If your child has a passion for fashion, learning to make and sew can be nurtured at this unique centre with a new outpost off London’s King’s Road. Maggie Davis meets the founder Caroline Gration
It’s lunchtime on a sunny spring day and Chelsea is showing off its old-school charms in all is blossomy glory. I’m here to meet Caroline Gration, the founder of the The Fashion School, a new studio just off the King’s Road and a stone’s throw from Chelsea Town Hall. The light-filled studio is a space where children from six years-old upwards can imagine, experiment and make something truly unique, guided by real life fashion designers, using recycled fabrics donated by labels like Preen and Liberty.
Gration, who lives and works between London and Brighton, where she founded the first studio seven years ago, radiates positivity. “We use domestic machines that they may have at home. Every child just gets it. They are fearless,” she says. With a well-established base in Brighton, the Chelsea outpost has been attracting the local well-heeled set who want their children to learn a skill. “We’ve got a group of 11 year olds who are coming weekly. They come with big ideas — like ‘I want to make a trench coat’. It’s great. And we have individual workshops which are more prescriptive where they get to create something specific like a onesie or a dress.”
With over 25 years experience in the fashion industry, working for both big brands and designer labels — Gration worked with Harvey Nichols and sold her own brand at cult Soho shop, D-Mob — she’s also spent the last two decades teaching fashion. “I remember writing letters to colleges and universities all over the country, “ she says. “Batley in Yorkshire was the first one that got back to me and asked me if I could come and teach. There were these really tough and really determined Yorkshire girls who were entering all these international awards. I loved it.”
Gration fast became a senior lecturer in fashion, teaching all over the country and combining it with other projects. “I was doing colour forecasting when it was a big thing, calling white ‘polar’ one year and ‘arctic’ the next,” she laughs. “But I always had very strong thoughts about fashion education. I always thought there were lots of people involved in fashion education who were devoid of any concept of the industry itself. They were becoming less and less connected with the students.” Gration wanted to bring some of her hands-on experience directly to her students so they felt involved in it and not afraid to walk into Gucci or the V&A. She keeps that same mindset even with her youngest students, organising regular trips to the V&A, advertising agencies and colleges like Central Saint Martins.
When she walked past a sign in the window of her new Chelsea shop a few months ago, noting Cadogan Estates were looking for someone to do a pop-up she knew she had to apply. After a Dragon’s Den style pitch, she won the spot. “They are really supportive with the whole project which is great,” says Gration. Ola Olayinka, studio coordinator in London, is Gration’s righthand woman, overseeing everything that happens in the Chelsea studio. With a host of booked-up events, the studio is already buzzing. Gration’s enthusiasm is boundless. “We are doing some patterns called ‘out that night’ for teenagers who want to create a garment for a night out. Things you can make in a hour. And it takes them away from buying over the high street. They can just knock it up.”
Gration has sage advice for budding fashionistas: “Fashion has to be what you are and not what you do,” she explains. “The love of research, the love of culture. If it’s part of what you are, that is your life. If it’s not what you want more than anything else in the world don’t do it. Have total self belief and the widest, most open mind you can possibly have so that you are not closed to anything.”