"We wanted to go into a shop and buy everything!” says Molly Molloy on the phone from Milan. The British designer is describing the motivation for launching independent brand Colville, a project she steers alongside Lucinda Chambers and Kristin Forss. “It’s very personal. From the beginning, we said that we wanted to create things we want to wear. We wanted to create our wardrobe.”
Since unveiling their debut collection in May 2018, the trio have wanted to dress in tailored greatcoats, tactile hand-knits, and asymmetrical dresses cut from jersey fabrics printed with abstract motifs reminiscent of Keith Haring’s graffiti art. This spring, there are coral Colville twill shirts (matching cropped trousers are available); a sapphire blue dress with long sleeves and a point collar; and button-up cardigans that appear to have been assembled, patchwork-like, from panels of striped wool.
“If anybody was to say, ‘What is Colville like?’, [we’d say] it’s defined by the spirit with which you wear the clothes,” Chambers offers.
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Chambers has phoned Molloy from the kitchen of her Shepherd’s Bush home, an artful mise en scène of mementos and bric-a-brac, some truffled out at nearby Portobello Market. Colville is headquartered between here and Milan – Molloy and Forss’ current hometown. In Italy, the trio are based in the Palazzo Berri-Meregalli, an eccentric corner building built in the 1910s and noted for its Stile Liberty interiors, including a mosaic-ceilinged lobby. “We don’t find it difficult,” says Chambers of their pan-European set-up, “but others probably do. Trying to get us all together in one room is a logistical nightmare.”
Chambers has been busy since she left British Vogue in May 2017: in addition to Colville, there is also Collagerie, her new e-commerce project. During her 36-year tenure at the magazine – 25 of them as fashion director – Chambers authored photoshoots of poetic beauty, which celebrated the joy of dressing. For ‘Rainbow Warriors’, a 1996 editorial shot by Paolo Roversi, Chambers dressed supermodels Shalom Harlow and Amber Valletta in Parisian haute couture accessorised with a flurry of feathers and dried flowers; feathers also featured in ‘Trail Blazers’, a 2008 shoot in Peru, for which she had packed Alexander McQueen’s avian chiffon dresses.
In addition to her magazine work, Chambers consulted for luxury brands including Jil Sander, Prada and Marni. It was at Marni that she first met Molloy and Forss, who worked in the Milanese brand’s design ateliers. Marni founder Consuelo Castiglioni left the post of creative director following her SS17 collection for the label; Molloy, Forss and Chambers eventually followed suit. “It’s a source of pride that the [Marni] customer was very independent,” Chambers enthuses. “She wasn’t dressing for a husband or a boyfriend. It wasn’t sexy, it was intelligent. It was colour, it was prints. It’ll be exciting to see how people interpret Colville.”
Molloy, Chambers and Forss launched Colville – named after the west London terrace that was home to artist David Hockney in the ’70s – with a capsule collection on sale at MatchesFashion. The deal was clinched by an elevator pitch at The Shard, where the luxury retailer has its HQ. “We just took a box – a beautiful box – of drawings and fabric sketches. We didn’t have a Plan B,” Chambers remembers. “They bought the whole lot.”
At Colville, the spirit of collaboration extends beyond the co-founders’ work as a trio. Veering far from an industry often led by market research and fast profitability, Colville products are shaped by relationships forged organically with independent creatives and makers. “All the people we work with – it’s such a community,” Chambers explains. The first collection featured outsize wimple-like baseball hats by Stephen Jones – the London milliner whose client list also includes Dior and Marc Jacobs – and today Chambers is wearing a chunky Colville Flintstones earring, a gold-plated pebble-like gem created by Milanese jewellery designer Valeria Bersanetti. There are Colville shoes by Matteo Mena (this season it’s at strappy sandals), and leather goods specialist Marcus Griffith has dreamt up roomy North South bags with colourful handles.
At Colville’s Milan base – I’m given a brief tour via snapshots Molloy shares in real time on WhatsApp – there are abstract works by French visual artist Virginie Hucher and elaborately textured vases by Brute, a fledgling ceramics business started up by the trio’s Amsterdam-based design assistant. “It feels like a very modern way of working to shout out about the people you are working with, about their input,” says Chambers of their approach, which seeks to enable others. “In so many houses, you have one person and they take on all that pressure. What feels very different at Colville is that because it’s spread around and everybody is very good at different things, it feels like a sort of collective.”
In addition to collaboration, repurposing has been another Colville leitmotif since the very beginning. Dresses are ingeniously fashioned from vintage silk scarves; tracksuit shell jackets are given a second lease of life as bolero jackets. “You can put them over an evening dress, you can put them over a coat – people are obsessed with them,” says Chambers. For this spring’s collection, the team scoured eBay for disused boat sails to produce a line of raincoats. The roomy outerwear rustles at the touch of a hand – which lead Chambers to christen the design their “crisp-packet coats”.
At Colville, there is time for experimentation and surprise discoveries. The plan to upcycle blankets proved a challenge – “I bought so many blankets,” Chambers laughs. Elsewhere, a chance beachfront encounter led to a line of striped woven bucket bags crafted by a Colombian Wayuu women’s collective who work according to longstanding traditions. “It’s so impactful, just to know where something has come from,” says Chambers.
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