Wednesday, 8 September 2010

MEET: Lissa Cook of Peak Princess

This week UK Handmade catch up with bespoke children's clothing designer/maker Lissa Cook of Peak Princess.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got started?
We lived in London for 8 years. I was a BBC radio producer working on Radio 4's political programmes "The World at One" and "PM". My husband was managing the top personal training studio in London so we were both doing very stressful shift work - up very early and home late. He went freelance as a writer and we moved up to the Peak District 3 years ago. I got a job in Manchester making BBC radio documentaries for an independent production company and then took a career break. That was 2 summers ago. I was sitting in the park picnicking with my god-daughter Tilly and it struck me that there was a gap in the market for handmade quality childrenswear.

My Mum was a couture designer and my grand-mother a milliner so this wasn't as left-field as it seemed. Mum had taught me how to sew. I made up 3 sample dresses and showed them to friends and family. My sister-in-law's the Design Director at Jellycat Toys - she put me in touch with Liberty of London who loved the designs and agreed to supply me. I launched my first collection for little girls last spring. I've since been featured in Sunday Times Style who called them 'achingly cool', as well as Country Living magazine and Guardian Life & Style. I was asked to make boys' clothes so designed the Peak Prince range and am about to launch bridesmaid dresses at the end of this month.

What is the ethos behind your work?
My tagline is "...with love sewn in". I love every dress or little boy's shirt that I make. Each and every garment is designed, cut and sewn by me in my customers' choice of my Liberty prints. I deal individually with every customer so they know exactly where their children's clothes have been made and by whom with the added advantage of knowing they're made in the highest quality fabrics supplied by Liberty. I realise how fortunate I am to live in the Peak District and to work from home and I hope that enjoyment shows through.

What kind of formal education, training or experience do you have that applies to what you do?
I have a BA in Politics and French and an MA in European Political Administration! Really, I should be working in Brussels. My Mum's never forgiven me for chucking in a fabulous job working on EU affairs in Paris! I have absolutely no formal training whatsoever in dress-making. That said, Mum is a genius. She was a couture designer in the 60s who designed for companies like Susan Small and Charles Creed of London. She did a formal apprenticeship but has the most inspiring and liberating philosophy and says over and over again "Dress-making is simple - it's not magic". She taught me and gave me the confidence to design myself. She's been an invaluable source of advice and support.

What inspired you to start making childrenswear?
My god-daughter Tilly was the spark for the eureka moment. But my ideas come from my own childhood. I was what you'd call a 'bonny' baby. But I always remember how I loved the dresses Mum made for me and my sister. She made my wedding dress. There's nothing like wearing that special dress that you know no-one else has. I'm also intensely practical so want my clothes to be washable and wearable. I love big, bold buttons. And finally I do think children should be children and my designs are deliberately quite modestly cut.

What do you love most about what you do and what do you find the most frustrating?
I love working from home for myself. I'm a bit of a control freak so I probably work longer hours than I ever have (and that's saying something given I used to make news programmes!) but it's much more satisfying. The absolute icing on the cake is the design process. There's nothing like having completed the first sample of a new design and seeing it hung up in my sewing room. The most frustrating is that I do miss the boisterous exchange of ideas that you get in a newsroom or the to-and-fro of script editing with a presenter.

Is handmade a lifestyle choice for you and if so why?
Every time me and my sister went shopping with Mum and asked for a dress she'd say "I can make that for £5". We still laugh about it. So I guess I'm steeped in the 'make-do-and-mend' tradition and I love the stories behind handmade goods. But, I'm not a zealot. It might be controversial but I think there's a place for Primark. The reality is that handmade things are lovely but generally more expensive.

Can you tell us a bit about where your collections are made, can we take a sneaky peak?
My collections are made in my sewing room at the top of our house. It's a total mess at the moment as I'm in the middle of designing for autumn/winter and I've just taken a huge delivery of new Liberty prints. It's a spare bedroom with a sofa bed and a second hand fold-down table that doubles as a cutting table. My rolls of fabric are stacked under the eaves and I have a John Lewis sewing machine and an overlocker. Oh, and Great Aunt Tomasina's bull-nosed rocking chair (which is my sister's but don't remind her!). It all has to be packed away when the god-children and in-laws come to stay.

How do you balance your work and home life, what do you do to wind down?
I don't. Work totally dominates my life. I'm quite obsessive. But I have a lovely husband who does nearly all the cooking and we've given in to temptation and got a cleaner. We're both very bad at switching off and, as we both work for ourselves, we can't take long breaks so ever so often we snatch a few days away. We have a wonderful bolt-hole hotel a couple of hours away and friends have a cottage in the Lakes. There's no mobile or wifi so we have enforced rest. Day-to-day the only thing that works is fell-running. We can run straight out the back door with our dogs up into the peaks which puts everything into perspective. And I have a friend who's an amazing masseuse.

Do you ever experience periods of creative slump and if so what helps you through?
I don't have a problem with creative slump - it's more that there aren't enough hours in the day to turn all my ideas into reality. So it's more that I tend to get exhausted which is when we go away for a break or I go for a run with the dogs to recharge my batteries. I've just spent a few days with Mum in London - we went to the Grace Kelly and Horrockses' exhibitions which are both wonderful and a great source of ideas.

Who or what inspires you most in your work?
Definitely my Mum.

If you could give an aspiring maker one piece of advice what would it be?
Just get started. I think too many people spend too much time worrying and not enough time doing. Until you've made something and tried to sell it you've really got no idea if people will really like it and want to buy it.

If you had the time to learn a new skill what would it be?
The list is endless. I'd love to learn car mechanics. Plumbing and electrics would also be fab.

To find out more about Lissa and her work check out her blog:

No comments: