INTERVIEW: Gilda & Pearl’s Diane Houston

Gilda & Pearl founder Diane Houston tells Sarah Blackman about what it’s like to make lingerie in the UK and why she wouldn’t consider working anywhere else.

Like any designer making in the UK, Gilda & Pearl founder Diane Houston faces the challenges of sourcing products locally at a competitive price, but she wouldn’t want it any other way. Making in the UK is an intrinsic part of her brand and she wouldn’t consider making anywhere else.

Founded in 2009, Gilda & Pearl was born out of Houston’s desire to revive British manufacturing after seeing many of Scotland’s garment factories close down as a young girl.

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“My mother worked with Jaeger and I remember going to their factory in Aeryshire just after it closed down to see if we could establish any machinery. That had quite an impact on me at the time and it was quite
a big deal for the local community,” she explains.

After training under the direction of a British lingerie designer, whose legacy included creating a wedding trousseau for Victoria Lockwood upon her wedding to Princess Diana’s brother Viscount Althorp, Houston used luxury fabrics to create British-made lingerie and sleepwear pieces, which sold out at private events and at London’s Portobello market.

Building on that success, Houston launched a capsule collection that was picked up by the fashion press and featured across the national media. From there, she received a grant from the Prince’s Trust and rented a premises in the Argyll Arcade in Glasgow, where she employed machinists to help her work on her first order from Figleaves.com.

Today, Gilda & Pearl’s designs, inspired by the golden-age of the silver screen, collections such as ‘Scandal in Paris’ and ‘Weekend at Waldorf’, are stocked in high-end boutiques around the world.

All garments are produced in Scotland or Derby, and Houston’s efforts to source fabrics from Manchester, Nottingham and Scotland have resulted in the brand being named the top underwear brand by Ethical Consumer.

“I’ve always tried to source fabric from within the UK – purely silk and lace – and I haven’t really worked with synthetic fabric. I get Leaver’s lace from France, but that’s fairly simple. There are so many suppliers in the UK and it’s actually a lot easier [to source fabrics locally] than people would imagine.”

One of Gilda & Pearl’s suppliers is Morton Young & Borland, the last lace producer of its kind in the world, producing Scottish lace and madras sheers for upmarket companies.

“It’s quite a heavy lace, but it works for the piece that we’re doing,” says Houston. “I think MYB has been really clever with their collaborations. They have collaborated with a lot of other designers and they have been quite active with showing at international fabric shows.”

But despite the rising costs of overseas manufacturing, brought on by an increase in factory workers’ wages, British brands must still allow for a higher manufacturing price point when they’re making in the UK.

“I think prices are a challenge because it would be a lot cheaper to get everything made overseas,” says Houston.

But if push came to shove, and the price of manufacturing in the UK rose even further, Houston is adamant that Gilda & Pearl would never leave the country.

“Gilda & Pearl will always be UK made because we’ve managed to find our niche and our core customer, and we cater for that customer. We have been very careful in identifying who she or he is and making sure we produce with that in mind. I also think that Made in Britain is actually important to them,” she says.

Gilda & Pearl offers a bespoke service, which involves producing lingerie and sleepwear made to measure, and customisation of ready-to-wear pieces with crystal embroidery. This service is particularly popular with its bridal garters, babydolls and silk tie-side knickers.

This month, Gilda & Pearl will make its debut at Selfridges, offering an exclusive range of silk kaftans with Leavers lace sleeve edging in a series of colourways, including gold, powder pink and taupe.

The brand will also be stocked at Nancy Meyer from July, and its newly-redesigned website will soon sell internationally.

Going forward, Gilda & Pearl will expand its size range for upcoming collections. “We started with an A to C cup and we’ve now gone up to an F cup,” says Houston. “We now start at a 28 back as well, which is something that we’re being asked to do.”

For SS15, the label will launch a range of lingerie and sleepwear inspired by 1960s silhouettes.

“This seemed to be a natural progression since we started working on the kaftans for Selfridges, which had a 60s feel about them,” explains Houston. “It’s kind of resonated with us. So we’ll be doing a lot of new 60s-inspired shapes and more colour-pop pieces and a gorgeous lace appliqué with a new lace design. They’ll also be some new slip designs and basques.”

“I think it’s really important to keep evolving the look of the brand so that’s what we’ve done for the new season.”

But, as the brand develops its design handwriting, it will always stay true to its values, says Houston.

“I’ve always tried to believe in what I’m doing and tried to stick to the Gilda & Pearl aesthetic. I suppose you have to be aware of trends, but generally it’s about focusing on my goal and my own vision for the brand and trying not to waver from that even though there are challenges to making in the UK. I think this is what has seen me through.”

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