Global Young Designer Spotlight: Ssōne

Tue, 5 November 2019
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Ssōne (pronounced, “sewn”) is the London-based label with a social conscience.

Founded in 2018 by Caroline Smithson, a former McQueen and Proenza Schouler designer, Ssōne reimagines the keystones of your wardrobe with a focus on craftsmanship, sustainable textiles and traditional techniques that expose the visible hand.

Ssōne’s considered collections are a blend of utility and romance, function and form. Generously cut shirts, for example, are refined with clever seams and handsome cuffs, while sleeves are billowy, bringing new proportions to romantic mid-length dresses. It’s all push and pull, give and take. To that end, the label also runs a non-profit crafting association alongside its mainline fashion brand and does its bit for the environment too, prioritising sustainable, low-water washing and natural botanical dye processes.

Brand: Ssōne Designer: Caroline Smithson Origins: Northumberland Homebase: London Stockists: Ssōne.com and the soon-to-be Ssōne store at 17 Chiltern Street (opening December 2019) alongside MATCHESFASHION.

How has your background and where you’re from informed your designs?

I grew up in an historic town in Northumberland on the Scottish Borders, a place that is rich in pagan history and folklore. There are records of witch trials here and the landscape is peppered with standing stones, sacred springs and ancient rock art. It’s hard not to be influenced by all that history and its connection to nature. I love the idea that if you’re patient, nature will provide all the patterns you need – like a face in the bark of a tree or the pattern the tide leaves on the sand.

You’ve worked as a fashion designer and creative director, at the likes of Alexander McQueen, Proenza Schouler and Peter Pilotto… what have those experiences afforded you?

I have always been curious about design and I wanted to push myself in my breadth of knowledge and experience. Over the past 20 years I have been lucky enough to be able to steer my career to cover many areas of fashion design from denim and casual wear to ready-to-wear then couture and back again. I have been particularly influenced by some of my female leads. During my time at Louis Vuitton, Julie de Libran’s calm and patient approach to design was inspiring; she was incredibly kind and supportive. At Alexander McQueen, Sarah Burton taught me how to be meticulous in the approach to construction.

How would you define your brand?

Ssōne is a contemporary womenswear brand rooted in craft and conscious progress. We are driven by a desire to create thoughtfully designed garments using rare textiles and traditional techniques. Ssōne is committed to researching and practising sustainable and responsible processes. This approach forms the distinctive aesthetic that runs through our collections, bringing together utility and romance, craft and seduction, function and elegance.

Who is the Ssōne woman?

The Ssōne woman is a naturalist, a thinker with integrity, conscious in her living. She is fashion-led but doesn’t follow seasonal trends. She’s part of a growing community of women who care about how they look and believe in personal expression through the way they dress, but not at the expense of others, particularly the people that make the clothes, and crucially not at the expense of the environment.

Talk us through your creative process…

The collections are led by reimagined wardrobe classics, all of which are traditionally crafted from organic, recycled and natural materials using low-water washing and dye processes. None of the pieces should feel uncomfortable or fussy. The woman should lead the look, not the other way round.

The next step is figuring out how to produce the collection in a way that is respectful to the artisans and the environment in a relatively scalable way. We work closely with mills on developing considerate fabrics that still feel luxurious. There is a lot of emphasis on fit and finishing to ensure that each piece is at the highest standard it can be. We want people to hold on to these pieces, for them to age beautifully and be shared and passed on.

How can brands work to become more sustainable?

As a designer it’s important to simply start talking about sustainability. The more pressure we put on the mills, the more demand there will be for yarn suppliers to develop the fibres needed to create desirable, sustainable collections and that ultimately give consumers better choice. At Ssōne we also make sensible and more forgiving choices within other parts of the chain too. For instance, we use recycled, recyclable, low impact packaging. We keep all off-cuts of our collection – some of which are reused in other garments for Re-Ssōne. The smallest off cuts are recycled into making blankets in community projects.

Tell us about Re-Ssōne…

Ssōne is committed to working towards a zero waste future. Products developed under Re-Ssōne use a combination of waste bulk fabrics and unsold garments to create new pieces. By minimising waste, we are working to reduce our environmental impact while experimenting with our own creativity and offering the customer something new. Our first Re-Ssōne projects are currently in development and will launch as special editions in early 2020.

Why did you choose London as Ssōne’s base?

London has an amazing spirit, there are so many makers, artists and creatives in a community that really supports each other. London is known for its size and scale, it has within it many micro, often international, communities who are keen to support, share and collaborate.

In London we are blessed with many galleries and independent shops for inspiration alongside community projects that are thought provoking and social. People aren’t afraid to put themselves out there and make mistakes in London, I find that very refreshing.

Your favourite spots in London for good food are…

The Towpath Café on Regent’s Canal has great food, lovely staff and beautiful view. Lyles, known for its stripped back dining, is deliciously comforting. Brawn is a great neighbourhood spot on Columbia Road, which I love – it’s low-key, delicious and serves the best natural wines.

Your secret London hotspots no-one knows about…

Primeur in Stoke Newington is a gem of a restaurant in a residential street, and serves low-intervention wines.

Where is your favourite place in the world and why?

Iceland, for it’s beauty and the silence.

Three destinations on your travel wishlist…

Fairy Glen, Conwy, Wales; The west coast of Ireland; New Zealand.

Other than Ssōne, what brands are in your closet?

I am lucky enough to be close to Simone Rocha. I have many of her pieces. Her eye for textiles is phenomenal.

Caroline’s Pocket Guide to London

STAY: Being a resident of London, I like to visit other areas of the UK, particularly places of natural beauty and tranquility. I’d recommend Dune House in Suffolk. EAT: Primeur in Stoke Newington. DRINK: Dalston’s Little Duck for its natural wines and its fermenting kitchen The Picklery. DANCE: Anywhere outdoors! DO: A workshop hosted by the Crafts Council.

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