24 minutes with Rita Britton
From the very second of meeting designer, Rita Britton, her boundless extent of experience and vision from almost 50 years in the fashion industry totally enthralled me.
We took a seat in the suitably named “Quintessential” café that forms a part of Britton’s set up at Nomad Atelier in Barnsley, and ordered two Americano’s. I didn’t take too much notice of what was being ordered as I was desperately trying to recall any one of the twenty-odd questions that I had supposedly revised and remembered from the brainstorm I conducted previously that day. I had been overcome with total brain freeze. I’ll blame my age – I’d say that I’m still knee-deep in the ‘naive’ (informally known as downright dopey) stage of adolescence. If I didn’t learn a single thing from this experience, it would be to bring notes to future interviews, that way I could at least show a slight hint of professionalism.
Sensing that her interrogator is new to the whole two-way interview dynamic, Britton begins the interview for me by explaining “Fashion doesn’t exist as an island on its own, it’s influenced by loads of cultural changes.” Much to my delight, she has seemingly, telepathically streamed onto the subject that I find myself tantalised by, which is, fashion throughout the ages and the evolution of the industry due to socio-economic changes – Yes, I am aware that its bit of a mouthful.
After my initial prompt I go on to inquire how exactly the ‘island’ has changed over time, Rita responds with “If we take the Georgian era as a starting point, and look at the dresses, they were very free-flowing – no constraints. If we compare that with the Victorian times, where womenswear was influenced by the German Gothic movement, we see women bustled, and strapped up so tightly that they fainted on many occasion” My mind flits to visions of monochrome victorian photographs of expressionless women imprisoned in corsets; If I was in that position myself, I’d imagine the photographer being hard pushed to force a smile out of me too. Britton adds a single lump of sugar to her black coffee and lovingly adjusts her black Nomad beanie before continuing, “However there was one beacon in all of this – Isadora Duncan.” After being encouraged that I looked her up, I found that Angela Isadora Duncan was an American dancer and fashion pioneer in the 1900’s, clothed by Fortuny – an ‘alternative’ designer that battled against the typical trends of the time. He embraced natural femininity by producing Greek-like togas that accentuated womanly curves. Women clothed by Fortuny could run, and jump and dance and express themselves in a way that they were never able to do before. By breaking with convention, Duncan stands as a classic example of how women of the time broke free from the constraints that both clothes and society coerced upon them.
Now reflecting upon present day, Britton continues, “Nowadays I find that we are in a very sad time. Its like we are in the transition from the Georgian to the Victorian times all over again. – it’s happening again now.” I question wether women are increasingly becoming sexualised and are strapped into tight dresses and towering heels more than ever before, in my lifetime it seems to have always been the same. I see how this age old battle between women and society still applies today. I feel the pressure of it myself; to conform into the same generic prototype complete with a diminutive waist, boundless legs and flawless skin – unachievable as that may be. “It doesn’t have to be that way. Women need to be freed up once again.” Britton assures me.
Through witnessing her new campaign, it is clear to see that Britton’s designs are a true representation of the philosophy that she stands for. Each design is essentially wearable and durable, in the absence of restriction, while still being exceptionally elegant. Through long pleated skirts and softly cut blazers and bombers that reveal unbound silhouettes, Nomad embraces raw femininity in a way that is understated yet evocative. It is inspiring to me that such a brand has been constructed through decades of experience, and inspired by a revolution that Britton endorses herself.
The insight and inspiration I had been given during this ‘interview’ was invaluable, and if all goes to plan, in fifty years time I might too be able to express my own, homegrown vision to dewy-eyed sixteen year old interrogators. I thank Rita for her time, and noting that 24 minutes has passed, I appreciate how effectively my first interview went, thanks to the impeccably clad whirlwind that is Rita Britton.