updated 24 Dec 2010, 15:04
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Tue, Sep 14, 2010
The Business Times
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Grande dame will be proud
by Melissa Lwee

IF, LIKE designer Catherine Deane, your grandmother is an immaculately dressed self-taught master tailor and your mother an ex-model, joining the fashion industry is pretty much inevitable.
'I design what I like to wear and what I like to wear has been influenced by my grandmother who was always immaculately dressed.'
-- Catherine Deane (middle) with her creations

'I grew up in an environment of fashion so I guess you can say design is my life's work,' recalls the Irish-born Deane. 'My grandmother used to cut all her own patterns and she always wore gloves and hats that she made herself. My mother taught me how to sew when I was 10 - I made a pencil skirt then - I was making my own clothes as a teenager even before I studied design.'

These days, Deane spends more time designing beautiful cocktail and evening dresses for her five-year-old eponymous label where her ability to use long forgotten craft techniques in a modern day context has garnered the attention of celebrities such as Sarah Jessica Parker, Whitney Port and Selena Gomez.

'I've always been fascinated with history and tradition and I do a lot of research at antique markets,' says Deane, who recently sold 60 per cent of her brand development and design company Archangel to local retailer FJ Benjamin.

'These days, everything is so rushed and mass produced which really makes one appreciate vintage clothing and the idea that 100 years ago, each piece was lovingly handmade and stitched by someone. That's why a running theme through my work is that with every collection, I like to rework vintage fabrics and techniques.'

Indeed, Deane's unique selling point is that she manages to fuse her passion for old techniques with the modern and multi-cultural nomadic life - she was born in Ireland, grew up in South Africa, started her business in London and moved to Hong Kong three years ago to set up her manufacturing base and promote sales in Asia - that she leads.

Her Autumn/Winter 2010 collection, for example, is inspired by the history of the Aztec civilisation but is 'harder' in essence from her previous collections, having been influenced 'by the architectural structure of the buildings in Hong Kong'.

It is her ability to mix the new and the old with such distinct style that has allowed her young label to stand out from the crowd, so much so that FJ Benjamin decided to invest US$500,000 in her company.

'We've been approached by many brands over the past three years asking us to acquire them but we turned them all down and it has taken us a long time to find a brand such as Catherine Deane that we've not only fallen in love with design-wise but also one that we were comfortable owning,' reveals FJ Benjamin CEO Douglas Benjamin. 'This is a small business but it has the potential to grow into something quite sizeable.'

This acquisition makes Catherine Deane FJ Benjamin's second house brand after Raoul and marks the first time that the company has bought into an international brand having run a successful franchise business over the decades with long-term partners such as Guess and Girard-Perregaux and more recently Celine, Givenchy and Goyard.

For Deane, however, the acquisition means that she now has the means to grow her brand - FJ Benjamin plans to double the number of stores that stock Catherine Deane from 45 to 90 in about three years - something she wasn't able to do before as a one woman show.

It is a landmark moment in Deane's career and one that she knows her late grandmother would be proud of. 'She hasn't been in my life for 10 years now, which is a shame because I think she would have liked to see all this and I think of her often when I work. She has definitely been a huge source of inspiration.'

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