Behind the Scenes: Sabina Savage, Fashion Designer

She worked for Alexander McQueen before launching her own label, creating luxury scarves from intricate animal-themed illustrations. Now Sabina Savage is stocked in Heal’s and Bloomingdales. She tells us about her fashion world…

I studied fashion design and pattern cutting at a couture school in Paris. It was a very technical and precise course, teaching the real elements of French tailoring. Our professors were very strict and the days were long and intense. It really set me up for life in the fashion world though, as it taught me there are no shortcuts!

I didn’t speak French at all when I first arrived, so the initial few months were very difficult. In the end I graduated at the top of my year and won the Nouvelle Couture award from the jury of examiners.

I interned at Alexander McQueen in the print department throughout my summer holidays and went on to work for both them and Gareth Pugh when I left university. Both studios were amazingly creative, and I think I learnt just as much, if not more, than I did on my course from being immersed in real, working studios. The level of creativity in both was just immense.

I had always hoped to have my own label, but I didn’t actually intend to start it as soon as I did. I had imagined I would spend a good few years working for other brands and really learning my trade and gaining contacts.

However, as my prints were in stores, selling out and being worn by celebrities, there was an element of me that felt I was giving away my best ideas and enthusiasm to other companies. The desire to work for myself became too strong to ignore and I moved back home to start from scratch.

I really love working for myself. I find self-motivation is not a problem at all as I’m doing something I really enjoy

I create a line of luxury, hand-illustrated scarves. I begin in the studio with just an idea, which can really come from anywhere. I research into it by going to galleries and exhibitions, reading and sketching until it evolves and begins to take shape as a collection idea. I then draw the scarf designs at full scale, usually around 1.5 metres square.

Each drawing takes around a month, and is then scanned in, cleaned up and coloured digitally. My factory is in Como, Italy, where the fabric is woven and digitally printed. They will send me strike-offs for colour reference before printing samples, to ensure the final result is exactly as I want it.

The edges of the scarves are all fringed or rolled by hand at the factory too. Each scarf has a long and hand-laboured process behind it.

I really love working for myself. I find self-motivation is not a problem at all as I’m doing something I really enjoy, so the early mornings don’t bother me. I work in a studio shared with other illustrators and artists – it’s a real pleasure to go to work in such a creative and inspiring environment.

Luckily, my workload is shared between myself and my agent, so he takes care of all the parts I don’t enjoy, such as invoicing and paperwork. I often stay at the studio much later or longer hours than many of my friends in other employment, but it really doesn’t feel like work to me as I have chosen to be there. I am incredibly lucky in that respect.

Having experienced both ways of life, I know I am far happier in myself when I am self-employed. It gives an amazing flexibility, which would be incredibly hard to give up. We can never be sure what the future holds, but I like to think I can keep working for myself for a long time now, as I have put in a lot of groundwork.

sabina savage 2 - theearlyhour.com

On an average day, I get up at around 7.45am and have a quiet hour at home to have a pot of tea, some breakfast and check my emails. Many of my stockists are in the US so will have emailed through the night. I try to get to the studio at around 9:15. I cycle there, which gives me a good dose of fresh air and the chance to think about what’s on the agenda.

I write a to-do list every evening for the following day, so it immediately kicks me into gear once I arrive. In a designing phase, I will put on my headphones and completely immerse myself in very detailed drawing, occasionally checking my inbox.

I speak to my agent around two or three times a day, as he has questions about orders, shows or appointments. At lunchtime I’ll grab a soup and a coffee, usually consumed at my desk while chatting with studio members for half an hour. I finish work at around 6:30 or 7pm, finishing up with the to-do list for the following day.

My workspace is kept tidy but a little eclectic. I need to keep a large area clear, as the paper I work on is very big. I have a long shelf over my desk, which holds all my inspiration books and paperwork.

Under the shelf sits my spotlight lamp and large mood board. This will have a very carefully selected arrangement of images on it, which will directly influence the next collection. The board will have been put together to help tell the story I want to convey through the current set of drawings, so is really important for me to refer to it while designing.

I also have a long rail next to the desk with previous scarf samples hung on it. This helps me consider my colour palette when designing, and makes for easy reference if I need to check an old design. It’s also useful when I have a studio visit for an interview or from a stockist.

The whole process has been a huge learning curve for me, and I have made many mistakes along the way, but they have brought me to where I am now. There have been production disasters, shipping problems, hard-drive failures

The studio is a shared workspace with other creatives, but nobody else does anything fashion related, which is refreshing. It is usually a quiet, calm atmosphere, and most people use headphones while they work.

My scarves are currently stocked worldwide, and recently went into Bloomingdales in New York and Chicago. The list of stockists is growing all the time and it’s amazing to see the reach the scarves have. My designs are far better travelled than I am.

My highpoint so far was probably being accepted for and exhibiting at Premiere Classe in Paris. It’s an accessories show during Paris Fashion Week, which takes place in the Jardin des Tuileries.

It is notoriously selective and many brands are never accepted. It has really helped to catapult my brand to an international level, and has enabled me to meet very influential and important buyers and contacts in the industry.

The whole process has been a huge learning curve for me, and I have made many mistakes along the way, but they have brought me to where I am now. There have been production disasters, shipping problems, hard-drive failures and many more, but I hope they have all made me more resilient to future challenges.

Business is very busy at the moment. I am in the process of designing for Autumn/Winter 2016, which will be sampled before Christmas. That means I am in the drawing stage at the moment; lots of long days in the studio.

I have some very exciting projects in the pipeline for the next few seasons, so lots of planning is happening. I returned from the Spring/Summer 2016 Paris show two weeks ago so the orders from that are going into production now in Italy. I actually went out to Como earlier this week to visit my factory and look at fabrics for next season. I’m very lucky to be able to travel to such beautiful places.

The fashion calendar is seasonal by nature, so the big shows are twice a year, once for Spring/Summer, once for Autumn/Winter. This means my work runs in six-month cycles with the seasons.

I wouldn’t say one time of year is particularly busier than another, just busy in different ways. I will be drawing and designing for around four months of the six, and the other two will be based around preparation for the shows and travelling.

For Sabina Savage the brand, I’d love to expand the product range in the future, and maybe branch into clothing. I’d love it to be a fashion house one day, with the brand concept and aesthetic covering many lines. For Sabina Savage the person, the dream is to keep doing what I’m doing.

Sabina Savage
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