Free to do what they do best

The prize-winning design duo of Copperwheat and Blundell have overcome adversity and found what it takes to survive, writes Tamsin Blanchard

T his is the story of a young British fashion label. It has the same old beginning: two designers meet and have a dream. They launch their own company. They go into production and are given the opportunity to show at London Fashion Week as part of the New Generation show. Their order books are looking healthily international when, to top it all, they win the Lloyd's Bank New Generation Fashion Award for 1994. The story continues with the same old middle: the backer pulls out and the new generation designers for 1994 are left high and dry with a full book of orders to meet and no apparent way of meeting them. The outlook is bleak. But then, there is a twist to the tale: salvation.

Last January, Copperwheat Blundell, the heroes of our story, should have been basking in glory. But when their backer pulled out (it was an amicable but ill-timed split) the company went into freefall and it looked for a time as though the pair might have to cancel their spring orders. Then in stepped David Jones, not a backer with money to throw at them, but a mine of useful advice on how to run a business and survive.

By February, not only did Pamela Blundell and Lee Copperwheat manage to pull back from the edge of the abyss, but they met all their delivery dates, got on with designing their collection for next spring/summer and, best of all, landed a deal with Tottenham-based manufacturing company Sarelli. Their collection for autumn/winter filters into the shops, including Liberty, Harrods and Browns, this week.

Sarelli makes up collections for Vivienne Westwood and Bella Freud. Good, reliable manufacturers are hard to find in Britain and too many designers have to look abroad to find the quality they need. For Copperwheat and Blundell (their label has now been officially renamed C&B London Ltd), this is a dream come true. They can now leave the nightmares and problems of production to the professionals and concentrate on what they do best - coming up with new ideas for simple, formal clothes for women and edgy, sporty clothes for men.

The man behind this new change of fortune, David Jones, a fashion business and marketing consultant, has held their hands through difficult days. "I always liked the idea of matching small companies together," he says, and the resulting marriage between Sarelli and C&B is a perfect one. C&B benefit from not having to worry about their production, and Sarelli get continuity of orders.

Already, Pam, 28, and Lee, 29, are seeing the possibilities that are being freed up for them: they are talking about sub collections that will break up the two-season fashion calendar and take up the slack during the inter-season periods. They are planning collections of swimwear, leather, knitwear. And they are very excited about a range of unisex clothing they intend to launch this October in London Fashion Week. At the moment, womenswear is Pam's responsibility and menswear is Lee's. A unisex range would give them more opportunity to meet in the middle.

When the two met, they were both teaching at Central Saint Martin's. Theirs was a good year. Between them, they have offered pattern-cutting and tailoring help and guidance to a whole host of young designers who are now their peers - Sonja Nuttall, Fabio Piras, Reynold Pearce (Pearce Fionda), Jeff Griffin (Griffin Laundry) and Alexander McQueen. "Alexander didn't need much help," says Lee.

Before teaching, Pam and Lee notched up their fair share of experience. Pam, who won the Smirnoff award when she graduated from college, worked with the late John Flett for four years. After he died, Central Saint Martin's offered her a place on the MA course, but she did not want to go back to college. At the tender age of 22, she was taken on as a part- time lecturer instead. She was also employed by Liberty to design a small range for them. "I always wanted to work in this country," she says. "I think London is the most creative city in the world."

While Pam was working for John Flett, Lee was concentrating on extending the tailoring skills he picked up at the Aquascutum factory in Northampton between the ages of 16 to 18. "Out of all the training I have had, working at Aquascutum was the best," he says. He went on to assist Helen Storey and his tailoring techniques are evident in C&B London's Crombie-style coats and matching check trousers, and the high-buttoning suit jackets in the collection for this winter. Lee's own brand of tailoring crossed with sportswear and hi-tech fabrics is perfectly in tune with Nineties man, confused about whether he should be wearing formal suits or casual sportswear.

Pam Blundell and Lee Copperwheat are their own greatest advertisement: she with her tanned skin free of make-up and signature close-fitting but informal jacket over a simple grey silk vest, and he, straight out of bed in a pair of trousers that look like pyjama bottoms, a big grey fleecy top and black trainers. With David Jones's firm business hand behind them and Sarelli's manufacturing and distribution know-how, they are ready to justify their Lloyd's title.

"Normally, we would be running around between about five different factories," says Pam. "We would work all day on production and then start work on the new collection at night when the phones stopped ringing. Now all we have to do is hand over the patterns."

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

    £22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

    Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

    £22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

    Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

    £40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

    Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

    £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

    Day In a Page

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before