Anna Williamson and Ella Ringner, Founders, Yolke
Interview by Laura Piety
I’ve always been a fan of pajamas. Slipping into them is often the first thing I do when I get home from a day at work. I think there’s something a little decadent about throwing on classic loungewear - outside of the yoga pant variety - and treating it as a perfectly acceptable version of evening wear. However, I’ve never been able to quite decide what level of déshabillé is acceptable in social situations. Scantily-clad underwear as outerwear never really sparked my interest, plus, I have to deal with the fact that I'm cold all of the time, irrespective of climate, so from a wholly practical standpoint, that was never going to work. But pajama styles - to qualify, silk pajamas styles - is an an altogether different matter, especially when they’re reminiscent of classic 1970s Yves Saint Laurent silhouettes.
The term ‘pajama’ is derived from the Persian pāyjāmeh meaning 'leg-garment’, and was popularized by returning British colonials in the 1800s. They’ve since become a mainstay in Western wardrobes, with designers from Chanel and Halston, to American Sportswear designer Claire McCardell, releasing their own variants through the years. There’s a certain languid polish about this type of loungewear and I’ve been hopeful for their transition to a daywear of sorts for a while now.
I first discovered Yolke, the luxury English loungewear brand, while wondering through the Designer Showrooms at Somerset House earlier this year at London Fashion Week. An interview with the designers Anna Williamson and Ella Ringner, who met at Temperley some years ago, was inevitable.
You both originally worked at Temperley. What did you learn there, and what instigated the transition to Yolke?
A: I was only there for a few months but it was a pretty wonderful place for my first job. The main thing I picked up was the importance of the team - there is such a great family atmosphere that surrounds the company that you want to be part of it and that inherently makes you care more about your work. It set a great example of how we'd like to run Yolke as the team grows. Following that I spent a few years in fashion PR then doing interior design so there were a couple more transitions along the way before Yolke.
E: I was there for almost four years so it had a great impact on how I approached fabrics and the different stages of creating a collection. So much skill and patience went in to making something so covetable that inevitably it rubbed off on me. I went on to study textiles at Saint Martins whilst working as a freelance print designer. I went into Yolke with a strong desire to create a brand with an emphasis on quality, beautiful colours and exquisite fabrics.
Can you talk about the inspiration behind the brand?
Yolke was born out of a shared love of textiles, lifestyle brands and their products really. Ella was designing beautiful fabrics at Central St. Martins whilst I was designing clients interiors surrounded by fabrics myself so the early discussions always centred around materials. We wanted to create a lifestyle brand that was accessible in price point and fresh and different in terms of pattern and colour to what was already in the marketplace.
The brand has certainly moved a lot since it's launch though and we've very much followed where our customers have directed us more into the sleep/loungewear realm of womenswear. Which suits us perfectly as the ethos of the brand has always been about clean lines and comfort - and you can't get much more comfortable then being in pyjamas all day.
What have you learnt from starting your own business?
A: An un-listable amount! From the simple neccessary bones required to launch a company to working out how to keep up with the endless pace of the fashion industry. The key lesson might be is that you are only as good as your suppliers and factories. It is all very well having a great concept, website, design etc. but there relationships that we've build with the teams who produce and make out products are absolutely integral, to the success of the business.
It seems obvious but I think anyone in this industry would say it was the biggest constant battle and these relationships are closely guarded and protected once made.
Leisure and loungewear is increasingly bleeding into mainstream daywear. Why do you think this is and how do you see this increasing?
A: The trend for 'pyjama dressing' has been around for a few seasons now and I think the appeal is the simplicity and comfort element. We are not being told that to be sexy you have to be in a bandage dress any longer, thankfully, and I think women are being more and individual with their choices.
And if that's wearing a pair of silk pyjamas to dinner, why not!
How would you best style a boudoir/ night piece as daywear?
A: I wore our pin stripe silk pyjamas to a friends engagement party the other night with a black tuxedo blazer and heels and loved it. It was like wearing a seriously laid back suit and the best part was I slipped straight into bed in them when I got home.
E: I wear our silk pyjama shirts everyday with a pair of jeans. They are seriously comfortable and look incredibly chic under a nice cashmere jumper or a blazer depending on how smart I need to be.
Where did you get your inspiration for the new Spring Summer collection?
E: Summers all about zesty fruits, zingy colours and our clothes need to reflect that summer feeling you get once the weather heats up! Hazy summer days lying under the trees & a palette of gorgeous pastels are what inspired this collections' prints and shades.
We love that you support UK based manufacturers. Can you about this and your commitment to taking responsibility for a product’s origin? Why is this important?
We are not in the business of fast fashion and it is incredibly important to us to know the hands behind our production. For us it's as simple as being able to vouch for the product and its origin to our customer and being able to say that everything was made responsibly and ethically.
All our homewares fabrics are woven in one of the oldest mills in the UK which we're very proud to be able to support. Our clothing is now manufactured in Europe due to price competition but as we grow we hope to be able to move elements back.
How do your apparel and home pieces interact?
We want our customer to be able to have the whole picture - to lie back in her silk striped pyjamas, on her silk striped cushions, covered in a matching herringbone throw. So in this way our homewares aim to compliment the clothing each season either with matching prints or similar colour palette. There needs to be a flow between the two otherwise we would have two brands on our hands.
Who is the ultimate Yolke girl?
A:We don't have a muse but more a group of girls in mind when designing. Women who are independent, care free and spirited.
To put a face I always say Caroline de Maigret because of that ultimate French laissez faire attitude she carries. She'd know how to rock a pair of pyjamas to a party no problem.
E: Our friends are great wearers of Yolke & who I often think of when designing new styles and prints. It would be wonderful to have a party with all our girlfriends wearing a pair of Yolke pyjamas!
Lastly, what advice would you give to a new designer establishing themselves on the London Fashion scene?
We still feel like we're establishing ourselves but I guess I would say just make sure you have total confidence and conviction in your concept. If someone else does it already, why will a buyer pick you instead? That and just go for it, work as hard as you can and it will pay off.
For more information visit http://www.yolke.co.uk
Images courtesy of Yolke