Creative women at work: Paris Essex

— by Alyson Walsh

Carolyn Clewer, Tiphaine de Lussy, Photo: Dvora Photo

Paris Essex, possibly the best name for a business, ever. The two founders Tiphaine de Lussy the ‘Parisian Cockney’ (born in Paris, has lived in London for many years) and Carolyn Clewer the Essex half of the partnership, met at the Royal College of Art and have worked together on fashion and textiles projects ever since. Their latest collaboration involves hand-knitting and crocheting Crazy Blankets. The Navajo-on-acid designs are more modern art than cosy throw, Paris Essex are certainly making craft cool again. I went to meet them in their London studio and it was the most fun I’ve ever had talking about knitting:

TNMA: First of all! Paris Essex. Love the name! I’m from Blackpool so I like the combination of chic and a bit trashy or fashion and fun.

Essex (Carolyn): We’ve been playing on that for a long time. We like that dialogue.

Paris (Tiphaine) : We like contrast. We’re interested in that line. That line between good taste and bad taste. That moment where things could be deemed as bad taste. We like it. The moment where you think something could be tat. We like things that are not recognised as exquisite.

Essex: It’s all about not being ashamed to like glitzy, trashy, funny things. It something is authentic and fun that’s brilliant. And then the Paris Essex thing really summed that up

Paris: I love a lovely cashmere jumper, but it will never give you that excitement.

Essex: Things don’t need to be expensive or rare to be brilliant. If you take something that has no value and give it value that’s amazing. And I think that’s really important.

TNMA: So how do you work together?

Essex: We’ve worked together for a very long time and so there is a dialogue – we have a lot of shared ideas aesthetics-wise. We became friends because we more or less liked the same things.

Paris: The London element is quite important to us, this is where we met. We love the mix up and that’s what we have in London. Old and new, every country, everything muddled together. Every time we walk out we see some funny combinations or something new.

Essex: And we don’t take it for granted!

TNMA: Talk me through your Crazy Blankets, how did they come about?

Paris: We’ve worked doing fashion and textile-y stuff for 25 years. So Paris Essex actually came to life as a fashion label. We did some collections of knitwear. Before that we did childrenswear… but then we thought let’s stop trying to tidy it up, let’s just be what we are and maybe that will be more fun.

Essex: So then it became more about knitting and less about fashion. We did accessories, scarves, but that felt a bit limiting – too sensible. Then we started doing more handmade things, things that didn’t look like they’d come out of a factory. Which is what knitwear was at that time, everything looked mass-produced. But then suddenly it was good for things to look handmade again. For the blankets, we use the yarns that we’re really attracted to – which are mostly bright colours, mohair, fluffy, glittery, silly things. We have a bit of fun and try not to worry too much about aiming at a luxury fashion market. Essentially a lot of what of what we do involves a mixture of chunky machine knitting (which Tiphaine does) and then I finish crocheting (by hand). Then we put the two together. We didn’t plan it like that, it just happened, slowly.

TNMA: Are the blankets made in London?

Essex: Yes, we make all of them!

Paris: Yes, it’s literally both of us here, she does bits, I do bits, it’s not planned.

TNMA: How long does it take to make one?

Paris: It takes weeks.. but we might be doing several at the same time. Doing stuff separately is good, because when we get together we get excited. We’ll make some decisions, make some changes and it’s very exciting when it works. The energy comes from that space.

Essex: It’s very important what the other person thinks. But we both need our own space to be creative. Generally on the making days we’re don’t sit together and can each focus on our work. The actual making is separate. The finishing process is collaborative. When we’re nearly done we get together and work out what happens next.

Paris: Otherwise no accidents would happen and you sometimes need to go wrong…

TNMA: That’s what Lucinda Chambers once said to me about styling, that sometimes you have to get it wrong to get it right.

Paris: That’s what we rely on and how we work.

Essex: I think we have a general direction but we don’t have an aim.

TNMA: So it is quite organic…

Essex: Knitting is quite organic. It’s not too rigid. It’s like painting. You can move colours around and blend them. That’s how painters work.

Paris: We’re more interested in the journey and the dialogue between us. It’s lovely when the product is finished, but the journey there is just as fun. That moment when we’re not sure something will work out the way we want. As in life, things don’t always work out the way we want. But that’s not what interests us. Paris Essex is about bringing things together that aren’t meant to be, and making something interesting.

TNMA: Well, it is art, what you’re creating…

Essex: Yes definitely, art, illustration, playing with things…

Paris: it’s lovely to start with a piece of string and from that you’ve got an object, a very unique one. It starts with a pile of wool and then suddenly there’s a piece of fabric there.

Paris Essex photo: Dvora @fashionistable

TNMA: What are your influences? Are there any artists or designers that you like?

Essex: The Belgian designer, Walter Van Bierendonck…. always inspired us with his aesthetic and his ideas. And how throughout his work he’s not lost his confident handwriting.

Paris: We love Margiela, Sonia Rykiel stripes…Our influences are not always things that have been designed. We like things that have been a bit more accidentally put together, or designed for a different purpose. So it is definitely this meets that. That’s really important. We don’t want it to be controlled or contrived. Everything we do is a bit of a mix up.

Essex: Influences are glitzy, disco hip-hop, the 1930’s fashion-wise. We’re influenced by fashion, style and design but in a dressing-up box, fun kind of way. Like trainers with a wedding dress for instance. Always the mix-up. It’s more people in real life that we’re inspired by, people who have a character. Dressing up in a normal place, like the supermarket, or in the street. There’s something about normality to make these things special.

We were recently talking about films that inspire us. David La Chapelles ‘Rise.’ There’s this guy Tommy the clown, who dresses as a clown, and organizes these crazy dances. He brings together an African almost tribal kind of thing. Hip-hop culture. Circus. Entertainment! It’s brilliant. And the film looks amazing.

Paris: At the moment, people are less bothered by boundaries, art, craft, fashion….It’s about enjoying what you put on yourself. And how you play with your wardrobe.

Essex: It’s the pick and mix. We always want lots of choices. We’re the buffet! We like a bit of everything!


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