Document spoke with the trio behind fashion's hottest WhatsApp-based brand about finding inspiration in divergence.
For veteran Marni designers Molly Molloy and Kristin Forss and former British Vogue alumna Lucinda Chambers, the prospect of establishing a label had not been on the radar, having worked comfortably and diligently within larger teams for years. Nevertheless, as it happens with many of the greatest artistic endeavors, the inspiration for Colville arose spontaneously and intuitively—a natural outgrowth of their collective experiences. Two years into its launch, Colville continues to build momentum, driven by a distinct, fortified vision. While maintaining an ethos of selectivity and individuality, the London-Milan-Whatsapp-based label aims for continuous evolution, expanding in scope in a compelling—and rather original—manner. The three designers speak with Document about their uninhibited collaborative process, carving out space for imaginative aspirations to flourish.
Caroline Reagan: Walk me through the beginning of Colville.
Molly Molloy: Every designer asks themselves at some point whether they’d want to do something on their own. [Kristin and I] went out for a glass of wine, and a few glasses later, we decided that we should do something together. It was just before we left Marni that we approached Lucinda and said, ‘What do you think?’ And, Lucinda, you were a bit hesitant at first.
Lucinda Chambers: It took me unawares because I’ve always worked for people. It was a leap because I never imagined doing something for ourselves. We’d always been such team-players behind big companies, but then it was a no-brainer because we had all gotten on so well.
Molly Molloy: The first year we were trying to find investors because we knew we had limited funds. But then we couldn’t wait to get started, so we did put money together between the three of us and started the first collection, which Matches basically bought on paper. We did two collections exclusively with Matches before we opened up to wholesale.
Kristin Forss: For Matches we did a limited collection. We had ten garments for each collection, and each garment had a handwritten number on the label.
Molly: We tried to make it as special as possible. That was how we started, on Kristin’s living room table. And we did the first look book in Kristin’s hallway.
Caroline: How did you all meet?
Lucinda: So, I had worked at Marni since the beginning of Marni, and, a few years in, we were looking for a [new] designer. I was asking all my mates around Portobello Road, and somebody said, ‘Oh, you should really meet Molly Molloy.’ And, with a name like that, I was like, ‘Why haven’t I met her already?’ Molly came for a cup of tea at my house, and I knew that I had found someone special and idiosyncratic in the fashion world. We had another designer, prior to Molly, Paolo, who had brought Kristin on board to do all the menswear for Marni.
Kristin: I think we worked together for fifteen years.
Lucinda: The work ethic was there, the respect was there, the vision of the brand [was there]. I think we all felt very like-minded.
Caroline: What is your collaboration process like? Do you take a divide and conquer approach?
Molly: Kristin and I do all the fabric research here, go to all the fairs, and bring in all the yarns and fabrics that are available. Then we have a big brainstorming day.
Lucinda: But it’s sort of an ongoing dialogue, isn’t it? It isn’t just one day.
Molly: Right, it is one day of intensity but it’s all sort of a process, an exchange of ideas throughout. There’s constant Whatsapp.
Caroline: What do you think are each of your strengths as designers?
Molly: Well, I can say for Kristin. Kristin is really into the details; she’s really meticulous. I think that [comes from] her menswear background. I’m thinking of Kristin because…
Kristin: It’s hard to say your own strengths! Molly’s really great at starting new, exciting projects, anything from our homeware to jewelry to designing new clothes.
Molly: And Lucinda is fabulous at everything really. Lucinda brings us energy and brings it all together. It’s like magic.
Lucinda: With Colville, it always feels like there’s total trust that wherever things end up is where we want them to go. It’s like, ‘Wow, I was not expecting it to look like that. That’s ok, that’s not what I expected but that’s alright!’
Caroline: Describe the Colville woman.
Molly: I think the fact that we are actually three women [allows us to] address many different types of women. We all have different ways of dressing, and I think that will show in our client. There’s something for everybody really.
Lucinda: I think what’s so amazing about Colville is there’s a point of entry into so many sorts of spirits. You have the beautiful tailoring that’s just quietly independent and then you can have the louder prints that are quite fearless. I think that Molly’s right; we are the sum of parts.
Caroline: Your manifesto emphasizes the individual nature of dressing. Why is this important to you as designers?
Molly: Well, I think it’s because we are all individuals. That was the spirit at Marni, too, not to conform or to try and be trendy or cool or whatever. But also I think that we want to do things that feel new. For this collection, we used prints that were really unexpected and exciting.
Caroline: So, as a brand that’s known as being ‘anti-fast fashion,’ where do you derive your inspiration?
Lucinda: I think it can come from anywhere really, whether it’s a book, whether it’s a film, whether it’s a model that you met who wants to be a textile designer. I was just thinking about people who come into houses that have such a historical bent. With Colville, we’re free of that. We don’t have to be anything to anybody. We invent the rules.
Caroline: Do you have any ideas for expansion?
Molly: For our Fall/Winter collection, we have a few home ideas. It was always our intention to create a world for Colville. We’re making rugs, and we’ll be doing blankets. We’re all into our homes as much as we are our clothes, so it feels natural. We also have some experience with accessories, but as a new brand, it’s hard to start with everything. But Kristin said, ‘No, it’s important to start with a total look.’ So, we did shoes, bags, clothes, and jewelry—jewelry from day one.
Caroline: What London brands are you excited about at the moment?
Lucinda: Well, we’re really excited about finding artists and furniture makers. We’re looking for artisans to collaborate with at the moment. And particularly if there’s a wonderful story behind them. Molly can tell you about our bags.
Molly: Basically, we wanted to make these Columbian bags. I met this woman on the beach in Mexico, who was selling bags with her girlfriends. I bought three for friends and family. Then I started a relationship with her, and we worked directly with her and her community. We did 35 bags. It was really really exclusive, and it helped sixteen women and their families.
Lucinda: And then, Molly, you asked a photographer to go and document it all and show pictures of the women actually making the bags—which woman had done which bag. And we did the same thing with our rugs. We have a relationship with an NGO, a women’s group in India.
Molly: They come from very hard backgrounds, and it feels like a really good balance to do something like this when you can. It’s hard sometimes, fashion; you feel like you’re producing and producing. This could be the future: to work with people that you can help.
Lucinda: Now, we’re thinking about how we can expand and continue with this so that it becomes part of the fabric of Colville.
Caroline: How would you like to evolve and grow these relationships?
Molly: Well, I think we’re already doing that. Bigger and different colorways. We’ve added different styles for the different seasons. We’re also doing these carpets in Turkey, and the man chooses which sheep he wants to shear, and he sends a picture of every single step of the process.
Lucinda: It’s a real privilege to be small enough to be involved in that process every step of the way. It doesn’t just land on our desk. It takes quite a significant journey.
Models October at Anti-Agency London. Hair Ryo Narushima. Make-up Chantal Amari. Set Design Zoe Stott. Casting Abi Schwinck at Made Casting. Photo Assistants Beatriz Puppo Amo and Natalie Weatherald.