Celebs just love Sheffield designer Kelly Clark’s ‘classic with a twist’ tailoring. Stephanie Smith previews her new collection.
It all started with a leather jacket for Kelly Clark. Exquisitely tailored in the softest nappa, with a bold, furling, asymmetrical collar like a scarf, this was no ordinary jacket.
Worn over a lace dress or with T-shirt and jeans, it’s a go-anywhere classic. The Kelly, as she calls it, was one of the first pieces the Sheffield designer created after leaving university in 2003, and she has sold hundreds of them, in different colours. “Since then, I have based every collection around it,” Kelly says. “My signature jacket is always the focal part of every collection, in a colour I choose for that season.”
Singer Katie Melua wore a Kelly jacket on stage last year, and Nell McAndrew has been snapped in one of her gorgeous lace dresses. From her South Yorkshire studio, Kelly creates made-to-order garments and capsule wardrobes for her customers (age range 20-70-plus), each piece constructed by a single machinist and hand finished. Kelly Clark England, her label, also has an online store, offering a capsule collection of pieces in standard sizes, created using the finest leather, tweed, cashmere, flannel wools and couture laces, with all linings made from luxurious and beautiful silks.
“Although I design new pieces each season, they just add to my ever growing line of classic pieces,” Kelly says. “Clients select designs, colours and fabrics to suit them and I advise them on hem lengths, necklines and how to wear each piece.”
Kelly was born near Sheffield, in the pretty village of Brookhouse, where her parents owned a busy restaurant (they are now property developers). She says: “I’m back where I began in Brookhouse, living in my grandparents’ old house.” Now 34, she lives there with her husband, Steve, (they have been together since Kelly was 18) and their son and daughter, Charlie, five, and four-year-old Minnie.
Fashion was an early passion, although not fleeting fashion. “I was encouraged by Mum to buy beautiful pieces that I would treasure, rather than having a wardrobe full of cheaper High Street clothes,” she says.
After a foundation course at Leeds College of Art, Kelly was offered an unconditional place at Northumbria University to study for a BA in Fashion Design, a four-year course during which she spent six months in London on a work experience placement with Ben de Lisi. “Working for Ben de Lisi was really inspiring, seeing how the business worked,” she says.
After university, she took collections to London and Paris fashion weeks and within a year was stocked in 10 UK stores, but then decided to concentrate on her bespoke business, working closely with clients from her own boutique in Broomhill, Sheffield. In 2006 she won a Yorkshire Young Achievers’ Award in management and enterprise.
When she became pregnant with her second baby in 14 months, Kelly moved her operation to her studio at home. “Now I am busier than ever,” she says. “My clients come to me or sometimes I go to them.”
“I only ever use the finest couture lace produced in France or Switzerland, the same manufacturers used by Chanel, Dolce and Gabbana, Saint Laurent etc,” she says. Her cashmere and tweeds are sourced in Britain, her flannel wool and soft nappa leather from Italy and silks from France.
Kelly cuts the clothes in her studio with her assistant, Katie, and then sends them to her tailor and seamstress in Sheffield. “This has meant I can get the balance of running my own business and being a wife and mummy,” she says. “I design on paper and always have a sketchbook to hand. I also create new silhouettes on the mannequin. I do all the pattern cutting myself.”
Kelly Clark’s clothes are for the connoisseur of independent British contemporary-classic fashion, and she is more than happy with the reputation and success that she has earned for herself as a designer.
“I know my place in the industry,” she says. “I can’t and wouldn’t want to compete with the High Street and my loyal clients know they couldn’t get the same service any where else.”
All pieces by Kelly Clark England, bespoke or some available to buy in standard sizes on www.kellyclarkengland.co.uk
Email: Info@kellyclarkengland.co.uk or telephone 07989 972871.