Colville is the brainchild of two industry heavyweights, former British Vogue fashion director Lucinda Chambers and Molly Molloy, previously design director at Marni. The friends started their brand as an antithesis to fast fashion, making pieces with longevity that appeal to the eye, to the imagination, to the conscience and the heart.
After big jobs in fashion, in 2018, Molly Molloy and Lucinda Chambers embarked on a different journey altogether with their own brand Colville. But calling it “their” brand is not strictly accurate. Colville is a truly collaborative project that brings together artists and craftspeople from across the globe. The Colville look, as anyone who is familiar with either woman’s previous work might suspect, is bright and bold. Eclectic and effortless, Colville represents luxury that somehow manages to be down to earth. It’s about putting the unexpected together, the joy of mixing elements. As for the name, it comes from a street in west London where David Hockney hung out during the 1970s.
Lucinda and Molly share a passion for preserving resources, making upcycling and a responsible supply chain core values of the brand from the outset. Their non-seasonal collections include vibrant Murano glass vases, geometric woven weekend bags from Colombia, superbly soft woollen rugs and scarves from Turkey.
How did the two of you meet?
Lucinda: It was in 2004, when I was at Marni, and we were looking for a designer. I go to Portobello Road market every Friday, and somebody there said: “Have you met Molly Molloy? You’d love her.” I was like: Oh my God! That’s such an incredible name. We met and I just knew that I’d found someone really incredible for Marni. We worked there together for 13 years.Molly Lucinda was the creative director alongside Consuelo Castiglioni, and I was the design director. We were really close and had some great experiences. Working together creatively was incredible. When we decided to leave Marni, we both knew that we wanted to continue working together, and that’s why we started Colville.
What are the ingredients that make you a good team?
Lucinda: There’s an incredible trust, first and foremost. No egos. Colville feels like a very modern way of doing business in the sense that everybody has an opinion and is listened to and taken seriously. We have enough differences to make it exciting, but at the same time there’s enough of the same important things, like trust and a commitment to sustainability and shared values about how we want to run a company. We’re so meshed and finely attuned, and there’s no jaggedness.
Molly: It’s very natural, because we’ve worked together so long and know that our creativity and ethics are aligned. We have a good time, and it’s enjoyable. Every time Lucinda comes to the lab, I get so excited. It’s a huge privilege.
Lucinda: There’s an expression: “God creates them, and you find them.” If you’re lucky enough to find a good partner, you’ve got to hang on to them because it’s so rare. We’re both decisive and impulsive people and just get the job done.
What did you set out to achieve at Colville?
Lucinda: Colville feels very egalitarian and collaborative. We don’t want to churn out products just for the sake of it; we want to make very considered products with longevity and not change season to season. People work hard to earn the money they have, and we have to respect that. They want a product that’s beautiful and has a story behind it, that’s made by an artisan. This goes for everything from the fabrics to the finishing and the prints. What’s so fabulous about starting your own company is that you can shape it into whatever you want.
You’re both co-founders of the brand, but how does it work day-to-day?
Molly: I’m based in Milan and dealing with the daily operations here. But every single creative decision we make together. It’s really fluid.
Lucinda: comes over when we have our big creative meetings, fittings, choosing fabrics, and so on.
How would I instantly recognise a Colville piece? What is the DNA?
Lucinda: We love colour and print, and I think the Colville woman feels independent and fearless, not afraid of design. The clothes are not complicated, but they are designed beautifully. A skirt isn’t just a simple skirt, it’s a beautiful skirt with huge design elements, and the fabric is incredible. I think there’s an independence and freedom of spirit. The colour combinations are always front and foremost. Molly and I say “It’s so Colville”; it’s not Molly’s, it’s not mine, it’s just Colville. That’s our handwriting, so to speak. It’s about texture, colour, print, and shape.
Molly: Definitely the shapes. Our shapes are very considered because we’re both really into design and silhouettes.
Lucinda: Molly and I wear the pieces and road test them, and they have to work. You must be able to move and dance and feel really good in them. What sets us apart is that the items are totally wearable, but they have this incredible design element.
How do sustainability and upcycling fit into what you do?
Molly: We have been addressing sustainability since we started Colville. We try to make decisions about sustainability every day.
Lucinda: From the beginning, Molly questioned everything. Like why do the clothes arrive on hangers that we just throw away? Every single part of the process and the journey is being questioned.
Molly: We make as many sustainable decisions as possible, and a big part of what Lucinda and I have been doing is upcycling, which is probably the most sustainable part of our business, because we’re using something that would otherwise have gone to a landfill. What’s incredible for both of us is the response we’ve had, because it’s not an easy thing to do and often people don’t understand it. There’s a lot of people who don’t want to have anything second hand and don’t see the beauty in it. But it’s been quite a surprise and it’s growing, which feels good, because we’re creating something new out of something old, so we’re not actually producing a new thing. It’s growing, which is encouraging, because it means that people are changing their mindsets. It’s impossible to be 100% sustainable when you make a product, but if you’re conscious about it, it makes a huge difference.
In a sense, Colville operates a bit like a collective with different collaborators, is that fair to say?
Lucinda: Yes. It wasn’t even a conscious decision. It’s just how Molly and I always worked. I want to give a shout-out to everyone who works with us, because they work for the love of it. What’s great about Colville is that we have shared responsibility and everybody we work with has an opinion. We respect and trust people and see things with their eyes. It’s not just about what Molly and I want. If you make yourself open and less rigid, it’s a better way of doing business and letting creativity flow.
Molly: It feels good to bring other people in.
Lucinda: and I both thrive on other people’s ideas.
Collaborations are dime a dozen in fashion. Could you explain Colville’s approach, which is more about supporting and championing artisans rather than flashy celebrity collaborations?
Molly: We have so much respect for those people. We surround ourselves with things that are made by artisans, it just feels very natural. I remember Lucinda coming to Marni all the time with a woven Colombian bag. I met someone who worked with the Wayuu tribeswomen in Colombia, so Lucinda decided to reach out and see if we could involve them. They were up for it, and it was incredible; they changed our lives, and we’ve changed theirs. The satisfaction we got from that was immense.
Lucinda: It’s fascinating to take something that someone does beautifully and take what we do and collaborate on a design element. We make their products relevant to people in our part of the world. It the melting together of the craftsmanship and our take on it. We love that. The super-shag rugs are made by a guy in Turkey. It’s a dying skill, and we found him and revived his craftsmanship, and he does things for us that we can’t do ourselves. It’s a delight of design to bring people’s expertise together. It makes them see their skills in different ways and makes us view our products differently.
How do you locate artisans and makers in countries like Mexico and Colombia? It sounds a like finding a needle in a haystack.
Lucinda: We get in touch with artists that we admire and ask them to collaborate. And they do. Due to Covid, the playing field is even now, and you really can get in touch with everybody. But also through serendipity; we are both in constant receive mode and keep our ears and hearts and minds open to what other people are doing.
You both previously had jobs at Marni. What’s it like to be working on a boutique label?
Molly: There’s a huge difference in the way I spend my time. At Marni I spent all my time managing the design team whereas now, one day I’m Miss Excel or packing boxes, and the next day I’m designing and then ordering supplies from the supermarket. We are still tiny, so we do lots of things we wouldn’t do at a bigger company. But it makes us think deeply about how we’re spending our money and whom we choose to work with.
What advice would you give to someone starting out as a brand?
Lucinda: Find the people that you love working with.
Molly: Absolutely right. That’s fundamental.
What are you looking forward to at CIFF 2022?
Lucinda: We’re sooo excited about coming to Copenhagen and being part of something we’ve only seen from afar. It’s feels like CIFF has similar values to Colville, like we’re closely aligned. Everything is an opportunity: meeting the people who have already bought our items, like Holly Golightly. We’ve gotten so used to not meeting people face to face, so it’s absolutely wonderful to be coming to Copenhagen.