat down with our product developer, Samantha Reid Wong to talk silk, design, fabric, inspiration and Huzhou, China.
Tell us a bit about you and why you became a fashion designer?
I decided that I wanted to be a fashion designer when I was six, but by the time I was a teenager, having a creative career seemed a bit farfetched. I come from a very small town and no one in my family had attended university before. At school I expressed an interest in doing an internship at a hair salon, but was steered towards more traditional subjects and ended up at the local law firm. Not inspired by that experience, I followed my lifelong love of reading into a degree in Literature and Language; then explored careers in marketing, fundraising, teaching and journalism; before finally biting the bullet and taking the pattern-cutting and garment construction classes that got me first into tailoring, and then into my current job at Grana.
How different is it working with silk versus stiff and structured suiting fabric?
Good question. It’s very different but I enjoy both. I have a deep personal love of tailored garments, whether it be a classic suit or a well-fitted brocade dress, but working with fabrics that drape and move is very freeing. You can get very good at fitting something perfectly to someone’s body in a fabric that will enclose and support the figure. It’s a different skill to be able to imagine volume, and get just the right amount into a garment whilst simultaneously flattering the body. Silk can be quite unforgiving, and you have to anticipate how it will drape when designing and in making. Here at Grana, I have a huge amount of fun playing with colour when it comes to our silk collection, and in the recent dresses I created, I also got to experiment with volume.
Do you have a preference?
Honestly no, I’m just grateful for the chance to explore both in my work. At Moustache, I worked with a wide variety of fabrics, with women as well as men, and on ready-to-wear collections as well as bespoke. Here at Grana I’m currently developing tailored trousers for men and women alongside the silk garments, poplin and linen shirting and jeans and chinos that I already work on. Each day is different, so I’m pretty lucky!
Grana is known for being very fussy with its fabric choices. Why did you choose this particular silk?
Crepe De Chine is perfect because it has an interesting texture to begin with due to the weave, and then you sand wash it and it comes out velvety but also lustrous and seems to glow from within. It also drapes elegantly. When you combine all of that with the bold colours and modern designs that Grana is known for, our silk collection really stands out.
Can you tell us more about where it comes from and how it’s made?
It comes from Huzhou in China, where I have spent a good amount of time this year. The raw silk is beautiful, and the skeins hang from the ceiling of the factory for 48 hours to settle before they can be spun into our 2-ply silk thread. This is then woven into rolls of fabric, which is dyed, washed, pre-shrunk and carefully sand washed. All that before it’s even cut and sewn!
You talk about creating a balance between playful and thoughtful in your work – which you totally nailed with the Grana silk dresses btw – can you tell us more about how these traits influence your designs?
Good design is thoughtful, but also playful. Children play as a means of experimenting, and it’s a shame to lose that element of ourselves as adults. For as long as I can remember I have made things with my hands. When someone makes something joyfully and with open curiosity, you can feel that in the finished product. I am by nature a very thoughtful person. Most of us spend more time in our own heads than we would like to admit. I like to read, research, consider what people want and what they need. I often think before I speak. That’s the element of restraint that comes across in my work I think: I have a lot of ideas and influences, but I never go completely crazy and obsessively edit and re-edit. That reflective, critical process is essential for me. However, I try—as far as anyone can—not to take myself too seriously, and to laugh at someone’s joke is a form of generosity. The world needs more thoughtfulness of course, but also kindness and lightness. We are making clothes, after all, and they are made to be lived in. To do that well, we need to live fully ourselves.
There are so many colours of silk available now! How do you decide on these and who comes up with their fun names?
Like most things at Grana, it’s very much a team effort. I think pretty much everyone here has named a colour at some point. We research seasonal colour trends of course, but we also make sure that there are always beautiful staples in there, to build the backbone of your wardrobe.
How would you describe your personal style?
I honestly have no idea. It has definitely evolved over time, but I’ve always been attracted to old and vintage pieces. When I was in high school, peers would wrinkle up their noses and say that someone might have died in it. I was kind of thrilled by that idea, that someone loved this blouse so much they wore it to the bitter end. I like to take those things and make them my own though, rather than just faithfully imitating the style of a certain era. Timeless maybe?
Your wedding dress was to die for! And that veil! Did you design it yourself?
I tailored every outfit in our wedding. My trousseau included wedding dress, gold dancing dress, silk pyjamas and robe and one veil. Then there was also the brown tuxedo, bow tie and cummerbund for my husband, and six bridesmaids’ dresses. For my dresses, I developed the patterns in the studio from scratch and made mock-ups to test them before the final versions. For the bridesmaids, I took mock-ups home in my suitcase the Christmas before and visited the girls to conduct living room fittings. In one tuxedo fitting I made my husband stand still for three hours while I stuck him with pins, and yet he still married me! You could call it a labour of love…or perhaps madness.
Your talents extend from fashion design to interiors and home DIY too. From toilet seat factory to lust worthy industrial studio apartment! How did you do it?
Ha! You have definitely done your research. My husband is an artist, and we essentially live in his studio. We converted part of it into a living space, there’s a sewing room for me, and the rest is filled with sawdust, mad sculptures and rabbits.
Tell our readers about your bunnies. We love when you bring them to work. Please do this more ok?
Michael is our first-born, and is accordingly curmudgeonly, misunderstood and a worrier. This makes it hugely rewarding to get to know him though. Ernesto is the middle child, and always manages to be cheerful and in the moment. He climbs into bed with me in the morning, demanding to be pet. Omar is our baby at only six months old, and is so affectionate, fluffy and stupid-looking that he can charm anyone into giving him treats. Failing that, he is always finding new ways to break into the treat box. Last time he ate half a bag of raisins and had diarrhoea for two days.
You know, I used to bring them into work all the time, and it makes me so happy to have them with me. I would notice my colleagues sneaking off to the corner to have a moment with one of them every now and then. Animals are amazing for easing stress and reminding us that it’s okay to be ourselves. We are just like them in nature after all. However, these days our company is growing so fast that the warehouse has become quite chaotic. I am worried about one of them getting squashed!
And you used to have some aquatic pets too right? What happened there? We know the answer but just want to hear all the gory details!
My husband has a history of buying animals to work on projects with him that end up becoming our pets. We have had rats and baby sharks before, and recently 36 hamsters! The fish and sea creatures were for the Absolut Art Bar that he created for Art Basel in 2013. We worked together on the project, and I got to manage the wardrobe and costume creation. The fish (and indeed all of the other animals) were adopted successfully afterwards though, do not worry.
The Grana Fast Five:
3 goals for your life that have nothing to do with career or family – things you want to do just for you.
1) To pay more non-judgmental attention to the details of my everyday experience.
2) Make meaningful connections with the people around me.
3) Get more rabbits.
What super-power would you choose and why?
The power to stop time and then re-start it again. I would use the time to learn new skills and read books.
What is your favourite item of clothing?
A pair of high-waisted mustard canvas trousers made by Levis in the 1960s. They stand outside of time in their perfection for any occasion, and I get complimented every time I wear them. They were my ex-boyfriend’s mother’s back in the day, and I think I did rather well out of that break-up.
If we came to your house for dinner what would we be having?
Last night I cooked Sichuan food for my guests. Ma po tofu is one of the best things ever.
What is the last picture you took on your phone?
A photo of my friend in her ivory satin wedding gown, which I just finished tailoring for her. The wedding is this weekend, and I am very excited. No idea what I am wearing yet though!fabrics / by Grana / 01.08.16