Sussex fashion designer Kasia Austin and her unique designs
PUBLISHED: 10:51 23 June 2016 | UPDATED: 10:51 23 June 2016
Fashion designer Kasia Austin takes inspiration from everywhere, from the colours of the West Sussex countryside to her daughter’s Flower Fairies books. Jenny Mark-Bell found out more about her unique designs
Actually arriving at designer Kasia Austin’s home studio near Midhurst, West Sussex, feels like the beginning of an adventure. I get lost on the tree-lined, winding roads and have to call ahead for directions. When I arrive, the impression of a hidden kingdom is confirmed. First Kasia shows me the walled, ‘secret’ garden adjoining her house, then as I run my eyes over the racks of garments in her studio, I am transported to the flowery bed of Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
This, Kasia’s first collection, consists of barely-there camisoles, intricately embroidered gossamer dresses and wisps of diaphanous silk. Most designs would be as suitable for a summer festival, styled with biker boots and a leather jacket, as they would be for a demure country wedding.
Kasia, who grew up on a village farm outside Warsaw, started sewing at a very early age. When Kasia was a baby her mother, according to local tradition, presented her with a selection of household objects meant to represent different paths in life. Kasia selected the scissors and received her first simple sewing machine at 11. “But I wasn’t always so good, I must be honest,” she laughs. “The dolls had very scruffy clothes!”
The interest in embroidery was sparked when Kasia got a job working for Catherine Avison, who used to have a studio in Midhurst (she is now based in Horsham) and who produces beautiful embroidery for film, theatre and ballet – her film work includes the Harry Potter series and Snow White and the Huntsman and theatre includes the Royal Opera House and The Metropolitan Opera, New York. At first her role didn’t include helping with the embroidery itself, but “when I saw what she did I fell in love with it and started working on it myself,” says Kasia.
Her ideas come from everywhere, particularly from the surrounding countryside: “I could be driving, and get an idea – and then I just want to put it onto fabric,” she says.
In Poland she would make her own clothes as well as dressing her mother and sister for family weddings. It was thanks to the harsh jobs market in Poland that Kasia came to the UK. A trained textile designer, she found it difficult to find a job in her chosen field and began training in accountancy in Warsaw instead. After a stint working long hours in a factory, on a whim she decided to join a friend in travelling to Britain for work – a brave move, since she spoke no English other than ‘good morning’. But she was a quick learner and when her manager at a Middlesex hotel found out about her design training he asked her to redesign some of the rooms.
Kasia met her husband there – he was the head gardener – and they moved to West Sussex nine years ago because he wanted to show her how beautiful England could be. “I was shocked.”
She does live in a particularly exquisite corner of our county, with the manicured gardens of the local ‘big house’ within glimpsing distance. The colours and the surrounding flowers help her to relax and come up with design ideas.
Her favourite fabrics are silk, tulle, chiffon and cashmere – texture is important and the shapes and colours are very feminine. Some designs skim the body, others recall 1920s drop-waist flapper dresses – although she says she doesn’t have a favourite fashion era but employs elements from all of them. Kasia loves to hunt for inspiration in local vintage shops, citing in particular the vintage emporium in Midhurst, where she recently found some “incredibly beautiful” French lace.
This magpie spirit continues into her ideology: “I think my collection is full of different things. It is about the wearer’s personality. Older ladies wear my tops and dresses because they like to look different, they like the vintage twist. The tops are popular with young girls and they look absolutely amazing with jeans.”
The collection is still in its nascent stages, but Kasia has big plans for the future and hopes to expand into bridal gowns. At the moment she sells through her website and has had success with local markets. A small number of dresses are available ready-to-wear, while others can be ordered bespoke. It is detailed work – a heavily embellished dress might take up to a week to complete – but, an energetic perfectionist, Kasia says she is not ready to have someone else helping her with the embroidery and she works alone. Perhaps, she concedes, having a pattern cutter would be helpful in future.
Look out for her designs at Sussex summer events this year. If you are looking for a unique outfit, conceived and created in sylvan West Sussex countryside, these delicate wisps of gossamer might just be the ticket.
Tops cost from £130, slip dresses are £180 and long dresses range from £600 to £1,000. To find out more and buy online, go to kasiaaustin.com
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