Fashion: Kirsty Stevens, Charcot

Kirsty Stevens, who uses scans of her brain in her designs, with her Brain Moth Necklaces
Kirsty Stevens, who uses scans of her brain in her designs, with her Brain Moth Necklaces
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Do the designs pictured on these pages make you think of impossibly delicate and intricately beautiful moths? They’re actually inspired by MRI scans of the lesions multiple sclerosis (MS) has caused in Kirsty Stevens’ brain, taken in the lead-up to her diagnosis in 2007. She incorporates the designs into jewellery, scarves, cushion covers and framed prints to raise awareness about MS and has been picked as the first V&A Dundee Design Champion. Inspirational designers creating quality work and helping to enhance people’s lives, or champions of the power of design to improve the world, will be announced weekly until the museum opens in 2018.

Who are you? How old are you? Where are you based?

Charcot Flora MRI Silk Scarf

Charcot Flora MRI Silk Scarf

Kirsty Stevens. I’m 31 and I am a designer, visual artist and MSer based in Falkland, Fife.

What do you do?

I am the founder and designer at Charcot. Named after the father of neurology, Jean Martin Charcot, who first discovered the neurological condition MS in 1868, Charcot is a surface pattern design brand inspired by MS. From my own MRI scans, taken in the lead-up to my diagnosis of MS in 2007, I use the shapes created by harmful lesions as my source material. Under the Charcot brand, I create beautiful patterns and designs that turn this negative into an unrecognisable positive, incorporating them in high-end design.

What is your training/background?

Acrylic Brain Skull Necklace, hand finished with silver findings

Acrylic Brain Skull Necklace, hand finished with silver findings

I studied jewellery and metal design at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Dundee. I was diagnosed with MS while in my third year of the course. After a year out, taken to come to terms with the diagnosis, I returned and based my final year’s degree show work on what I had experienced living with MS. This had a great response which I didn’t expect, and I knew I had to continue using MS as my inspiration.

After graduating I moved to London for an internship, which led to other internships, but I ended up working full-time in retail, which I enjoyed, but it wasn’t my true passion or what I moved to London to do, and always in the back of my mind was my MS-inspired work.

I made the move back to Scotland and was accepted to be part of Vanilla Ink, a unique jewellery studio that helps young jewellers set up their own business, after applying with a new take on looking at my MS as inspiration.

This time I decided to use damaging lesion shapes caused by my MS. The time I spent in the studio allowed me to experiment with my design work and helped me realise I loved to design prints and patterns from my lesions, which developed into Charcot.

Tell us about what you make?

I make and design beautiful prints and patterns from my own MRI scans of my brain that show the damage caused by multiple sclerosis and incorporate them in high-end design that makes the story of MS accessible to everyone.

What is your aim?

As MS is mostly an unknown and unseen condition, I aim to make it visible by printing on fabrics and etching various materials, giving it impactful permanence, mirroring the effects of MS on the body. This leads to questions about what MS is and raises MS awareness in an innovative and creative way to a wider audience that wouldn’t necessarily have a connection. I also hope to inspire fellow MSers and show them your life does not stop due to a diagnosis.

What’s different about your product?

It is different as all of the designs come from an unconventional beauty, fusing science and art, which people don’t expect. I don’t think using a degenerative disease would be everybody’s first choice for inspiration.

What is the fun part of your business?

I love the design process as I enjoy designing through making; it is all about playing with the shapes and rough ideas to see what develops. It is different every time and can still surprise me, which I love.

What challenges have you faced?

I’d have to say the odd occasion when I have explained what I do, what Charcot is about, to people who don’t know what MS is all about (which is fine as I never really knew much about it until I was diagnosed), but they drop a clanger and say something terrible without even realising! But I take these comments as a drive to continue raising MS awareness as much as I possibly can.

How has it evolved?

This year I feel it has evolved massively and is gaining more recognition as I have been chosen by V&A Dundee as its first Design Champion, and by Unesco City of Design Dundee to represent Dundee at Shenzhen Design Week in China.

What have you learned?

To keep striving for what you want to achieve. If I had stopped doing what I am doing, a lot of the great opportunities that have happened with Charcot, wouldn’t have happened. And they have given me the push to go even further with design ideas.

Who are your customers?

My customers vary as I have met people that either have a direct link with MS or want to support my work, or people who purely like the designs. Now no matter who purchases Charcot products they will be supporting MS as Charcot can proudly announce that it will support the MS Society by donating 5 per cent of profits from every sale towards the crucial development of MS research.

I have also been working with major pharmaceutical companies that have been showing Charcot work across the globe, which is very exciting. I am thrilled that so many neurology professionals will see my work, as they may have not seen MS looked at in this way before.

What is your most popular product?

The Flora and Fauna MRI silk scarves have gained a lot of interest and I will be showing them at Shenzhen Design Week along with Charcot’s latest collection of Brain Skull and Brain Moth necklaces.

Which items do you have at home from your range?

I have the Brain Skull and Brain Moth necklaces in every colour, the Flora and Fauna MRI silk scarves and new silk headscarf samples. It would be odd if I produced work that I wouldn’t want to wear myself.

What are your goals?

One of my goals this year is to complete Colour Charcot, a colouring book that is filled with lesion patterns that I have been working on recently, which I am very excited about. But my main goal is to continue raising MS awareness and donating to the MS Society to get closer to finding a cure for MS.

What’s your style philosophy?

To wear something that you love everyday, as that will make you feel great no matter what.

Where are your products made?

All of Charcot’s products are made in the UK. I screen print the prints by hand myself, laser cut the acrylic at DCA Print Studio and finish the necklaces by hand at my home studio in Falkland.

And for the bits I can’t do myself, like mounting prints, digitally printing silk and hand rolling the edges, I have outsourced to great companies that can do these things with great skill across the UK.

Who has influenced your style?

I think it was down to my grandmother as she was so glamorous, and always looked so elegant. Even if she was just giving the house a dust or the brass on the front door a polish she looked effortlessly stylish.

Who are your style icons?

Isabella Blow as there were no “fashion rules” for her; she did what she wanted, she was a bold woman, in vision, attitude and style. And Jackie Onassis for her love of headscarves and big sunglasses.

Who are your favourite designers?

Iris van Herpen. I love the digital structures she designs and her use of materials that aren’t usually seen in fashion. And Emilio Pucci for its use of colour, which I have recently embraced in my own work.

Any fashion faux pas you’d like to share?

There are probably many but one that really sticks out is from the 1990s when I was at school and a trouser/skirt combo was a thing. I was young, what did I know?

MS Awareness Week runs from tomorrow until 30 April

(www.mstrust.org.uk).

Kirsty Stevens’ products are available from: http://www.charcot.bigcartel.com. V&A Museum of Design Dundee (www.vandadundee.org)