Huddersfield designer Georgia Boniface creates fashion that combines art with wearability and a strong Yorkshire twist for her brand West View. She talks to fashion editor Stephanie Smith.
Whether she is making a work of art or a piece of clothing, Georgia Boniface adheres to three founding principles: elegance, simplicity and colour.
“I like to create clothes with a strong, elegant silhouette – limited-edition garments in beautiful colours and textures,” she says. “I love working with colour and clean geometric lines. I try to keep the garment shapes as simple as possible while looking for the most flattering lines.”
The result is West View, a collection of beautifully easy clothes with a decidedly artistic signature, hand-made in West Yorkshire and guaranteed to draw admiring glances the world over. These are contemporary pieces, and yet with an utterly timeless and borderless sophistication and appeal.
This is largely thanks to Georgia’s ethos of form meeting function, with practicality stitched in. “Everything has pockets,” she says. “In this sense, I was fulfilling my own needs in that I wanted to design clothes that I could wear while working but still make me look and feel good when I left the studio to go out.
“My customers are individually minded, independent, creative women who want an individually defined look in the easiest way possible – something that is not easily found on the high street.”
The goal is always to feel elegant and confident but – and this is most important – comfortable. Therefore, each West View piece brings structural simplicity without embellishment, except for ties and drawstrings, and of course, those pockets. Georgia uses mainly linen and wool, with quality and sustainability key design priorities. “I try to use as many locally sourced materials as possible,” she says.
She designs and makes each garment herself. “I love each stage of the process and haven’t yet delegated any aspect of production,” she says. “I think it is in this sense that I work like an artist rather than a fashion designer. It’s like an old-fashioned dressmaker’s atelier, surrounded by sewing machines, patterns, fabrics and haberdashery.”
The label was first called West View Study Centre, the name that Georgia and her partner, Kevin Boniface, were already using for their studio at their home on West View in Huddersfield. They are both artists – Georgia paints and creates installations as well as clothes, while Kevin writes, draws and makes books and films. They have published too, under the working title West View Study Centre and Georgia decided that this was the name she would give her clothing range. “I always thought this was quite funny and a bit incongruous, but I really liked that the clothing range had evolved from the shapes and colours of the paintings I was working on and it just seemed like a natural progression into a 3D version, working with fabric instead of paint,” she says. “But the clothing collection has really taken on a life of its own and now I feel, after five years, I need something more suitable for a womenswear label so I’ve abbreviated it to West View.
Born in Worcester, Georgia grew up in Sussex then Leicestershire and studied Art and Sociology at the University of Liverpool. She and Kevin met there and began collaborating after they graduated on exhibitions and artworks and clothes printed with photographic images they had taken. “We used transfer printing and were able to see the beginnings of digital sublimation printing become available to experiment with,” says Georgia. These initial experiments led to their creation of the clothing label Laundry, for which they were awarded a Prince’s Youth Business Trust grant, launching their first collection in 1994, making everything in Huddersfield. Georgia says: “This was a golden time for independent labels and the independent boutiques that stocked us. A couple of years after leaving university we were selling our collection in London, Paris, Milan, New York, Hong Kong, Reykjavik.”
Laundry continued for six years until Georgia and Kevin felt it was time to move on. In that time they had married, bought a house and had a baby and both felt they needed to pursue their separate art practices (the couple now have two daughters, Molly, 20, and Edie, 14). Georgia studied for an MA in Contemporary Fine Art at the University of Huddersfield. “The work I was doing there reignited my passion for making clothes and working with fabric,” she says. “I have sewn for as long as I can remember. My mum made clothes for us all and our dolls and taught me all I needed to know to get started. My great-aunt was a professional dressmaker so I grew up understanding how clothes were put together. I always loved it and must have picked up the skills by osmosis as I am completely self-taught in pattern cutting and garment construction.”
Georgia’s experience of the way clothes fit her and the way in which she learned to combat fit problems has, she says, provided the strongest influence on how she designs. “I want my garments to work for as many people as possible, so no matter what your individual body shape, the cut of the pattern and drape of the fabric should flatter your figure. For example, I use dropped shoulder seams so even if you have very narrow or very broad shoulders the garment will still work. I use ties instead of waistbands so you can cinch in as much as you like. I try not to use prescriptive sizing – each garment is available in a size 1, 2 and 3, so you can choose a larger size if you prefer a looser, longer look.”
She made her very first outfit when she was 14. “It was a pencil skirt and sleeveless top, both fully lined with zips up the back, in royal blue cotton. I remember feeling so good in it because it actually fitted me properly. I’m pretty small – barely 5ft – so I have always struggled to find clothes that fit well.”
Last year Georgia moved West View to a new studio in Upper Mills at Slaithwaite, where she now opens by appointment for sales, fittings and commissions. Her working neighbours in this creative hub include textile manufacturers and printers, and this has sparked new ideas, collaborations and enterprise – this summer will see a T-shirt range printed at the mills by Huddersfield Screen Printing Company, and West View’s Autumn/Winter 2019 collection will use fine worsted wools from Schofield & Smith, also based at the mill. This meeting of art, practicality, sustainability and heritage is precisely what fashion needs right now.
* See www.westviewstudycentre.bigcartel.com. Georgia Boniface will be at the Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair Sheffield on July 12-14 and at the Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair Manchester on October 10-13. Her studio is open by appointment for sales, fittings and commissions. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
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