Former Made in Chelsea star Kimberley Garner talks to Sarah Blackman about her debut swimwear collection, her design vision and how she feels about recent accusations of copyright infringement.
Young, fun and ambitious. Those are the words you could use to describe Kimberley Garner, and indeed her new collection of swimwear, which she talks me through as we sit in a cafe on London’s King’s Road. This is of course the home of the TV show, Made in Chelsea, in which she once starred.
Beaming from ear to ear, the 23 year-old hands me a gift; a stripy white and Tiffany-blue package labelled ‘Kimberley London’ and inside, a pink triangle bikini. She’s clearly proud of her work as she looks at me expectantly as if to say, “What do you think?”
There’s no denying the quality is good; the garment is double lined, and the gold pendant featured on the tie side bikini bottoms adds a touch of luxury to the piece.
“I spent a lot of time learning about how materials worked and I decided to put two bikinis in one because there’s nothing worse than when a bikini falls to pieces after one holiday,” says Garner. “The fabrics were sourced from Italy and the gold pendant was manufactured in Paris. It is really rare to have real gold on a swimming costume.”
But I can’t help but wonder, as the former reality TV star talks quickly and excitedly about her label, if she feels she has a lot to prove. After all, Melissa Odabash, the US fashion designer renowned for her luxury swimwear designs, has suggested that Garner was trying to steal her ideas, and even went as far as banning her from two of her recent sample sales.
I ask Garner how she feels about this accusation and she responds: “She accused me of trying to steal her designs before I had even launched my collection and she hadn’t seen any of them. I didn’t copy her pieces and I think that she will see that now that my collection has been launched.”
But the young brand owner doesn’t have any ill feeling towards Odabash. “For her to be threatened by me is such a compliment,” she says. “I mean, I’m 23, I’m just starting up my own company and Melissa is probably the world’s most renowned swimwear designer and I think she has done an amazing job and I love her pieces.”
Garner admits that her celebrity status has helped drum up interest in her business. She says: “It’s been phenomenal and I can’t believe the amount of support I’ve been given.” But she insists that she didn’t go down the TV route in order to get head start in the fashion industry.
“I’m quite a happy and spontaneous character so with the TV route I didn’t really think ahead. I sort of thought, ‘This is really fun, let’s give it a go.’ And then about eight or nine months ago I thought, ‘I’ve got a tiny bit of money I can put in my own company, this is the right time to go for it.’”
Most celebrities face questions about how much work they contributed to their fashion labels, particularly reality stars.
But, to be fair to Garner, she seems genuinely committed to her brand, which she spent six months building. “I literally didn’t go out, I just worked on it and I’m glad I did because I get to enjoy it now. To be young and have something like that…” She ponders for a few seconds, before adding: “It’s like my baby.”
Garner became interested in the swimwear industry as a young girl. She reminisces: “When I was about 12, I used to draw designs on napkins. Then when I was 14 I had hundreds of pieces of swimwear that I used to sew sequins on to.”
This year, after gaining a degree from the London College of Fashion, she has launched her debut collection which features a range of triangle bikinis in fashion colours and one-piece swimming costumes.
“I created a British take on a Brazilian bikini. I thought that maybe the Brazilian bikini was too naughty for the British market,” she laughs.
“The Brazilian bikini is the most flattering on the woman’s body; it uses less material but it makes the wearer look slim and delicate and elegant,” explains Garner. “My design has a bit more material on certain areas so it provides more coverage but it is also very flattering.”
“I am very focused on the structure of the costume and the cut. That is so important because when you go to the beach you want to feel sexy and beautiful so I spent a lot of time focusing on the cut of the costume,” Garner adds.
The collection was manufactured in a small factory in southern England, which Garner visits regularly. “It cost me like ten times more than it would if I manufactured in China but I don’t really mind,” she insists. “It’s good because you are seeing a direct impact on your country that you wouldn’t see if you took it abroad. It makes you feel quite patriotic.”
Swimwear from the new range retails from £65 and though the collection is only currently available on Kimberley London’s website, it is already in demand among independent buyers.
“I am new to this [industry] still so I’m still looking for the right stockists to sell my collection, but I spoke to one beach shop called Bard’o in St Tropez last week and they bought my bikinis straight away and put them in a fashion show,” she says. “St Tropez is a great place to start I think.”
After her first foray into design, Garner is looking to expand her brand and is already thinking about her next collection, and she has some ambitious plans.
“I’m just going to keep designing now. I wanted to do a very simple collection for the first lot – very flattering and well made, but simple. Now I’m ready to experiment, and I want to use real leather, I want to use lace and I want to use more real gold,” she explains passionately.
“I’ve got some ideas that I will announce soon and I think they are out of this world and very creative and sexy.”
So would she consider designing a lingerie range? “I keep getting asked that,” she ponders, adding: “I don’t know if I will. I love lingerie because there is so much you can do with it, but I like swimwear for its happy, beachy feel.”
Agent Provocateur Vs Kimberley London
Two weeks after our meeting, luxury lingerie and swimwear giant Agent Provocateur filed an infringement case against Kimberley Garner, accusing her of copying its Mazzy bikini with her Monaco design. Both garments feature triangle tops with bandage-style straps.
Agent Provocateur CEO Garry Hogarth said in a statement at the time: “We invest significantly in product design and development and the Mazzy is our best-selling swimwear design.”
“We have brought this action to protect our intellectual property, our designers and our business,” Hogarth added.
Garner told Lingerie Insight that the move was a publicity stunt on AP’s part.
“They are a large company and their representative has actually said that ‘their intention is publicity’,” she said, adding: “There are so many other well known designers selling bikinis that are so similar, as the strappy bikini is very much on trend. They are a multi million pound giant trying to intimidate a 23 year old.”
“It’s been really hard, especially as Kimberley London swimwear is my own company, its just me. There seems to be no room for small start up companies,” Garner continued.
“My only hope is this doesn’t put off other young people from starting up their own company. It is a lot of work and a lot of fun and I want to continue as it has been successful. I’m always thrilled when girls write to me saying how they love my Kimberley London bikinis and how great they feel, makes it all worthwhile.”