Catherine Quin wasn’t always a designer. In fact, the Bermuda-born, London-based purveyor of ultra-wearable, minimal pieces started out as a lawyer at Lincoln’s Inn. It was only by chance that Quin discovered that renowned fashion school Central Saint Martins was just a ten-minute walk from her law firm. Their exciting array of courses drew her in, allowing her to study design and marketing courses in her spare time, ultimately resulting in the launch of her fashion career.
Fast forward to today and Quin is founder and creative director of her eponymous brand which has been showcasing collections since SS15. At the core of Catherine’s collections is the celebration and empowerment of women. Troubled by the gender wage gap, Quin is donating 25% percentage of profits from her latest campaign – Women of Grace – to SmartWorks, which helps and supports vulnerable women get back into work by providing interview coaching and clothing.
Every piece in the designer’s collection is elegant, minimal, exquisitely crafted and created with a seasonless wardrobe in mind. In other words, her dresses and shirts would stand us as well paired with jeans in London, as they would on a beach in Jamaica.
We chatted to Quin about how she went from lawyer to ready-to-wear designer, find out what inspires her and got the lowdown on her recent road trip to Marfa in Texas.
Minimal, ready-to-wear womenswear
The brand began as a capsule collection inspired by the demands of my life as a busy corporate lawyer. I was never able to find directional clothing which worked in both a corporate and creative environment and would be able to take me from the office to a gallery opening. With my law offices a stone’s throw from Central Saint Martins, I began taking evening classes in fashion design and marketing which gave me the confidence to create the brand I wanted to wear.
I always wanted to create ‘forever’ pieces that had an understated elegance and the sophistication to transcend occasion, climate, and culture. The brand emerged from my personal experience of bridging life between LA and London, as well as working in contrasting corporate and creative environments. The advantage of a beautifully simple, minimalist wardrobe is that it never dates and there will always be new ways to add individualised personality to the pieces. Eliminating fuss and frivolity also focuses attention on the woman, enabling her natural beauty to shine through.
The refined, minimalist aesthetic of my brand is in keeping with the sleek, urban vibe of London or New York. However, I love to see people wearing my pieces against a sunny Californian backdrop. The stark contrast between the clean silhouettes of the pieces set against the blue sky and searing sunshine of LA serves to highlight the minimalist aesthetic in a way I find extremely pleasing.
I’m inspired by women of substance, sophisticated global travellers and those who have lead purposeful lives travelling the world. The collections are created for those who lead active lives, and each piece is designed to compliment the body of the wearer while effortlessly adapting to her needs and environment. The brand is built on minimalist design principles and its ethos is influenced by [German industrial designer] Deiter Rams and his ‘Ten Principles for Good Design’.
A minimalist Margiela choker.
Thank you! It comes from all over but mainly art, architecture and, more recently, furniture. Quite a few of my friends are artists and we often share imagery when discussing our upcoming projects. I also tend to find myself researching wanderlust adventures to far-flung destinations where there is notable architecture such as Tadao Ando’s Church of the Light in Japan.
Gina Miller’s “Rise”. To celebrate the launch of my “Women of Grace” campaign, we hosted a Literary Tea at Maison Assouline and Gina, along with Anjuli Pandit and Women for Women Founder Britta Fernandez Schmidt, read extracts from their favourite, feminist literature; reams of reading inspiration.
Each season I start a new collection with a concept based on either a modern artist, an architectural movement or building that feels particularly relevant to me at that time – be it visually or conceptually. From there, I begin collecting imagery and sourcing different fabrics, which inspires new textures and silhouettes, which are the pillars of every collection. The finished collection rarely turns out exactly as I had envisaged at the start, but this is where the freedom and fun come in, so I let the creative process run its course!
From the start, my personal values and that of the brand dictated that the quality of each and every garment – the craftsmanship, the fabric and the construction of each piece – be of the highest standard. It became clear that to achieve this level of quality it was imperative that my team and I had an excellent working relationship with all of our manufacturing team. Being present and engaged at the factories and taking a hands-on approach has enabled me to build personal relationships with the various people tasked with creating our garments. This hands-on approach also means that ethically I’m able to personally ensure that the people involved with my brand have a decent wage and a good working environment.
As I said, I love Donald Judd’s ’15 untitled works in concrete’ set across a mile of Marfa desert. They’re not exactly buildings, but they’re architectural landmarks – the contrast of the massive concrete blocks against the blue sky is forever inspiring to me. I also love the simplicity and sanctity of Tadao Ando’s Church of Light in Ibaraki, Japan.
It was a sort of pilgrimage for me. I’ve always been incredibly inspired by Donald Judd and his minimalist ideology and aesthetic. In the 1970s Judd bought up a large portion of the town with the help of The Dia Art Institute, and set about converting the buildings into workspaces, studios and display galleries for his work, creating a sort of artist campus. I was fascinated to see how he lived and how he implemented his vision on such a large scale. His work has always been part of my inspiration mood boards so I felt it was about time I saw and experienced his Marfa works for myself.
Marfa is pretty much an art island separated from the rest of the world by a desolate and unforgiving Texan desert. There is so much creativity and such a sophisticated cultural awareness coming out of this isolated town, surrounded by hundreds of miles of beautifully crumbling desert landscape. The juxtaposition of the desert setting with the rich culture is unique. As you would expect of such a place, it also attracts an eccentric and interesting bunch of people. Getting to know them and the social side of the town is an experience in itself that I would highly recommend.
I was lucky enough to stay with a friend, but otherwise I would stay at the quirky Thunderbird Hotel.
Do Your Thing does great coffee and delicious breakfasts at weekend.
Run wild at The Chinati Foundation amongst Judd’s ‘15 untitled works in concrete’ and ‘100 untitled works made in mill aluminum.’
Marfa Book Co at the Saint George Hotel.
The Prada Store is only one part of Marfa’s dynamic creative scene. Ballroom Marfa always has compelling shows and is a non-profit institution in the town. It funded Prada Marfa along with the Art Production Fund back in 2005 and had links with Pace Gallery.
The most awe-inspiring place to visit is The Chinati Foundation which is like an educational campus of experiential art installations. Not only does it have Judd’s concrete blocks and aluminium works – which was one of the most memorable experiences of artwork I’ve encountered – but there are also a large number of other artists shown there, who Judd was either friends with or admired. Particularly notable are the six restored barracks housing unique Dan Flavin light installations, Richard Long’s ‘Sea Lava Circles’ and the old converted hospital which has been turned into a large-scale Robert Irwin work.