Q&A: Christine Hafsten

We’re at the Cath Kidston Head Quarters today we’re here discussing our most recent collaboration and we are joined by the Design Director, Christine Hafsten.

Let’s start with your background. 

CH: “I started making my own clothes when I was young, 14, 15. I made clothes for myself, clothes for my friends. My grandma was a seamstress so she made custom made Barbie clothes for me. I think my original inspiration for going into design was to make things that I couldn’t find that I wanted. I’d maybe see something in a high-end fashion magazine and it wasn’t on the high street like you can get today so I would go and make stuff myself on my sewing machine. That’s how it started. When I was going to high school I went to a vocational high school because I had quite a strong passion already then, I knew I didn’t need a general education; I really wanted to go into art & design. I did vocational high school and got my tailoring diploma there, I learnt to pattern cut, sew, paint, goulash, illustrations, all of that and then I went on to do a Bachelors Degree in Fashion design in San Francisco.” 

Was that an overseas move for you? 

CH: “It was, yeah. Norway is very small. We don’t have a big art school system, unless you want to do classic painting that is the Scandinavian design route or was back then, you have to go abroad and they sponsor you and pay for part of your degree if you compete your degree so it was a great system so my school was part of their selection of schools. It was an easy choice really.” 

What other brands have you been at previously? What was your journey to your career? 

CH: “I started interning when I was in San Francisco. I was lucky enough to get 4 months at Alexander McQueen when he was very small. We were above a coffee shop in Hackney and it was super inspiring. You just saw first hand his genius at work and he came in and did all of his own drawings and pattern cutting so that was a great starting experience. A few summers after that, I went to intern with Fleet Bigwood, he did the prints for Donna Karen. He has his own business and his own studio so I worked with him for 2 months that summer.  After that, I did St. Martins, an MA in textiles because I really fell in love with print throughout my womenswear degree. So when I started looking for jobs after uni, I was very much looking for a print design role and I went to Paris and sold all the designs I’d done at university. When you sell your prints you have to call companies up, go into their studio, you’re meeting everybody and you’re selling your goods so amongst other things, I then met the studio at Louis Vuitton and they were lovely and we chatted and one thing lead to another. Before I knew it I had a freelance contract being a print designer for them and also researching lots of inspiration, ideas and concepts. That was my first job and I was there for 5 years so that was a wonderful time, really really inspiring. Every day was amazing and creative.” 

And now, Cath Kidston!

CH: “Yes! So it’s actually very similar, the price points are obviously very different but that’s one of the things I loved when I met Cath for my interview, it was like talking to the people in the Louis Vuitton studio.  Her passion for detail, her passion for design, the company’s point that the product should really be the best value and material you can get at a democratic price point. Cath was very passionate about everyone having access to good functional design that looked pretty as well and that really struck a cord with me.  It was going from working really hard on a print for a dress to look amazing for maybe someone very wealthy to wear it once to an event, so all your efforts goes into this thing that’s probably hanging in the cupboard a lot of the time. Although it’s probably very cherished and valued, it was a different value and I really wanted to start working on prints and products that was more accessible to people so I could start to see it when I walked around the streets. I find it very rewarding to work on things that brighten up people’s day everyday.” 

You said you worked alongside Cath Kidston herself, what was that experience like for you?

CH: “It was amazing, she is absolutely so lovely to work for. We just really shared design, philosophies and we found common ground on where we found inspiration and how we approached a design and what we wanted it to look like, we were very aligned. She was super passionate, very funny. There was never a dull day, you came to work and you were laughing your way through all the hard work. There was always a lot to do but she really cracked some great jokes. Part of the wit of the brand really came from her sense of humour I feel. Just because you work hard and have lots to do doesn’t mean you have to be super serious and sit at your desk and hammer away all day. She loved going looking for inspiration; you’d find it everywhere.” 

Run us through what your typical day looks like at Cath Kidston. 

CH: “Never the same! I think I said to one of my friends a few months ago, and I think about this a lot, I think it’s only 3 days in my whole 6 and a half years here where I’ve actually looked at the clock to see what time it is. The day’s just fly by, you come in, you might catch up with the team and ask where we’re at, what do we need to plan, I might look at a few executions and ideas or one of their design boards. Every day we have design time for different categories, we have kidswear, home, fashion, bags/ accessories and then print, so there’s 5 days in the week so we do one category per day. There’s always operational board meetings or tasks to do with that, collaborations to work on, reviews, sign offs, loads to do and I love that. I couldn’t do a job that’s very arrhythmic every day. I love the variety. I thrive off it. I get lots of adrenaline just buzzing around. I think it’s so wonderful to wake up and not really know what the next day is going to bring, it keeps everything fresh and exciting.” 

Where are your biggest inspirations drawn from? 

CH: “It’s really anywhere. I know that’s the bad answer!  I think for me and I think for the team we look around us a lot. There is so much going on, if you just take the tube and look at the average handbag size that the people are carrying whilst you’re on the tube you start to really get a sense of what people are looking for in a really good bag that delivers practical value. There’s things like that you can get inspired for the functionality by looking around you on the street and looking at peoples behaviours, how do they access their oyster cards, or their wallet and what’s the best wallet layout for bank cards and notes. You can really play with details to make your product really deliver.“

I bet people don’t realise that’s what you’re thinking when you’re on the tube looking at people’s bags.

CH: “Yeah exactly, I’m like: ‘oh that one’s quite a nice size and she looks really happy with her bag, she can fit everything in it but it’s neat an small and safe.’  When it comes to print and colour, we look at fine art a lot. And we also look at really old vintage historical documents have just beautiful shades of colours that were probably vegetable dyed or hand-mixed a long time ago, all faded colours for example. If you look at modern colours you don’t get the same atmosphere. I think what’s the most important thing for us here at Cath and this is one of the reasons I love working here is we don’t chase the runway, we don’t chase trends in the way that a lot of other high street brands jump from one look to another. We are aware of the trends and we lean in to them or nod to them with the length of the dress, the shape of the sleeve or a certain bag style or material but we’re not jumping from one thing to the next every season, we really have a distinct look. So when we look for inspiration, we can be much more open to finding original inspiration so it really is going out there and finding things you are truly inspired by, and then you put together a collection based on that rather than looking at what lots of other designers are doing. That’s a real perk and a treat of working here.” 

Can you tell me some of your biggest highlights from working here? Some real stand out moments?

CH: “Yes, it’s been so many. I’ve been really thinking about this. A highlight from my time here I’d probably have to say the launch of the Disney collections have been fantastic experience, the first two in particular because it was so new for the brand. Going to the Disney offices, meeting with them, setting up the collaboration, it was all very exciting. My dad collects vintage Disney’s so it was a real personal connection with getting to work with them. I also know Cath had a passion for Mickey, she’s got lots of Mickey artwork, she’s got a vintage mickey watch, she was also very passionate about Disney. It felt like a real privilege to work with our brand and their brand and I hadn’t really thought I’d get to do that in my career. We got to go to Disney; we got to look through their vintage original character art for Mickey Mouse. It was amazing, for Winnie the Pooh they had a book that was 10cm thick or something with all Winnie The Pooh character art, sketch art, graphic art and just to sit and touch all those things and look at them and absorb them. There’s so much history there and so many memories from childhood, I just felt very privileged to get to handle and work on that collaboration with the teams.“

You guys are very much known for these incredible collaborations, such as Disney, do you think the Cath Kidston x Merci Maman collaboration will go down a hit with Cath Kidston fans? 

CH: “Absolutely, I think our fans love personalisation and what’s so beautiful about this product is the nostalgia and memory of carrying something on you that instantly when you look at it evokes a happy thought or positive thought. It’s very us and it’s something we don’t’ sell so we haven’t’ been able to offer this type of thing to our customers. I think it’s perfect to do this with Merci Maman.“

And what would you say is your favourite print out of the collection? 

CH: “I mean they are all super cute and it depends on what you’re wearing, I like the Paper Ditsy one, it reminds me of the little dresses I had as a child. My mum used to make me little cotton dresses out of little floral prints and my grandma would do that too and I look at that and it takes me back to happy times and summers running outside. “

What memory does your favourite Cath Kidston print spark within you? 

CH: “There are so many prints that we have done that is quite a hard question to answer. We used to do 100 prints for every 6 months, they’re more variants of each other obviously, we have quite a strong signature but if I think of a more recent one that makes me really happy to look at is the hearts and stars print we had for Christmas, it was a navy ground and it was all these explosions of these hearts and bursting stars and every time I look at it I think about being outside at night, going for long walks and news years eve when you’re standing outside at 12 o’clock and it’s dark and sparkly. I love that something that is so simple and graphic and not too illustrative in a way because it’s up for personal interpretation, it can probably spark lots of different memories for different people but it makes me really happy to look at because I think about being with my friends and family, looking at the night sky dreaming away. “

What is the main mantra you live your life by and why?

CH: “I have a couple! I don’t have one mantra. I love the saying ‘do to others as you want others to do to you’. It’s quite Cath I think. Be kind, be caring, and show love, it doesn’t cost anything to smile and be kind. I‘m probably one of the few people who love those little quotes on instagram they can be quite cheesy but some of them really hit the nail on the head about behaviour or approach about how you can think about life. We’re also lucky to be here in the first place, why make it a sour experience? I really try and care about the people around me. My family, friends, be helpful, be kind. Also when I come into work, I may have had a tough morning. I have two boys, sometimes there’s tantrums for hours, you hardly get out the house without someone kicking off and ruining your outfit and getting peanut butter in your hair but at the same time I feel I owe it to the team to come in with a smile on my face and a cheerful tone to set the day up in the right way and always be respectful of everybody. I really think you can be a radiator or a drain and I prefer to be a radiator I suppose. The glass is always half full in my world, and that’s a choice. Some days you really feel like it’s going on empty but you can put that thought to the side and focus on the good stuff and it’s like exercise, you have to get your mind to jump on to the right track sometimes and other days it just glides and it’s all there naturally. Today is a beautiful sunny and frosty day and it’s easy to feel very cheerful about everything in life.“

The Cath Kidston x Merci Maman Bracelet Collection will be available online and in selected store from the 17thFebruary.