Aymee Charlton on designing womenswear

Picture: Karolina Wisniowska
Picture: Karolina Wisniowska
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The emphasis on easy comfort in the designs of Aymee Charlton is inspired by her parallel careers as a care worker and dance instructor. By Janet Christie

THERE’S a softness and simplicity about Aymee Charlton’s womenswear. A certainty, like the knowledge that a Scottish summer will include rain, ranging from smirring to stoating, a healthy gale or two and perhaps some glorious sunshine. And there’s an intrinsic adaptability, so that whatever the weather, her clothes will be up to the challenge.

Picture: Karolina Wisniowska

Picture: Karolina Wisniowska

In her new 22-piece collection, Three, there are dresses, shirts, trousers, coats, a soft boiled wool jumper to throw on, and if things really take a turn for the dreich, a cosy alpaca scarf in which to wrap up warm.

Set in the hills around Laurencekirk, the photoshoot for the new collection epitomises her approach to fashion. With its palette of greys, earthy browns, creams and the palest ecru, the colours are inspired by the Aberdeenshire landscape that 24-year-old Charlton has grown up with, and the materials are organic and ethically sourced.

“I like clean lines and I’m not a fussy person,” she says. “I like interesting silhouettes, things that are boxy one minute, then tight against you the next, and a drawstring creates texture and draping.”

A fashion graduate of Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen, Charlton is the child of a carer and a father who works in the oil business. Her studio overlooking Union Terrace Gardens in the granite city is busy with her machines and the fashion student interns currently on placements with her as she works on this, her third collection.

As well as creating fashion, Charlton has a parallel career as a care worker, having signed up with an agency when she was a student and continuing to work with the elderly across the city.

“It’s a great contrast to fashion design. I love looking after older people, they’re brilliant. I can speak Doric to them and they feel comfortable with that, and we just click. It’s something to give back, because they’ve done so much for us. And it’s ahead for all of us too,” says Charlton, who has personal experience with her family of caring for her grandad, who is now very happy in a care home.

“Older people are so stylish too. My favourite part is ‘What are you wanting to wear today?’ when they say, ‘You choose.’ Sometimes the women like to dress up and wear lipstick, and I’m a bit of a magpie, so I like to encourage them to wear something glam. Other days they’ll say, ‘Oh, no, not today.’ So they also need clothes that are easier and more comfortable.”

Clearly, working with older people and those who need care has had a huge impact on Charlton and her designs. Comfort and ease are key and there are drawstrings and easy shapes that can be worn loose or pulled tight for a sharper silhouette, depending on how the mood takes you.

“I design for comfort and I don’t mean that in a negative way. There are no restrictive garments in my collections. All of them are oversized and many have drawstrings, and no zips or buttons. You can wear them loose or tied, they’re one size fits most.”

As Charlton points out, you don’t have to be elderly to like comfort. “I work in fashion, but I dress for comfort most of the time too, especially in jeans, so I know how important it is.

“Also, I don’t like stapling garments to one sex. Not every male would wear one of my dresses, but they could, because they’re oversized. If a guy wanted to wear one with, or without a pair of the trousers, that would be amazing.”

Working with the elderly also means that Charlton has benefited from the occasional crochet lesson from her clients.

“I’m still learning to crochet, but I can knit. The knitting in the collection is all hand-knitted and I have a loom as well. My mother and I did the big alpaca scarf – it took us 28 hours to do.”

When Charlton isn’t designing or caring, she’s dancing, another strand of her life that feeds into her clothes.

“I did Highland, ballet and tap when I was a kid, and I recently decided to take up dance again. I didn’t want to go to the gym – that’s boring. I’m also a pole dancing instructor, so I’m at both ends of the spectrum. Dancing has made me think about designing clothes that you can move and stretch in.”

As well as taking inspiration from her environment, caring and dance, Charlton is also inspired by the one-off US fashion legend Iris Apfel. “It’s all about silhouettes for me,” she says.

Charlton cares too about the sourcing of her materials and does everything she can to make sure the cotton, wool and bamboo – that’s right, bamboo – she uses is ethical.

“The cotton I use is organic, from Kerala in India, and so is the thread. One day I ran out and had to wait for the next order to arrive before I could sew anything. I just couldn’t use anything else. The bamboo fabric comes from the same supplier as the cotton and it’s amazing, softer than cotton, more durable and breaks down faster.

“Everything is Scottish made, which is important to me,” she says.

“I collaborate with designers, photographers and stylists across Scotland and there’s a huge amount of talent here. Customers like it too, so I want to stick with it. I want to stay here, although I have considered Scandinavia where I have family and my boyfriend works, so I visit there,” she says.

“I want people to get more wear out of their clothes and stop fast fashion, where things are thrown away. It makes me sad that people are buying things made in poor conditions from the likes of Primark (not that I haven’t shopped there too) only to throw it away.”

Currently looking to widen her stockists, Charlton doesn’t want to expand too fast, preferring to grow organically.

“This is my third collection and I don’t feel the need to rush on to the next one. I need time to manufacture the collections I’ve already created.

“I’m trying to stay away from fast fashion and the constantly new, new, new. I will add new elements if I want to. For example, I’d like to do organic lingerie.”

Bamboo knickers anyone? How do you say that in Doric?

Aymee Charlton, Three, prices start from £25. Available from www.aymeecharlton.co.uk, and The Facility Shop, Ocean Terminal, Edinburgh, see www.thefacilityproject.com for details