An Interview with Women’s Designer Emilie Casiez
Emilie Casiez is the designer behind the Nigel Cabourn women’s range. Combining a keen eye for detail with a passion for vintage clothing with a story to tell, her designs bring classic shapes right up to date, creating functional clothing for the modern age.
Seeing as her new collection has just landed, now seemed like a good time to catch up with Emilie and talk about her work…
Starting at the beginning, both sides of your family were involved in the clothing industry. Can you tell us a bit about that?
My father is French and my mother is Japanese. I grew up in Paris, where my mother was working for a luxury French fashion brand called Maison Gres. My French great-grandmother also had a lace factory in the north of France in the 30’s.
Were you always destined to follow in their footsteps? Was clothing design something you always wanted to be involved in?
I loved drawing from a young age and always was interested in what was going on in fashion, but it’s when my mother invited me to see a catwalk at 14 years old that I thought I wanted to become a fashion designer.
What sort of clothes did you look for when you were growing up in Paris?
At 17 years old I started going to the flea markets in Paris every weekend. I loved Levi’s 501 jeans, and used to wear them with matching denim shirts and Type II Trucker denim jackets, and used to dye them in different colours and customise them.
This love of clothing soon led to you starting your own brand, which you ran for ten years before moving to Japan. What made you want to move out there?
I started my own brand while I was at fashion school in Paris, so I was very young. After ten years of running my own business and store, I got the opportunity to get further experience with a famous Japanese designer in Tokyo, who was doing catwalk shows in Paris, and as I am half Japanese I was interested to go live there.
You’ve been the women’s designer at Cabourn for a few years now. How did you meet Nigel?
I met Nigel while I was living in Tokyo, I was introduced by a mutual friend. Nigel asked me to do some drawings of the way that I would see Nigel Cabourn Woman, and then when I showed him the drawings he really loved the style of the drawings and the designs.
We met in Paris again a few months later and went to the flea market. I tried on a few women’s french workwear pieces on and this is how we realised that we had the same tastes and ideas of how we wanted the women’s collections to look for the future and started working together.
Your designs often take details from French, British and American work-wear. What is it about these clothes that you think stand up to the test of time so well?
Originally workwear was made to last, for workers in factories (as Lybro was originally making in the 40’s).
Their fabrics, their interesting fades, made naturally through the years, and their functional, practical design make them beautiful, simple and timeless. Those WWI and II workwear fabrics, like moleskin, canvas, cotton herringbone, and satine, are some of the fabrics we like using for our LYBRO collections.
What are the main differences between the designs from those countries? Are there any standout details only found in French work-wear, for example?
You can recognise French workwear by its indigo blue colour, while American and British work-wear was often made from khaki drill. Denim is very prominent in workwear, and the US military has been wearing denim since the 1930s. Since the 1920s the French working in the fields were patching their pieces, to repair them to wear them longer and pass them down to their family.
What’s your process for designing a new piece of clothing? Where do you start?
I work from Paris where I live, and we travel a lot with Nigel to get all the inspiration for designing the collections. You will see us on Instagram, posting pictures in Tokyo, London, Newcastle or Canberra in Australia, where we go to see factories, fabric fairs and mills, vintage stores and collectors, war museums or flea markets.
Workwear and military clothing are often discussed in terms of ‘men’s clothing’, but there are a lot of important women’s pieces too. Which ones do you look at for inspiration?
It depends on the concept of the season we choose. Mostly we look for WWII British workwear pieces, from the ammunition factories for example, like the warehouse jackets or chore jackets. We also look at the Land Army girls, the American W.A.V.E.S (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) or the W.A.S.P. (Women’s Auxiliary Service Pilots).
Like Nigel, you’re a prolific vintage collector. What sort of things are you looking for?
I like men’s military or workwear pieces that fit women, and also women’s versions of men’s vintage pieces, so that collections for men’s and women’s outfits match together. Personally I like to buy outstanding unique pieces which are men’s, but fit me well, like my US orange flight suit from the 60’s.
The AW20 collection is based around the Arctic Convoys. How did you translate this story to your designs?
We took the ideas, type of fabrics and details from The Arctic Convoys and feminized them and designed proper women’s clothings that would go with the men’s with a modern approach.
Rounding this off now, do you have a favourite piece from the new collection?
I like the mixed hickory and denim dungarees!