A love of classic literature and respect for smart, impetuous heroines always informs Kate Sylvester's collections, and makes her collections even more appealing if (like me) you are of the bookish persuasion. It's hard to not be sartorially wooed by garments inspired by icons of my bookshelves (both childhood and adult) like Mary Lennox, the Lisbon sisters and The Radletts. All of whom are firm favourites of Sylvester - and she took the time to share with me some of her favourite books and memories, and how they have informed her work and style.
Ps: Kate Sylvester's new eyewear range is out, and one pair is (naturally) called Bolter after the infamous character from The Pursuit Of Love by Nancy Mitford.
Model Dasha reading at a recent presentation at Kate Sylvester's Britomart store.
What was the last book you read?
I have nearly finished Great Expectations and I can’t believe it has taken me forty years to get around to reading Dickens. I love it, the language is glorious, he just loves playing with words. It followed hard on the heels of The Forrests by Emily Perkins which I also loved – definitely my favourite from her so far – I can still smell the crushed grass and salty skin of the kids in the scenes set in 70s rural NZ.
What are your favorite books?
The books I can read over and over again include Jane Eyre, Catcher in the Rye, and Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. Maybe, if I really, really had to pick one sentimental favourite it would be Catcher in the Rye, just because I love Holden Caulfield so much.
Do you have a preferred genre?
Classics – if that’s a genre?
Sartorially speaking, do you have a favourite book or character?
I have authors I love because they love clothes – Jeffrey Eugenides, Bret Easton Ellis, Sylvia Plath, Vladimir Nabokov, Simone de Beauvoir. And obviously the books that have become collections definitely struck a chord with me. I start to dress the characters in my mind and then I know something is brewing. I’m not going to reveal my newest sartorial swoon actually because I definitely want to do a collection based on her!
Are there any books that have informed your personal style?
Love in a Cold Climate based on the Nancy Mitford memoir was the first collection where I really consciously played with the mash ups of extremes. Couture gowns with mens overcoats, homespun cardigans with tutus, jodhpurs with beaded silk tops. Its now an integral part of my design and my personal style.
I regularly base collections on books. We’ve done Brighton Rock by Graham Greene – all doilies, gangsters, Mods and waitresses. Preppies and iceskating for the Catcher in the Rye collection and of course this summers modern Victorians from Jane Eyre.
When do you do your reading?
Every night unless I’m drunk! And as much as I can on holidays – I will read around the clock if the book is good enough.
What protagonist do you identify with the most?
Kate in Pony Club Secrets by Stacy Gregg –because she IS me!
As a child did you have a character you identified with?
Harriet the Spy and Mary in The Secret Garden. Both independent, contrary, bossy and living in their own worlds.
Do you have a favorite author?
I have too many authors that I adore to single one out. Everyone I’ve mentioned here is a favourite.
What's your guilty pleasure book?
Whatever kids adventure series that my sons are devouring. I’ve done The Hunger Games, Cherub, The Golden Compass….
What were the most formative books from your youth?
I read Quant by Quant – Mary Quant’s autobiography - when I was 13 and I knew what I was going to do with my life. Lightbulbs exploded all over my brain and that book never went back to the library!
What was your favourite book from your childhood?
The Secret Garden and A Little Princess both by Francis Hodgkins Burnett, both totally romantic girls historical novels. Then I discovered S E Hinton’s Outsiders and things got interesting! Is there a book that you find yourself re-reading? I love rereading books. Some just because they are so beautifully written – I read the last page of Fighting Ruben Wolfe by Markus Zusak and flicked straight back to the beginning.
Do you have any favorite illustrated books?
Tiberius the Titirangi Mouse. It’s a mouse love story and just looking at the illustrations makes me cry, they’re so tender and sweet.
Is cover design important to you?
Of course! I’m a fashion bitch.
Are there any books that you just could not finish (of even start) for whatever reason?
I want to marry Nick Cave but I can’t read his hellish books. Probably doesn’t bode well for a happy marriage!
Whats your favorite book-to-film combo?
Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Both the book and the movie are glorious. I adore Truman Capote and his very, very cool book is totally overshadowed by the movie. Read it!
Do you or would you Kindle/eBook?
Only when I’m travelling. I love the soft, tactile experience of the real thing – and the smell of fresh ink or old musty paper. I love the sight of a well stocked bookcase.
Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard in Breakfast at Tiffany's
Previous Book Club posts: Dan Ahwa and Twenty-Seven Names.