Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Meet Your Maker: Christine Boyle, Queen Clothing

Christine Boyle is Queen...

...The founder of Queen Clothing that is, chief designer and an independent business force to-be-reckoned-with, based in inner-city Fitzroy, Melbourne. Her clothes however have travelled far and wide, such is the allure and popularity of her stunning range of womens and mens wear.

And wearing her clothes doesn’t just make people feel good, it makes them feel great!

Her 'Audrey' dress for example, is a scene-stealer - it's not uncommon to meet women who have more than one in their wardrobe. (A few weeks ago a woman came in to Stockroom, who owned five...)

Christine has been around the clothing industry long enough to watch the dramatic ebbs and flows of it, yet stays true to her independent instincts without compromise. That’s why her clothes are so beautiful, innovative, popular and classic. They’re also well, well, sought-after – and right now, the Queen Clothing range is the biggest-selling clothing line at Stockroom.

In person, Christine is warm, stylish and interesting – just like the clothes she creates. She likes to listen to others, and has a great passion for life.

She has an equally passionate and interesting story about how Queen Clothing came to be, which she has kindly offered to share with us today. It's a rare interview from one of Australia's most talented independent designers...

Stockroom: You have an 'art school' background - how did you come to make the leap to making clothes and fashion?

Christine Boyle: I took that ‘leap’ a long time ago now almost as an extension of art school really. I have a degree in Visual Art with majors in painting and drawing. My work was most often made up of Mixed Mediums. I graduated with distinction but it certainly wasn’t because I was an amazing technician with a paint brush; it was more that I was creative and resourceful I think.

A country childhood helps with those elements because there were less physical boundaries… We could play out on the farm all day on weekends and holidays. This enabled me to nurture my instincts. I was always making things.

I left art school and found work at a community support centre for the unemployed. I held a fabric-printing course and encouraged a lot of handheld stencilling until I had time to brush up on my printing skills. We then moved into screen printing in the second term of the course and from there my students wanted to learn to sew up their fabric creation into tablecloths or clothing and so did I.

We all joined the sewing class & I learned to thread a sewing machine at 22. Within 6 months I had opened a shop in Rozelle in Sydney with my sewing teacher. My grandmother, for one, was very proud and more than a little shocked that the tom-boy who never was interested in sewing at all had opened her own ‘boutique’!

Right, the famous 'Audrey' dress.

My skills have developed on the job over the years. With equal amounts of instinct and bluff, I somehow managed to make clothing that fitted in the earlier days. Now however I have acquired a firm knowledge of the trade and feel I can decide just how I want my clothes to fit as well. The ‘art’ however is still always there in my work.

SR: How would you describe your style?

CB: Always a difficult question for me… I’d like to think it’s changing all the time and growing with me. I would describe my style as distinctive but understated with a hint eastern aesthetic. My clothes are comfortable and uncontrived.

In Queen and McQUEEN (my menswear label), one is noticed without appearing to have made too much effort. It all comes down to an incidental sophistication.

SR: What influences or inspires you with your designs?

CB: I am a sponge! I am influenced by everything around me: music, advertising, animals, water, concrete, landscapes, rubbish, politics, jokes, people , antiques, travel, Fitzroy, sleeplessness, family, history architecture, fabrics, movies, friends, alcohol, toys, climate change, love, glass, food, silence, sadness, rags, art, dreams and coffee.

What inspires me is finding ways to harness all these influences and channel them into making something good, original and beautiful.

SR: What makes Queen unique in the marketplace"?

CB: Queen has been established for over 15 years. This experience combined with the assistance of a brilliant pattern-maker means we continue to bring creatively and beautifully cut clothing in sizes XS to XXL, which is locally made! To a savvy and grown-up clientele!

Keeping an open-mind and with a constant stream of inspiration I am able to keep my label fresh labels & exciting for all ages and genders. In a fashion climate which embraces disposable clothing, ageism and weightiest, this is quite unique.

Above, the 'new' Queen store, 77 Smith Street, Fitzroy.

SR: How did the Queen store start?

CB: I moved into my first Queen store as a studio space. I was renting a space in the Nicholas Building and living in a share-house when I met my partner John. The cab fares grew too expensive one cold winter and we decided to look for something together. Smith St, Fitzroy was desolate and cheap.

I set up my studio at 71 supplying a few shops around Melbourne and we lived upstairs. People started to knock on the front window and ask me what I was up to until eventually I opened the door a few days a week while supplementing my income by waitressing at night. Friends like Roula & her MONKHOUSE label (Now at 102 Lygon St East Brunswick) and Bernie from the Saloman label (still supplying Queen) were soon hanging their clothing for sale at 71 Smith St. The sales grew, I gave up waitressing, moved studio and employed my first shop assistant, the lovely Vanessa Flett who now supply’s Queen with the Echoiic label.

There were very few small independent designer clothing outlets then and it was great to see and hear just how much people appreciated our hand made & original designs. Soon people like Rachael from Lekker and Rebecca Pocock came on board with jewellery and you might say the Good Ship Queen set sale.

We moved to the beautiful big new store ten years later (which was two years ago.) I really didn’t want to move my flagship out of the neighbourhood it enjoys so well so its new location, one the corner of Gertrude Street, is ideal. Not so ‘desolate’ anymore either!

SR: What's the thing you like most about your job - and has your role changed very much over the years, as the business has grown?

CB: My favourite time in when I can just be alone making something in my studio although those times are rare. The thing I like most about my job is that I work for myself and to do that I need to balance my time. It’s not easy in business but I enjoy the challenge of making it work. There is a lot of risk and creativity in the commerce of clothing that stretches far beyond the design table.

My role has changed immensely since starting out the Queen label. As I mentioned I was basically working ‘loosely’ with clothing and paying the rent by waitressing when I opened the first shop. My role then was purely artistic I think you could say. It was great to be free to work when I liked and I could reminisce romantically about those days…

But for me freedom is working on my art and I really don’t think I gave any more time to it then than I do now. I now have five great people working with me, three in the store and two at the studio/office. My job is extremely busy coordinating production and generally overseeing the business. I source fabrics and ultimately make all the decisions artistically and commercially.

Sometimes I would have to say it’s hectic and stress is not a stranger, but it’s not without consideration that I say “I wouldn’t give it you for the world!”

SR: The fashion world can be very cut-throat and 'unhealthy'... Do you have a particular approach to it or philosophy?

CB: I’ve had my own share of theft and treachery over the years. The first shop (discussed earlier) way back when I was in Sydney, was cleared of stock in a break-in the week before Xmas (uninsured!) And last year a client who’d bought a business I was already supplying stole a significant amount of my clothing and then copied a few of the designs!

Right, this Queen Audrey dress was blogged! Read the story here.

This was to add to the shock that another two shops on Brunswick Street were also displaying Queen Designs they’d copied last year. What surprised me was that they were so close-by! There have been some steep learning curves…

I suppose my approach has been to never join that “cut-throat and unhealthy” part of the fashion world. I don’t really think of my clothing as fashion. I try to take a different path, focused on ethical production and warm and friendly relations with the people I deal with. When you have your own store and maintain a close circle of stockists and machinists, I guess it’s a lot less threatening out there.

I’ve learned to listen to my loud and banging intuition! And just try to stay true. To use a metaphor, “I hold my Queen card a lot closer to my chest these days.”

SR: What is it you think that the people who buy your clothes respond to?

CB: What I ‘hope’ people respond to in my clothing is a knowledge of peoples’ needs that comes from experience and a passion for beauty that comes from the heart.

What I’ve ‘learnt’ that people who buy my clothes respond to, is the way the clothing makes them feel and that is strong, confident and comfortable.

SR: What's the best bit of advice you could give to aspiring designers - and the best piece of advice you were ever given?

CB: My advice is… Be true to yourself and your own ideas. Don’t let trends drive you - no matter what anyone says - and follow your intuition! The best advice I’ve been given in just that: to follow my intuition.

Left, Queen Clothing, part of Stockroom's 'clothes forest'.

ALSO; every day I’m given great advice by my assistant Ellie, she is such a pragmatist and just tends to bring be back down to earth.

Sometimes “never mind” is the best advice….

A large range of Queen Clothing is for sale at Stockroom, and orders can also be taken. Visit the Queen Clothing website.

Words: Megan Spencer. Many thanks to Christine Boyle for the interview and images.