Sophie Hulme: Utilitarian Chic

In times when the most sought after fashions seem vacuous and unnecessary, we start to feel the need for a revolution. Gone are the times of excess, glamour and stylistic indulgences—modern style should be all about authentic simplicity and clever minimalism.

British rising star Sophie Hulme seems to have an answer for this. Having just released her third collection, she has established a signature style of simple, wearable pieces with unexpected twists of carefully executed embellishment, and subtle military inspirations.

While sequins dominated past collections (notably memorable were the sequined parkas, and oversized plastic planes shining on jackets and coats), Fall 2009 takes a more understated approach, with monochromatic quilted overcoats and subtle military references. Sophie’s signature sparkle once again graces utilitarian shoulder bags, men’s shirts and bombers, drawing abstract patterns on mini dresses in muted tones.

“I am always attracted by menswear—the utility and the toughness,” Hulme says. In some regard, her collection seems like an endless dialogue between feminine divertissements and the simple constructions of military garments.

“I think this kind of style is missing across the market even though women seem to desire it,” she says.

The style, in this case, involved a combination of silk mini dresses cinched at the waist with thick leather belts and sequined micro bags, silk coats with oversized pockets and distorted proportions, unexpected hidden bows decorating very masculine jackets, quilted nylon backpacks nodding back to the ‘90s, and a range featuring very simple lines with subtle tones. “I like the act of putting two things together that don’t necessarily sit with each other naturally,” she points out, highlighting the double channel that after three collections is now her trademark.

Hulme made her first steps studying fashion at Kingston University. “I get a lot of inspiration from ‘British-ness’ and the diversity of Londoners,” she states, explaining both her penchant for duality and unique eye for decoration.

During her school years, she worked for German designer Markus Lupfer, who taught her about the tricks of the industry. Finding inspiration both in the big personas of the industry (she names Marni, Dries Van Noten and Lanvin as favorites), as well as everyday objects, Hulme successfully mastered eclecticism and made it both wearable and desirable.

“I always start by collecting stuff. I’ll find old objects and pictures, and start to build what I feel is right for the season. I love spending days in old flea markets and warehouses,” she concludes, which explains curious objects such as the golden “Chip Fork Charm” chains hanging from otherwise minimalist garments, and the abstract nature of her sequined illustrations on silk dresses.

“I have always been a massive collector of things,” she clarifies: “robots, glitter balls, airfix planes, crockery, and antique charms. I’ve always been fascinated by beautifully designed objects, so this is how I like to approach garments.”

So far Hulme’s collections have showcased incredible re-straint in the ability to incorporate all of her cited inspirations. And she is unlikely to stop there.

“I am doing collaborations at the moment with a couple of large brands, as well as some smaller emerging graduates,” she says excitedly when asked about her plans for the future. “That’s great for me because it is bringing new perspectives to what I do.”

“Multitasking” being the operative word, Hulme is already at work on her next collection.

“I’m pretty excited about next year,” she says. “I am taking a new direction, and developed some new techniques, but keeping to my aesthetic.” At this point, we wouldn’t expect anything less.

– Rosa Maria Bertoli