Sunday, 20 June 2010

Whet Your Fashion appetite with Aqua!

Aqua is an amazingly sexy, directional design line that originated in Leeds and has had fashionista’s down South hungry for a little Northern exposure for the last few years! The only way to get your mitts on the whole line was to visit the Leeds Aqua boutique. But this April, Aqua opened up a concept store on Carnaby Street! Now Londoner’s galore are getting in on the Aqua act which boasts an amazing aesthetic. I headed down to the design basement underneath the new Carnaby St location to catch up with fabulous Ryan Holliday-Stevens, one of the creative forces behind Aqua!

Your line is amazing! We’ve been waiting for ages for you to open a store in London, why was now the right time?
Well the whole design team is based in the North and we’ve wanted to open a shop down here for years But we thought we should wait until the line was well known in the South. We didn’t want to open a small shop, we wanted to have a concept store. Like the one’s you see in Paris, where the clothes are aspirational and the interior enables you to have installations and events. The difference is our clothes are affordable! I moved down to London 14mths ago and would commute everyday to work in the Leeds store, while looking for a London store at the weekend. When the Carnaby Street location came up and it just seemed perfect. It felt right and we felt at home. I hope that we bring something a little bit different to Carnaby Street!

You definitely bring the fierceness and edge down here! So how did you guys start out? I know you have the triangle structure featuring heavily in your labels etc which relates to three sides of the company dynamic…The triangle shows the three entities to Aqua. There’s myself- the designer, my business partner Jules who started the brand originally up in Hull and our muse Laura. Laura started as a part time sales assistant with us 7 years ago and she loved the brand so much that she just stayed. She consults on all of the new collections. We all bring different things to the table and just work amazingly together, we balance each other out!

Love that concept! I always thought your designs were super sexy, confident and fashion forward- how would you describe the Aqua woman?

I think she’s the kind of girl who reads high end fashion magazines and she would like to buy a lot of those couture pieces but they are very much out of the realms for most people. It’s so expensive and it becomes unobtainable. What we wanted to do was give people an opportunity to dress in extreme fashion but make it accessible as well as aspirational. Most people can afford to buy pieces here, we try to keep our price points quite low and use unconventional fabrics so the product looks exciting.

And I know you’ve also got celeb fans- I’ve seen pictures of Frankie from the Saturdays wearing one of your dresses that I have, white one shouldered with a little…
…peplum on the side! Yeah it’s really nice, her stylist Robert stumbled across the shop and now we’ve started doing a couple of bespoke pieces for her music videos. Also Alexandra Burke has worn some of our designs. Its amazing being in London because although Leeds has a really vibrant fashion scene all of the press and stylists don’t really travel up North they are in London. So having a presence down here means people just pop in the shop and they are like ‘wow we love your stuff’ and I tell them we’ve got new designs in the basement. Next thing you know you’ve got Frankie here for a fitting and it feels really organic, really nice.

I guess being down here you’ve gathered momentum naturally?
Yes, it doesn’t feel contrived it just feels good.

Is there any celeb you would love to get your hands on?
Erm, gosh that’s a really hard one. You know what, it’s wonderful when someone just really likes us, they like the product and they want a piece. We’ll bend over backwards to get it to them. But I think to force dresses on people it can look contrived. Its much nicer if they just really like your stuff and ask you to work with them on some outfits. Then you can build up some rapport and you create something that’s Aqua but with elements of a stage twist. I love it when performers say go wild, make it big and use loads of sequins- it allows you to run with your creativity!

Creativity is definitely a key word I would use in describing your designs! Where did you study fashion?
Huddersfield and Leeds but I was a bit of a drop out to be honest. I just wanted to get out there and get on with things. I’d started my own line called Identity which I had up and running for three years. I met my partner Jules during this period. Identity was a wholesale brand and we used to sell to Aqua which Jules had already started up. I had a friend who was the Head of Fashion at Huddersfield Uni. She recommended the fashion degree there to me, I went for it and absolutely hated it. It wasn’t for me. If you go into it at 18 I think its very exciting but by this stage I was a mature student and I just wanted to get out there and do as opposed to learn. So I only lasted a year.

How would you sum up Aqua in one line?

Its very different. You never know what’s coming next from season to season!

Tell me more!
There are a lot of amazing designers who, with their pieces, you can always tell it’s their collection from season to season. With our stuff we try and do the opposite. We change things dramatically even if we have a commercial line that’s done really well. Cos we think it’s so easy to just rest on your laurels and make lots of the same thing in different colours. But I think it’s about having fun and doing newer, more outrageous things!

Visit the new store @ 12 Fouberts Place, Carnaby St London or if your up North head to The Victoria Quarter, 36 Queen Victoria Street Leeds.

Also view online @

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