Katie Roberts-Wood wears Roberts-Wood

The Dover Street Market stocked designer meticulously crafts every single piece by hand without a stitch in sight.

Every­thing hap­pens for a rea­son,” says Not­ting­ham-born, Lon­don-based design­er Katie Roberts-Wood who mod­est­ly describes her suc­cess as part inten­tion, part acci­dent, part com­plete wild card.” She’s perched on a chair in her stu­dio at East London’s Lee Alexan­der McQueen Sara­bande Foun­da­tion – at which she is a design­er in res­i­dence – and is sur­round­ed by intri­cate three-dimen­sion­al dress­es, tops and coats. Fea­tur­ing her sig­na­ture ruf­fles”, they hang play­ful­ly from the ceil­ing in a palette that screams goth­ic romance”. I don’t regret the path that I took because I think it informs the very unique way that I work.”

Katie’s path” was a med­ical degree – arguably not the most con­ven­tion­al route into fash­ion design (but who’s judg­ing?) – and the unique” way in which she works makes for tru­ly mes­meris­ing designs; ones that have caught the atten­tion of both Dover Street Mar­ket (where Roberts-Wood is now stocked) and Lau­ryn Hill (who wore one of her pieces to per­form at this year’s Glas­ton­bury fes­ti­val). One of my first albums was by Lau­ryn Hill,” says Katie. I was super obsessed with her. My broth­er gave it to me. It was so sur­re­al see­ing her wear­ing it. She looked amaz­ing, too.”

It was upon grad­u­at­ing from Glas­gow Uni­ver­si­ty ten years ago – and real­is­ing that med­i­cine wasn’t her true pas­sion – that Katie made her first for­ay into fash­ion. Fuelled by an obses­sion with cre­at­ing and mak­ing” that she’d been nur­tur­ing since she was a nip­per, Katie start­ed buy­ing and sell­ing sec­ond hand mate­ri­als from which she craft­ed upcy­cled acces­sories. Before long she signed her­self up for a col­lege course. 

I was very much self-taught,” she explains. One of my tutors sug­gest­ed that I should apply for a mas­ters in Lon­don. I’d nev­er even heard of the Roy­al Col­lege of Art at that point, but I knew I didn’t want to do anoth­er under­grad­u­ate degree. I thought it would be impos­si­ble to get in with­out a BA in fashion.”

Accord­ing to Katie, send­ing off her port­fo­lio was a com­plete stab in the dark”. Unaware that a port­fo­lio would typ­i­cal­ly con­sist of a series of A1 pages demon­strat­ing one’s design work, Katie’s port­fo­lio” was a team effort that saw her fam­i­ly help pack a waist-high box full of all this crazy stuff” that she had made over the Christ­mas hol­i­days. I have no idea what they thought when they opened it!,” says Katie. I didn’t have a clue how this kind of thing worked, but I always main­tained that it could be an advantage.”

An advan­tage it was – Katie earned her­self a spot on one of London’s most pres­ti­gious fash­ion cours­es. But it was upon arriv­ing – and real­is­ing that those around her had all under­gone a for­mal fash­ion edu­ca­tion – that she start­ed to expe­ri­ence imposter syn­drome. Katie did what she best knew how to do. Instead of suc­cumb­ing to her inter­nal strug­gles she just start­ed mak­ing stuff”, and made that stuff” up as she went along.

How­ev­er, Katie did fol­low one rule. She tasked her­self with what sounds like mis­sion impos­si­ble: to cre­ate the entire col­lec­tion with­out stitch­ing a thing. I felt that if I was going to do this, I want­ed the out­come to be some­thing com­plete­ly new – not this rehashed style that so many oth­er peo­ple have done.” 

Katie invent­ed a whole new way of craft­ing clothes in the process, one that sees her assem­ble each strik­ing sculp­tur­al piece by hand – or with any oth­er tools nec­es­sary – with­out a stitch in sight. This is the main tech­nique that Roberts-Wood is known for, but more gen­er­al­ly it’s an obses­sion with tex­tiles as con­struc­tion, rather than just as dec­o­ra­tion, and how the tex­tiles used inform the struc­ture of the gar­ments,” says Katie, who’s most recent pieces have been inspired by the psy­chol­o­gy of a whole group of organ­isms – like a flock of birds – mov­ing as one thing.

Katie’s first col­lec­tion after grad­u­at­ing – an all-white offer­ing craft­ed from one type of cot­ton organdy fab­ric, fea­tur­ing zero stitch­es – was picked up by Dover Street Mar­ket for their Lon­don, New York, and Tokyo stores. Sud­den­ly you have a brand, you’re sell­ing pieces and you’ve got to make them at speed,” says Katie. 

And when one piece can take any­thing from sev­er­al hours to sev­er­al weeks to cre­ate, mak­ing en masse is no easy feat. Katie has now taught two oth­er peo­ple her tech­nique so that she’s able to accom­mo­date orders. They have to be peo­ple who enjoy doing it, because it’s a repet­i­tive thing. You also need to trust that they’re not going to sell your ideas to oth­er brands,” she explains. It’s hard when a lot of the val­ue that you have as a tiny brand is the ideas that you come up with, which could get com­plete­ly stolen by some­one else and there would real­ly be noth­ing you could do.” 

Despite hav­ing to meet the orders sent in by her stock­ists, Katie is inter­est­ed in design­ing on demand and is con­stant­ly striv­ing to ensure that Roberts-Wood is a sus­tain­able brand. She sources silks from Italy and linens from the UK and Ire­land and once she finds a good qual­i­ty fab­ric she uses it over and over again. The idea is to build tex­tiles from them. We’re not look­ing at peo­ple who already make real­ly fan­cy, lux­u­ry fab­rics because that’s part of the val­ue we’re adding to it. We use sim­i­lar fab­rics sea­son on sea­son and do some­thing com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent with them. We keep all the waste and try and turn it into stuff. At the moment we’re devel­op­ing some tex­tiles that are based on our own waste. Con­sid­er­ing that I start­ed my whole jour­ney from upcy­cling, it’s some­thing I’m very con­scious about.”

Roberts-Wood is in its fourth year, but Katie only start­ed wear­ing her own designs 12 months ago. Now, she wears them pret­ty much every­day”. So this is all me,” she laughs ges­tur­ing from her shoul­ders to her toes. 

I think the rea­son it took me so long to wear [Roberts-Wood] was part­ly a con­fi­dence thing. In fash­ion school you get told that you shouldn’t be mak­ing stuff… you know, for your­self. That you’re not the cus­tomer. But I am the brand. The ideas are inside my head, so I should want to wear the stuff! You also can’t eval­u­ate how good of a design you’ve made if you don’t wear it. You don’t know how it feels, and you don’t know that it’s not going to fall apart! So, last year I made a bit of a com­mit­ment to myself, to just wear it. I just can’t believe it took me that long!”

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