Weave a little magic

PEOPLE IN FASHION: From the needles of knitting duo, Saltwater, Hester Lacey finds softness on a hanger

A YEAR AGO, Laura Watson and Vanessa Doyle took a big gamble on the success of their fledgling company, Saltwater; they both resigned from good jobs with big-name designers. Laura deserted Nicole Farhi while Vanessa left Versace; and this was with no more than a business plan to pin their hopes on. A potential sponsor, publisher Nigel Deering, was prepared to put funding in only if they could produce a rack of clothes to show what they could do. So in a month, working flat out, they put together a tiny collection of around 20 garments, and, with some trepidation, lugged them round to his flat. "It was a lovely, sunny day," recalls Laura, "so we hung the clothes up outside, all round his veranda. We were so nervous, really hoping Nigel wouldn't hate them."

Luckily he didn't hate them, and Saltwater was under way. Although Laura and Vanessa have come via Farhi and Versace, a mix that, to say the least, is hardly obvious, their own designs owe little to either. The emphasis of their knits and weaves is on luxury and minimalism. Their current autumn/winter collection is an earthy mix of greys, soft beiges, subtle greens, browns and aubergines, in cashmere, mohair, silk and chenille, embroidered, dyed, felted and printed. There are feather-light jumpers and tops, simply shaped dresses, coats, draw-string trousers, plus a few coloured accents in pink, blue and jade green: a sweater, cardigan, scarves. "We try to be experimental with knit, and do things the larger houses can't do, like printing on knit," explains Laura. "We wanted to keep quite minimal, to have special things, but things that are not too in-your-face."

"We try and offer details that can't be easily mass-produced, clothes that are understated but special," adds Vanessa.

The two of them met at the Royal College of Art, where Vanessa was studying knitted textiles and Laura was doing fashion knitwear. Laura was the initial driving force behind Saltwater. "I saw Ness's show and was struck with it, it was so beautiful and I could tell we were both interested in certain styles and techniques," she says. "We were both working elsewhere but we started having clandestine evening chats about the future. I started by suggesting that we share studio space, and it started from that, in a cupboard in Kensington." Nigel Deering had also seen Vanessa's show and told her to get in touch should she ever think of starting her own label; the two set out successfully to woo him. They couldn't believe it, says Laura, when Brown's took an order from their tiny initial collection; a Vogue story followed, and then buyers started to take an interest - not only from the UK, but Barneys in New York and Saks in San Francisco. "It was all word-of-mouth, a domino effect," says Laura.

The two of them share the design work equally. "In lots of partnerships there is the creative one and the business one," says Laura. "We're both creative. It's good to be equal, neither of us is in charge." A certain amount of healthy argument goes on, however, they say, and if their designs are softness and subtlety on a hanger, the two of them make a feisty pairing. "The whole point of starting Saltwater was to do our own thing," says Vanessa.

"Never to be dictated to!" adds Laura.

"Working for others you have to conform to their taste, here we can do anything," says Vanessa. "It feels so much better doing our own thing," confirms Laura.

Their philosophy, they say, is quite simply to do whatever they like. "We like the feeling of things being unique," says Laura. "Our clothes look hand-made but not too 'crafty'. There have been a lot of pretty-pretty looks going on, and something about that is very appealing, but at the same time our clothes are not too frou-frou and girly."

"High fashion is changing," suggests Vanessa. "It's not about very slick, mass-produced looks any more. You have to offer clothes with hand-made appeal, good quality that looks and feels amazing."

They are aiming, they say, for ageless appeal. "Our designs are based more on a type than an age group," says Laura. "If they are based on anyone, they're based on us. Neither of us has a model figure and we don't want tight-fitting, revealing clothes. Our customer could be in their twenties or in their fifties, someone who doesn't want to have a label emblazoned across their chest, but someone with a feeling for colour and texture."

"It's about genuinely beautiful things," chimes in Vanessa.

"These are not disposable garments," finishes Laura.

They squirm a little over pricing, however. All their clothes are handmade, by pieceworkers around the country, and this does not come cheap. A Saltwater sweater retails at around pounds 150, a two-piece suit with embroidery detail on pockets and hem at around pounds 500, and their felted kimono coat, made of baby alpaca and merino, quilted and embroidered, is also around the pounds 500 mark. "We have had to be grown-up about costing," says Laura. "There is a lot of work in the clothes and they are a production nightmare. But it does feel strange when our prices are outside the bracket that we would normally shop in."

The Saltwater name was Vanessa's inspiration. "Using our two names together sounded like a pair of private investigators," says Laura. "We wanted something natural, fresh, no-nonsense and unpretentious. Ness just came up with it and it's grown on me since." She would, though, like to develop the theme. "I'm from Cornwall and I'm passionate about the sea, so I want us to have a studio overlooking the sea one day."

Stockists: Browns, 24-27 South Molton Street, London W1; A La Mode, 36 Hans Crescent, London SW1; Matches, 37A High Street, SW19 and 13 Hill Street, Richmond, Surrey; The Cross, 141 Portland Road, London W11; Anna's, 126 Regent's Park Road; Georgia Brown, 73 Parchment Street, Winchester; Eva, 12 High Street, Ipswich.

Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
The Pipes and Drums of The Scottish Regiments perform during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Commonwealth GamesThe actor encouraged the one billion viewers of the event to donate to the children's charity
Sport
Karen Dunbar performs
Entertainers showcase local wit, talent and irrepressible spirit
Sport
Members of the Scotland deleagtion walk past during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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 General

    BI Manager - £50,000

    £49000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

    BI Project Manager - £48,000 - £54,000 - Midlands

    £48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...

    VB.Net Developer

    £35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

    SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

    Day In a Page

    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Farewell, my lovely

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

    Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

    The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
    The 10 best pedicure products

    Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

    Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

    Commonwealth Games 2014

    Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
    Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

    Jack Pitt-Brooke

    Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
    How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game