Sherri Colter is a London based fashion designer and made her London Fashion Week debut earlier this month. Her new luxury womenswear label Colter is a celebration of fierce female strength, featuring intricate embroideries on body-confident cuts, vibrant colour palettes and striking custom-made prints with an artistic energy. A Canada native and graduate of Toronto’s Ryerson University (where she won the prestigious Designer of the Year award), Sherri moved to London in 2011 and went on to work with top labels including Erdem and Peter Pilotto.
Here I ask Sherri what inspires her designs, how she goes about creating her collections, her vision for British fashion post-Brexit and what is was like to be assistant designer to the legendary Anna Sui. Read on for my interview with Colter at London Fashion Week.
Colter at London Fashion Week
Tell me more about your design process?
I start with trend forecasting and look at the runway shows and also couture which is normally a season ahead. I work back from here and then start to prepare my prints. All my prints this season (SS19) are based on the orchid. So I took this image initially and then broke it down and made a collage. It’s wonderful because from one collage you get to play with colours and pattern repeats that are then turned into an array of different prints! All my stuff is pretty abstract, which I guess is no surprise as I’m also a painter. I design my own embroidery for the collection and then send the designs off to embroidery artist Jenny King who’s done the embroidery for many of Kate Middleton’s gowns, red carpet events and all the big design houses. She’s one of the best.
How do you get your inspiration?
It’s very art-based. I love the National Portrait Gallery. Occasionally I will walk over to the Tate and have a look, or stop by the V&A. Artists I take great inspiration from include Kandinsky and Degas (the ballerinas are so beautiful). I love John Singer Sergeant – Madame X. Also Georgia O’keefe and Jackson Pollock.
I’m also very tactile and I go to the Premiere Vision Paris show in Paris and look at fabrics and textures there. A lot of my inspiration comes from colours and fabrications. I block out the colours and then make a mood board, with fabrics and pulls from magazines to get an idea of what styles I like. I need collages and something to move around as I’m so tactile in my approach. It actually started out very differently but has evolved into me doing it this way. It’s exciting because at the beginning you don’t know what you’re going to get, but you cultivate it and it develops into something unexpected – that’s the beauty of fashion design!
What do you think of the ‘Body Diversity’ movement happening currently?
It’s huge and so important. In fact I worked a lot on body shapes in my previous roles and that’s how I always design my collections now. I work with the five general body type templates and see what shapes will work practically with the designs. Everyone is different and these days people want things to almost be bespoke for them which is wonderful. The Colter demographic is women in their early 30s to late 40s but as people start wearing my clothes I will grow with them – I want my brand to be flexible in this way. As a woman in her mid thirties and as a supporter of other women, I’d like to think I really understand my demographic! Colter is wearable art and if people of all ages respond to it, then that’s brilliant.
What were the main differences between working with big scale and smaller designers in your experience?
Working with established designers such as Anna Sui means there are lots of processes already firmly in place. Whereas with a new designer, which Erdem was when I worked with him, you have to be ready to adapt quickly to new situations, as you’re constantly learning. I also learned how to manage interns when I worked for smaller companies.
What was it like to work for Anna Sui?
Oh she’s amazing. She’s THE designer. I learned so much about the design process and the industry from her. She’s one of the most intelligent and capable women I’ve ever met. There were four of us in her design team and she really took care of us and tried to cultivate us and taught us how to do things properly. I cannot say enough good things about her, she was just fantastic and I have nothing but huge respect for her and all that she’s done.
As a creative, what do you do to focus and discipline yourself?
When you work for yourself it’s really difficult to get yourself up in the morning. So to focus, I get up early and walk over Tower Bridge to London Bridge with a coffee in my hand. I like to call it my morning jog! It just starts my day off right. I also love yoga as it really helps me to focus my mind and allows me to breathe. Once I enter the office that’s where my mind is for the rest of the day. Organisation is essential. It’s usually quite difficult for someone who is creative to organise themselves which is which is why I love a list.
What does your typical working day look like?
There is no typical work day. My days vary from illustrating, designing, creating mood boards, working with my interns and planning photoshoots to fabric sourcing and creating spec sheets. But each day has one thing in common they are about 12 hours long! Even when I’m not in the office I always have a sketchbook with me.
What do you like about living in London & what are your favourite spots?
I love living in Shoreditch. It has so much energy and is evolving at such a rapid pace. There is so much art and culture from street art to a brunch at Ace hotel where you can hear a modern string quartet playing Madonna’s “Like a Virgin”. I love the UK, my grandmother was British and I’m currently in the process of becoming a British citizen, so I’m excited.
How do you think Brexit will affect new designers?
We are trying to stay predominantly UK based while still maintaining links to Europe for our manufacturing. Our plan is to support the British market – there are so many British heritage and local companies and manufacturers here we can work with. Just talking to other designers here at London Fashion Week, I feel like there’s a push to support this too and make the most of these home-grown connections. There’s SO much talent here in the UK and we have to show this to the world.
What’s your long term plan for Colter?
We would love for Colter to be stocked in Harvey Nichols or Selfridges ideally. Long term? I want to do couture. I love gowns and evening wear and this is where my passion really lies. In the fine detail, the intricate and the bespoke that comes with doing couture. It’s art. When I worked with Anna Sui, she used to take us to the New York National Ballet where we were allowed to go through the costume archives. It was jaw-dropping, like ‘Black Swan’ times a million! It was then that I thought to myself “I need to do this”.