The pattern cutters are the envy of most Topshop staff. With sweeping views across Oxford street and more orchids than a Chanel boutique, their top floor workspace is pretty darn chic. But with Topshop Unique’s fashion show drawing closer, the London skyline is the last thing on the pattern cutting team’s minds. It’s this troupe that take the 2D design from Topshop creatives and turn them into reality. It’s their job to realise the initial pencil sketchings into beautiful ready to wear creations. A meticulous task which involves intricate sewing techniques, epic scissor skills and a mind that can visualise 3D in an instant. We stole some of the team’s precious time to ask about the art of pattern cutting, how they got to Topshop and, of course, how they’ve been preparing for the Unique SS13 show that’ll take place at London Fashion Week.
Geraldine – Head of Design Development and has been with the business for 21 years
How did you get into pattern cutting?
I studied design. Most of us did. Most pattern cutters that I employ specially have studied design and excelled in pattern cutting. It’s a real skill. You can teach the basics of pattern cutting but if you haven’t got a certain level of skill and a certain flair it becomes quite hard. You can do textbook but I don’t want textbook. I want a bit of flair on top of that.
What’s the best part of the job?
The catwalk. How many people get to produce a collection and then see it on a catwalk and see all the press after it. It’s amazing!
What’s it like up in the pattern room in the run up to the Unique show?
At the absolute last minute when we’re all panic-struck it’s all hands on deck. We have a few all-nighters and it becomes very stressful towards the end. The stylist comes in on the Thursday (this year it’s Clare Richardson) before the Sunday and we live and breathe it then. Things can change drastically – there can be new requests and the like!
What’s the process for creating the pieces for the Unique collection?
All the designers are briefed as to how they see the show going from our Creative Director Kate Phelan and our joint Heads of Design Emma Farrow and Jacqui Markham. From there the designers are asked to submit their sketches. There’s a selection process and we start to develop the sketches and as it evolves some things are dropped and other things are worked on more. It’s an evolution how we end up with what actually goes into the show because as you start working on garments that fire up other garments. There’s a colour palette, and the print designers get involved and they produce prints solely for the Unique show. It’s so interesting and it’s a brilliant thing to be able to do!
Alan (“the best in the business” as Geraldine refers to him) – Pattern Cutter
How would you advice becoming a pattern cutter?
It’s purely experience. There isn’t any college experience you can do for this. It’s all a matter of doing it, doing it wrong and finding out how to do it right. That’s pretty much the bottom line. You’ve got to do it to learn it. There are so many intricate parts to cutting. It sounds easy: you put the cloth on the table and you chop around it. It doesn’t quite work like that if you want a nice result and we have a pretty high quality here.
What do you like best about the job?
The variety. It’s always different. Every fabric is different, every style is different. You get a lot of matching placement prints. It’s the variety.
What’s it like seeing the end product?
It’s very nice to see the end product. I did a lot of production work prior to doing sampling and it’s very nice to cut a couple of hundred garments and see them going through with no problem and see them in shops. The end result is important. It’s great to see the pieces you work on going up and down the catwalk and even better when you see them in the papers!
Becky – Pattern Cutter
How did you get into your job?
I trained at London College of Fashion where I did the womenswear BA and then a post grad in pattern cutting. Geraldine was actually my examiner. I did a trial and was eventually offered a job. I felt very, very, very lucky.
What would you suggest is the best route into the industry
I would say you have to go on and do a post graduate or a more specialised course in pattern cutting as you don’t learn enough when you’re doing a purely design BA. I think you can learn to a degree but I think you need to have a natural ability to understand it. It’s a 3D process – it goes from 2D to 3D – so you have to have that way of thinking. Most people have to be a bit of a perfectionist to be a pattern cutter too as if you’re not a perfectionist your patterns could be sloppy. All of us here are very meticulous!