SS: Sophie, you graduated from Kingston with a Student of the Year and Best Collection award! Describe to us your winning collection and how it helped you succeed…
Sophie: Mostly clothing, only four bags and no jewellery! A lot of buyers were interested in my college collection but it wasn’t polished enough. I started my brand two months after finishing uni, so it wasn’t hugely different from my graduation collection. I thought, I’ll do a proper collection and put it out there. If it works, great. If not…
SS: So you weren’t trained in accessories?
Sophie: I’m trained in pattern cutting for clothes, but I cut the patterns for accessories the same way. And I just love a great bag! With clothes I had an idea, with bags it was like, give it a whirl.
SS: Is there a synergy between your bags and clothes?
Sophie: There isn’t a set colour palette on the wall but I have a general feeling for colours, which all always follow through between clothes and bags. Next season there’ll be a lot of tortoise shell, initially that was for the clothing, but now it lends itself to the accessories. I like to take something that doesn’t sit well with something else and pair them together. Like sequinning a military bag, which shouldn’t work but it does.
SS: How well did Kingston train you to survive in the real world in terms of business?
Sophie: Business…hmm, Kingston didn’t have a business module though they were very realistic; clothing had to be wearable so I developed a product that was wearable and I knew what to do in the workplace in terms of a job, because they encouraged internships. I interned at Markus Lupfer for a couple of summers. Weirdly he was friends with my parents’ gardener, the weirdest of routes into business for me! My family are in business so I’ve had them as a sounding board. Dad said “I hope you’re lacquering that brass because it’ll wear off after being used a few times!” I was winging it a bit. I took the route that suited me the best in terms of business rather than taking the standard route of fashion shows, which cost a lot and cause difficulties.
SS: Your current collection is described as ‘armoured clothing’ using “masculine influences to toughen up femininity”. Does femininity need toughening up? Is this something psychological?
Sophie: It’s interesting because a lot of girls do respond to it. I’ve always noticed how people buy military surplus and put it with their pretty dress. It’s a cliché I know, but there’s something about having that mix that makes them feel more represented. It’s how I like to design, putting the two opposing qualities together leads to interesting output. Psychologically, I think people want a bit of hardness.
SS: Can you talk us through some of your favourite designs?
Sophie: I like how the bags are all in a really heavy leather - solid cowhide - and the brass and the rivets are all inherently really tough, like for the Armoured Totes. It’s a girls bag, it looks like a girls bag, but its designed to last. I like how the quick release belt sits on its own because it’s solid, then normally I’ll sell it with a soft silk dress. Bows aren’t normally what I like, but I challenged myself to take a bow and make it more interesting through an industrial process. They’re very specific key pieces that you’ll keep forever.
SS: Do you work with scrap books or mood boards?
Sophie: I have a ‘wall of ideas’ in the studio and a pile of stuff. My tutors said I was a bit weird because I liked to build things. I find objects, like brass, and mess around with it finding new ways to make fastenings etc. I go to loads of flea markets and pick up military pieces designed for purpose, not fashion, so they’re more interesting to work from. I like to collect things. I’ve always had an interest in objects.
SS: We know! Each of your seasons have a chosen trinket to accompany every item…
Sophie: Yeah, when I was really small my Nan bought me a little charm coin holder. Since then she’s been giving me really old antique charms. My first thought was, over the seasons you could collect a different charm like a loyalty customer card, and integrate them into the clothes to emphasise the way they’re viewed as objects to be kept, as opposed to transient trends. I like the idea of each collection having staying power with history. We’re expanding the charm range to include one offs with a higher budget, in 9 carrot gold perhaps, probably released mid season and sold through the website. I want an actual gold chip fork!
SS: Ideally, how do you want to see your clothes worn in the real context?
Sophie: People always ask me “So who’s the Sophie Hulme girl?” and I’m like, what? Nooo. I don’t do full looks. I like the fact everyone can wear my pieces differently in their own way. I want them to be like, “This is my bag and I’m going to wear it the way I want with my own stuff!”
Sophie Hulme accessories are available from the SUPERSWEET Shop.
Photography: Ellie Harvey