Words: Charlie Elizabeth Culverhouse
This time last year, life looked very different for Jemima Crane. In the midst of her final year at the Manchester Fashion Institute, the would-be-award-winner was struggling through her projects and meeting resistance at seemingly every corner. “I think I had the toughest tutor to impress”, she told me when we sat down for a chat. “I walked into my design tutorial over the summer, handed him the work and spoke about my ideas for a project. He said, ‘Did you do the first year? Because I can’t tell.’ That was just awful, we started off on a very bad foot.”
She visibly cringes retelling the story. “For my final project, he said, ‘I don’t like your idea. I don’t like your concepts. You have 24 hours to go and turn this whole thing around.’ This project was the pinnacle of final year, so if I didn’t sort it - in that evening - the whole project was doomed.” But the tough, some may say too tough, love, built up a renewed confidence for Jemima. “He pushed me and pushed me and pushed me. In the end, I thought if I can withstand his pressure, then I think I’m onto a winner.”
She could not have been more right. The Saints and Sinners graduate collection assembled by Jemima would not only see her graduate with flying colours, but would mark her out as an emerging designer on everyone’s radar. The concept for the three outfits Jemima presented came from a myriad of costuming books given to her by her great-aunt, a costume designer whose credits boast the likes of the West End hit, CATS. Despite the legacy of tight bodysuits and fur collars, a different style immediately jumped out to Jemima. “I wanted to play into the Elizabethan idea of trying to show your wealth through clothing and just being really outlandish,” she says, explaining the mass of jewelled embellishments, lace ruffles and superfluous capes now dominating her designs. “In that era everything was really built up, almost like uniforms, like armour, so I wanted to juxtapose that with really soft, feminine structures. I’d just done some work for the Mayfair Atelier Maria Grachvogel, who plays around with really soft silhouettes and layers upon layers of fabric. This really inspired me.”
Once finished, the collection was quickly picked up by Graduate Fashion Week’s Talent of Tomorrow Campaign, a campaign that took designs by eight aspiring designers and publicised them in professional photoshoots. “That was the first proper shoot that I’d ever done - it was a bit of a pinch me moment. I had to ship my collection to them with descriptive instructions about how I wanted the outfit to be worn and what I wanted the shoot to look like, and then I was sent the image at the end of the week.”
"With celebrity stylists, they love the pieces and want to send someone out into the world wearing them, so it is far more of a compliment.”
Popping her pride and joy into the post, mere days after it had been finished, may have felt exciting at first, but quickly the dream turned into a nightmare - but a short lived one at least. “The garments got lost in the post when they shipped them back to me - I had a couple of breakdowns that day. I went to all the places in the city where it could be and everyone said, ‘We’ve got nothing - it’s definitely lost.’ I’d only just finished the garments and I had to hand them into university to get my final grade. I finally got it back, thank God! I think the parcel was missing for about 40 hours but it felt like forever,” she recalls with evident anxiety.
While for many, the aftermath of graduation leads to quiet days of half-heartedly searching for work and the joy of free evenings ripe for partying, Jemima found herself thrust into the heart of the fashion industry. Largely thanks to the exposure following the Talent of Tomorrow Campaign, her winning the I Am Northern Talent award at Northern Fashion Week and the subsequent buzz around her name, Jemima was now a designer in demand.
“I never envisaged that my designs would be seen by so many people. At the start of last year, I thought I’d do my collection, get my degree, and then the fact I’d managed to get the Graduate Fashion Week photo was going to be my pride and joy.”
“But then it was crazy - just one thing after another. People kept messaging me saying, ‘Oh can we borrow the collection for this, can we borrow it for that?’ I never thought that anything like that would ever happen. I thought I might get one person wanting it for one event only and that was going to be it for my design career. But even now it’s still being seen by different people so many months after I’ve made it.”
“I think if I can pull off the SS24 show, it will be my biggest achievement. If I can do that, it will truly be my ‘made it’ moment.”
Two of those people were actor Layton Williams and model Jourdan Dunn. Both wearing her pieces to different LGBTQ+ events in late 2022, Jemima believes this was the most flattering piece of evidence that her work was being appreciated. “I feel like it’s a different sense of acknowledgement,” she says, explaining the difference between seeing her clothes on celebrities and on runways. “On the runway, it’s a couple of people that just want to produce a nice show and generally, no one in the audience really cares who’s made it. However with celebrity stylists, they love the pieces and want to send someone out into the world wearing them, so it is far more of a compliment.”
Wanting to understand the candid truth about being a designer, I asked Jemima if life in the fashion lane is really like you see in the movies; with flustered stylists and assistants running around at midnight trying to get garments to where they need to be. “Absolutely,” she laughs, before admitting it is maybe not quite as glamorous as it appears. “I work full time as an assistant designer for a fashion supplier. So I’ll be at work and someone will call or email me saying, ‘We’ve got a celebrity who really wants to wear your clothing. Can you get it to us tonight?’ For reference, I work in Watford and live near Cambridge, so I leave work at 6pm, drive home - which takes an hour and a half - steam the garments, make sure everything looks beautiful, pack it all up and then take it to London - which is another 45 minutes back in the opposite direction.” She’s out of breath just thinking about it, “One day I’ll hire an assistant - that’s the dream!”
But Jemima has it under control. Having already worked with a variety of iconic fashion names, not least the illustrious House of Versace, how could she not? Still, she seems apprehensive to admit her accomplishments. “Versace was actually the first place that I worked - I say worked, I shadowed the head of womenswear and didn’t really do anything,” she said before casually adding, “I did meet Donatella though.” So what do you say when you find yourself in the presence of Donatella Versace? “I think I just said ‘Hi, I’m Jemima. Lovely to meet you’ - the most boring thing you could say.” After both agreeing that this greeting illustrated the epitome of reserved British politeness, Jemima revealed, “Surprisingly, she was very, very shy. I had lunch with her and the rest of her team but she just spoke about some issues she was having with her underground garage!”
“I’m aiming for a 15 to 20 outfit collection - the biggest project I’ve done."
Whilst chatting about the freelance design work Jemima undertook for Miscreants alongside her degree, she let slip that she’s currently working on her ‘own stuff.’ The tidbit is too tempting not to pick up on so I inarticulately interrupt, “What own stuff ?”
Smiling, she explains, “I’m planning my next collection,” and, perhaps sensing my intrigue, adds, “And it’s going to be a big one.” The plans are all in place, though, until now, Jemima had managed to keep them pretty quiet. “It is going to be, I hope, Spring/Summer 24. The show is going to be held at Magazine London, which will be beautiful.”
“I’m aiming for a 15 to 20 outfit collection - the biggest project I’ve done. Plus, I’m not going to get any outside seamstress help. I’m going to be making it myself while still doing the day job and trying to get promotions; it’s going to be hard.”
Teasing the collection, Jemima is careful not to give away too much detail. I am surprised when she says, “I’m really interested in playing around with the idea of exoskeletons - I’m obsessed with David Attenborough documentaries about deep sea fish that have no eyes and exoskeletons allowing
you to see they’ve eaten.” It becomes clear I have done a bad job at hiding my shocked expression as she adds, “It sounds quite far away from my graduate collection, but I’m hoping to bring it back so it’s not as weird but still wonderful.”
However, Jemima has a real fear that her second collection could divide fans of her work. “I’m struggling with it,” she admits. “I’ve built a small following now who like my work for what it is. It’s a frustrating thought that if I stray too far away from that, I might lose certain people.”
Still, her career is in its infancy and she is excited for the future. “I’m always up for exploring avenues,” she says. “I think if I can pull off the SS24 show, it will be my biggest achievement. If I can do that, it will truly be my ‘made it’ moment.”
So as we wait with bated breath for Jemima to unveil her SS24 collection, her continued and rapid progression through the design world will be quite the rollercoaster to observe. A true upcoming talent, Jemima has laid the foundations for a stratospheric career in fashion, mark my words…
The interview was featured in The Guide: A Lifestyle Compendium Vol.1, which you can buy here.