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An interview with accessories designer Cléo Ferin Mercury

Cléo's latest collection celebrates six female icons including Grace Jones, Brigitte Bardot, Wanda Jackson and Beyoncé!

Written by Matt Bramford

Occasionally something pops into the fashion inbox that really gets me going. This week it was the turn of Cléo Ferin Mercury, Parisian-born London-based scarf designer.

Illustration by Mina Bach

For her second range, Cléo has produced six scarves featuring six female icons. A diverse range of women from Brigitte Bardot to Beyoncé are featured, with their iconic image taking centre stage surrounded by beautiful, whimsical illustrations. Produced here in the UK, each scarf is made from luxury habotai silk, thin enough so that the image is seen on both sides. They’re an intelligent mix of couture-house scarves with an element of fun. The Grace Jones one is surrounded with iconic Pull Up To The Bumper lyrics, and will look lovely when I’ve had it framed. Move over Hermès, there’s a new girl in town…

Illustration by Gareth A Hopkins

I spoke to Cléo about her new range and what she plans for the future…

Hi Cléo! What’s the story so far?
I did a BA in Surface Design at the London College of Communication where I learnt how to screen print and design patterns for a wide variety of objects. I’ve always been interested in fabrics (1950s prints, African wax fabrics), but also developed an interest in ceramics and interior decoration during this time.

You worked at McQueen and with Ihenacho. How was that?
I worked for McQueen a few months before he tragically committed suicide. What was magical about working there was working on a pattern and seeing it a few days later made into gold embroidery. Looking at the archive wardrobes was also incredible. It was the first time I had experienced life working for a big fashion house, and it made me realize that, great as it was, personally I need to work independently.
Working with Ihenacho was much more of a collaboration. He came up with the idea of a collection inspired by Haitian voodoo. I designed and created the embroidery based on Haitian folk art.

Why do you focus on scarves? What other items do you work on?
I’m a big fan of accessories. I think there’s a gap in the market for cool, edgy scarves. I do love classic scarves though; my work is influenced by both souvenir and fashion house scarves. I try and add a narrative, artistic edge. Scarves are seen as luxury items, but they are incredibly versatile and can be worn in a variety of ways. I also design patterns for textiles and wallpaper on commission, and screen print my own t-shirt designs. I’m currently working on a kids collection, featuring wallpaper, bed spreads and the like. I’m excited about that too.

Illustration by Cat Palairet

How did you pick the girls in your new collection?
Each one is a strong female icon that I relate to in a different way. I love Brigitte Bardot’s femininity, Wanda Jackson’s sheer rock ‘n’ roll energy, the myth of Calamity Jane’s struggle, Grace Jones’ animalistic elegance, Cleopatra’s exotic regality, and Beyonce’s dancing! I think she’s the best dancer out there.

A fact I agree with wholeheartedly. Did you have to licence the images of the female stars?
No. Certain images are post copyright. Others I’d never get permission for! That’s why certain scarves aren’t actually for sale. The scarves are very limited edition and are more art pieces than a commercial venture.

How do you put together the rest of the pattern?
I researched each icon and sketched ideas relating to their persona. I then choose the best sketches and work on the pattern on photoshop. For example for the Cleopatra scarf I went to the British Museum with my sketch book. For the Grace Jones scarf I watched all her videos for inspiration. For Wanda Jackson I actually went to a gig of hers and met her!

Wow! Is the entire image hand illustrated?
Almost all of it. For this collection a few backgrounds are scanned. For example the dollar bills on the Beyonce scarf.

How do you produce them – What materials do you use? What processes?
I use 100% habotai silk which is really thin so that you can see the image on both sides. I print the scarves digitally (in England!) and hand roll them.

How do you see your label developing?
I’d like to carry on collaborating with interesting people and to expand my label to include many other fashion items. I’ll carry on developing scarf collections, but would love to branch out into more interior design. I’d also like to make more costumes, something I’ve done for a number of performers.

What do you do in your spare time?
I DJ in a few clubs in London and occasionally my native Paris. I run a club night with my boyfriend at Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club based on the fairground and freak show at Coney Island in New York. I perform in a dance troupe, Salut Les Copines! And I love going to the BFI to see French Nouvelle Vague films. I love checking out art exhibitions, the Museum of Everything is currently my favorite and a real source of inspiration.

Cléo’s scarves are available online, at Tatty Devine and Diamond Dolls, Islington.

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One Response to “An interview with accessories designer Cléo Ferin Mercury”

  1. [...] I wanted to share this illustration of my all time hero Wanda Jackson that I did a while ago for an interview with designer Cléo Ferin-Mercury for Amelia’s Magazine. Cléo, who also studied at LCC, designed a beautiful range of silk scarves inspired by her female heroes. You can read the full article online here. [...]

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