Labelled with love
Carli Pearson’s new luxury womenswear label, CIMONE, is already creating a stir in the world of haute couture. Formerly of Stella McCartney, Alexander Wang, Pucci and McQ, she talks going solo and why the East is where it’s at
WORDS BY TIM ARNOLD
Tell us a little bit about your background?
Although I was raised in Essex, my father was born, lived, and grew up in East London – so we would spend a lot of time around the Stratford area when I was small because of family and friends. My sister still lives there, so in a way I have always considered myself East London born and bred. It’s still where I live and work and I never tire of it. It really is one of the most creative parts of the capital.
Did you have an interest in fashion and design from an early age?
I was never really aware that fashion was a thing as a child, but I was always interested in painting and drawing. But I do remember my mum being creative with her outfit choices. She would have things made for her and would often describe something she desired as being “a bit different” – I suppose this made me see clothes as something other than just functional garments. Clothes were something to be coveted – they could make you stand out from the crowd rather than just fit in. I think it was this curiosity for dressing, paired with my love of the pencil, that brought me to the natural conclusion that fashion was something I wanted to explore.
Who have been your biggest inspirations?
Inspiration for me has always been mainly about a mindset and freedom of expression – what drives and motivates people. If a person is passionate about something and can impart some of that enthusiasm to ignite a small flame of curiosity in someone else, whatever the subject, that is incredibly inspiring. From a purely fashion perspective, I have always been fascinated by classic designers of yesteryear, such as Alix, Balenciaga and Dior, they possessed a sense of great integrity in designing each piece, their work was almost sculptural. I also love more ‘youthful’ and modern brands, such as Helmut Lang, Katharine Hamnett, and Junior Gaultier, as these are people who aren’t afraid to break the mould or rethink the things that we have taken for granted.
You trained at St Martin’s college, what was that like?
My course leader was the late, great, Louise Wilson. I have never met anyone before, or since, who has had the capacity to both terrify and inspire in one fell swoop. She always said that her course was like boot camp, and that if you could make it through that, then you could survive in any fashion house. I think she was probably right – you have to have a certain resilience and a hard nose when embarking on a fashion career. She really did break you down to build you back up again. It made me better, tougher, and far more capable.
After studying did you find work in the industry immediately?
I was lucky enough to find work very quickly after graduation. While still studying at St Martin’s I was called into Louise’s office and was told that I was one of seven students to be put forward for an interview at Stella McCartney. I never dreamt that I would actually end up getting the job.
I began working with Stella during the early stages, so had the privilege to be involved with a company that was quite young and I was able to witness the growing pains that come along with that. Eventually, I moved on to Alexander Wang, a brand that was quite new, but very different in approach. Americans never seem to do anything by halves – they are much less cautious than the Brits.
At Emilio Pucci, I gained a lot more experience in texture and embellishment, and was able think about silhouettes in a different way. From there I moved on to McQ, where I was taught to think much more about who was wearing the brand and why.
Why did you decide to go solo?
I decided to start CIMONE as I really wanted to showcase everything that I had learned and bring it all together under one roof. Starting my own company would also give me creative freedom to take the brand in the direction that I felt was right. I wanted to be able to spend more time nurturing something from beginning to end. Sometimes you lose that working in big places, as you have large merchandising teams governing your output.
How did you hit on the name CIMONE?
I wanted something short and punchy, and also a name that wasn’t immediately associated with me – I definitely didn’t want to call it Carli Pearson! I finally decided on CIMONE, as for me it was a representation of all my experiences, and the international influences of the brand. My middle name is Simone, which is French in origin. In Italian, Cimone is the name of a famous mountain. It’s pronounced differently by different groups of people – I like its chameleonic quality. I also really liked the connotation of this great mountain to be conquered.
How would you describe CIMONE designs, is there a certain aesthetic that runs through all your pieces?
Many of the clothes I design have unexpected but balanced proportions. We often pair textures that you wouldn’t necessarily put together, challenging the perception of ‘good taste’. It’s really important that the design isn’t so serious that it loses all sense of fun, and although it has a refined aesthetic I like it to have youthful, playful, spirit. CIMONE is all about freedom, so the CIMONE woman knows her own mind, but is also playful and understated.
Tell me about your East London studio,
I hear it functions like an atelier?
From the beginning of my career I was always fascinated by the workings of the ateliers of yesteryear. The designers I mentioned earlier, such as Alix and Dior – they were champions of the small detail. It was an era when nothing was too much trouble, clothes were to be held and workmanship was to be appreciated, rather than just seen fleetingly in an Instagram snap.
In a way, I’m aiming to emulate that almost old-fashioned working method by being very hands-on, with specialist professionals, hand-crafting and developing each garment in house. So much today seems fast and throwaway, and everything around us, from technology to clothes, is designed to become obsolete of its own accord. I collect a lot of vintage fashion, and really appreciate clothing that transcends time because of its quality or individuality – I hope CIMONE can do the same.
The word fashion automatically implies something is “in” or “out” – by labelling clothes as fashion, we’re already limiting them to a timeframe, and saying that they effectively have a sell-by date. I hope that owning a CIMONE piece means that its subtleties and secrets are revealed slowly over time, and the wearer can develop a relationship with it.
Where would you like CIMONE to be in five years’ time?
I like to think that one day we will be this fashion laboratory experimenting with new techniques and modern materials, being innovative and reinventing the familiar into something new and exciting.
Above all else, my aspiration for the brand is to inspire and challenge, and to always work with integrity, not to be overly governed by what I think will sell. That might be easier said than done, but it’s good to start out with principles!