Patricia Haywood’s world must be a most colourful place. Starting out as a fashion lawyer, Patricia spent several years working on the business side of fashion before making the switch. She now helms Patricia Rox – a brand whose hallmark lies in elaborately hand drawn prints laid onto luxuriously draped silhouettes.
A rare and beautiful specimen amidst the crowded landscape of mass-produced fashion, Patricia Rox is a lyrical love letter to the human touch. Endeavoring to go back to a time when “couture techniques were the norm” and “handmade was the expected”, the brand works with artisans and craftsmen from different regions who love what they do and who take great pride in their carefully-honed Italian, French and Asian heirloom techniques.
An endless supply of love, time and energy is poured into each painstakingly developed print, with some prints taking 200-300 hours to draw, giving birth to vibrant garments lavished in intricate and breathtaking detail.
We grab a few candid moments with Patricia Haywood (who’s looking lovely as a summer’s day in her own designs might we add) to talk about her crazy fashion adventure and where she thinks it’ll lead her.
Growing up in Jamaica, you could say I was financially disadvantaged. I wore a lot of hand-me-downs and charity clothing, which I learnt to refashion. Most of the clothing we wore in Jamaica was handmade, because we couldn’t afford to go to the stores and in fact we didn’t have many stores and malls back then or even now. Our house in Jamaica was shared with a dressmaker and that’s where I used to spend most of my day – helping her, seeing what she was doing, taking all the scraps and trying to make them into something interesting. I think – that’s where the fascination with fashion came from.
I moved on to study clothing and textiles in high school, drafting patterns and sewing stuff by hand. Soon after I did ‘A’ levels, I applied to fashion schools in Jamaica, but while filling out my application, I still found myself wondering if this is what I should do because in Jamaica, fashion’s not really considered a career. Then along came a lawyer who spoke to us in school and introduced us to what he did and that’s how I was inspired to take up law.
It was while I was doing my Master’s in Paris that I changed my course for good. Being in Paris, the fashion capital of the world, you just can’t help but feel inspired. That was when I realized that: “Hey, fashion can be a career!”
After completing a certificate in Fashion Law at the Fashion Law Institute in New York (under the tutelage of Susan Scafidi, a pioneer of Fashion Law as a field), I started AsianFashionLaw, a portal for the legal and business of fashion in Asia. Working with startups and fashion designers was fascinating to me and I was introduced to many stakeholders of the fashion industry. Many of them valued my opinions and gave me the strength to say to myself: “Clearly I have something here that people value, so why not take it seriously?” I didn’t just get up one day and realize I wanted to set up my own fashion business. It’s been a passion of mine and I’ve come full circle.
THE DIFFICULT TRANSITION
People always tell me that fashion and law are worlds apart, and they ask me how I made the leap. All I can say is, it takes a lot of groundwork. It involves constant travelling and meeting new people. For example, one of our horn producers is from Indonesia, and I travel to Java – or should I say, the bowels of Java – just going around and meeting people. Even in Italy, it’s going to the parts of Italy that people don’t normally go. You don’t go to Milan to find manufacturers but that’s exactly what I did. It’s all about doing the grunt work and a lot of research. And I think my legal background helps too because I do a lot of research and it’s a lot of trial and error, and finding people, and getting references from people, which is hard in the industry because people like to keep their supplies to themselves. But you just never give up, really. You just keep knocking. One of our manufacturers is an Italian couple and they do a lot of work for Italian brands and I remember the first time I went to them, they didn’t take me seriously. Now, three years later, they’re working with us. So it’s just never giving up and keep knocking and saying, “Look at me! Look at me!” until one day they say “Okay, fine!”
I love prints and I love colour, simple lines and architectural influences. I also have a thing for ceilings and doors. Right now our clothes have more of a resort feel, but the brand will evolve beyond that. I love simple silhouettes that can be glammed-up with accessories. Our designs are also largely inspired by travel. Asia inspires me a lot. I’m Jamaican, so I like bright colours and airy, breezy clothing. Living in Europe has definitely inspired me – I’m just blown away by that effortless chic look. I always tell the story of when I first moved to Paris and I spotted this lady coming down the street… She had a bob and a bang and she looked so effortless in high heels that I was just awestruck. I still have her image in my head. I can never get that image out of my head and that’s why Patricia Rox’s designs are as such. Throw them on and you instantly look and feel luxurious but it’s not a lot of effort. Also, living in Africa definitely inspired me in terms of the materials we use, such as African buffalo horn. Everywhere inspires me really. I don’t think I can give weight to one country. Everywhere has influenced me somehow.
THE CREATIVE PROCESS
The prints are part of the brand’s DNA. We’re very print-heavy and our talented team of designers does each individual print in-house. Essentially, I start out with an idea and I try to bring it to life. We sit down and discuss the idea before everyone goes off and internalizes it in a way that they can. I don’t tie people to a desk. We don’t just sit there and draw. We dance and we talk about it as we try to develop our visions of the prints. We strive to do everything by hand and in-house to make it special, because I think it’s very important for the consumer to get something that is truly valued by us. For example, this scarf that I’m wearing takes about a year to make. The whole process is very time-intensive because we draw everything by hand and every detail demands careful refinement. First I draw a rough sketch of what I want it to be like. From that rough sketch, it takes many adjustments to get to a product we’re happy with. Even selecting the colours takes a while, as we’re very strategic with the colours that we choose, and a lot of research has to go into it.
THE FOCUS ON CRAFTSMANSHIP
We manufacture in Italy and also in Bali. Our manufacturers are Italian because we first started manufacturing in Italy, and we wanted to keep the Italian fit. We work a lot with craftsmen and women and it’s very important to us because we want to bring quality things to the market for people to enjoy. The people that I work with, they love what they do and they understand what they do. They’ve been doing it for many years. And it’s a joy to work with them. For example, our enamel bangles are still made the traditional way by a craftsman whose family has been doing it through the generations. He uses the same technique used to produce antique pieces in China and also produces for many well-known European brands. I know each artisan by name; I know them by face, and it’s great because I know where the things are coming from and I can tell that story. Just more care and love goes into the product, I find. But what it also means is that we don’t produce a lot. Just putting the Patricia Rox name in the bangle takes a long time because they don’t lasercut it. They etch it by hand. So everything takes on a piece of that artisan and I love that. I love being able to write them, or call them up. Even our horn producer in Indonesia, I can just go to see her and discuss novel designs and it’s also good because it gives us a little bit of control over the quality of the goods that we put out. Because of the relationship that we have with them on a one-to-one basis, they are much more willing to go along that journey of experimentation with you.
THE FANTASY CAPSULE COLLECTION
I call it ‘The Fantasy’ because I found all the elements of the collection very whimsical and theatrical. It is strongly based on childhood memories and aspirations and the things that brought us joy growing up. The scarves in this collection bear circus themes and the floral-inspired prints on the dresses convey the imagery of secret enchanted gardens. I’m not necessarily a floral girl but we decided to do a grown-up floral and luxe it up with baroque and damask patterns. What I wanted was for people to put on one of our garments and be taken back to a time or place in their childhood when they were happy.
ACCESSORIES MAKETH THE OUTFIT
We were just doing garments before and we found that It’s easier for people to understand the brand universe if we brought accessories in. If they just look at the clothing, they don’t get the full experience of the brand, and they won’t quite understand what we’re doing. But also, I love accessories more than anything. I don’t buy a lot of stuff really. I prefer to invest in key pieces of clothing that I can accessorize in a style of my own. Coming from that, I thought: “Why not do accessories? Women love accessories!” So we decided to do a collection of horn accessories and enamel bangles that are all sustainably sourced and handmade.
A DAY IN THE LIFE
I try to wake up at about 7.30 or 8 a.m. and I have this little ritual where I listen to something a little motivational to get me going for the day. I get ready and then I like to have meetings in the morning, whether it’s a Skype meeting or somewhere else. If I’m lucky, I get lunch and then I move into emails. Designing is a small part of the business. It’s all about emails, dealing with suppliers, chasing retailers and that’s the bulk of the day. I don’t go to sleep till about 2 or 3 a.m. because the time I’m done with the business side of things happens to be when I’m most creative. It’s usually about 6 to 7pm when I go like “Oh, I have an idea!” That’s when I do most of the creative work.
The Patricia Rox woman is one who is inquisitive about the world. She travels widely and delights in experiencing new cultures. She is someone who doesn’t follow the crowd. She prizes her individuality so she buys key pieces for her own wardrobe that she mixes and matches in a way that’s completely her own. Quality is very important to her, so she expects a good garment that will last her a long time. That’s the woman we look for.
I would love to dress Michelle Obama because she loves prints! She wears a lot of print and she’s not afraid to try new things. She is incredibly supportive of designers out of America, which is great, so I would love to see her in something of ours. I think I’d also like to dress Beyonce because she wears a lot of kaftans and enjoys resort-style holidays.
OTHER INSPIRING LOCAL CREATIVES
There’s Marilyn Tan, the jewellery designer. I met her a couple of years back and she’s a lawyer like me. As a jewellery designer, she’s been very successful. I like her, I like what she’s doing and I like her brand. Then there’s also Heads of State Millinery. Many of their hats are made in the Philippines using traditional craft techniques. So I think it’s really cool that they’re making something so beautiful yet still giving back to the community. I met the owner, Chee Sau Fen, quite a while back and I told her I would love to work with her someday.
DREAM CREATIVE PROJECT OR COLLABORATION
Apart from collaborating with Heads of State Millinery, I would love to do something with a health charity. Malaria is a cause particularly close to heart. I have lived in Uganda and witnessed the devastation it can cause. In Singapore, I would love to help out a cause like breast cancer.
WHERE TO NEXT
We will continue to grow. What we need to work on is brand awareness and getting more people to know and understand the brand. From that we can move into growing our sales and growing the brand. We do plan to move into brick and mortar but first we’ll be launching our e-commerce website, which is something that we’ve never done. We’ve always sold through retailers and now we’ll be selling online. And we’re doing this because we realize it’s very important for people to understand our brand universe. When we sell though retail, they might take this shirt but they don’t take the others. This shirt, it’s beautiful but we want more of the brand to be represented. So we’ll try to do that with the online venture and hope it’s successful.
The collection of Patricia Rox scarves is available online at www.gnossem.com. Patricia Rox is currently available in London, the U.S. and Asian markets including Aman Resorts in Bali and www.shopzaozao.com in Hong Kong.