“Once upon a time, someone told me the Secret. And that Secret was Lilliput & Felix” This mysterious mantra is what informs Catriona Ramsay and her budding swimwear brand, Lilliput & Felix. The name coming from a strange and wonderful encounter with a mysterious old man, under the rain in the Cotswolds - sounding more like the beginning of a fairy tale than the beginning of fashion label. Launched in 2014, Lilliput & Felix merges a retro aesthetic with romantic nostalgia for some truly dreamy swimwear.
In conversation with Catriona Ramsay, she talks about what inspires her; from piles of fabric swatches, stunning natural floral patterns, to the unique individuals who wear her pieces. We discover how her jounery to fashion was by happy accident, and finally, how swimwear has become a form of escapism.
Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your first experience with fashion?
As a child, I was always into painting, drawing, and creating things. I spent hours fabricating homemade scents from flowers in the garden, or fashioning ball gowns from every towel and blanket I could gather in the bathroom at the dead of night. I was a real tomboy growing up but loved to customise my clothes and make them more like me. My first internship in London was at Hardy Amies’ couture house on Savile Row, where they had me doing all sorts of odd jobs as a 14/15 year old. My favourite part was helping with the alterations and they let me adapt my first ever corset!
Before launching Lilliput & Felix, you studied social anthropology and archaeology, and then even got a Diploma in Fine Wine & Spirits - how did you get into fashion design?
Yes, I specialised in Inner Asian Anthropology at Cambridge having spent part of my gap year training horses in Mongolia. I’d grown up in different parts of Asia, so I was always interested in travelling and exploring other cultures. My first job was as a consultant for a Country Brand Strategy firm and after that my love for food and wine took me into the wine trade and restaurant business. Wearing swimwear was always a form of escapism for me; It represented heady days of summer, giving me that warm fuzzy feeling of nostalgia, and also the dizzy excitement of getting away and being free in the elements somewhere. My suitcase used to consist of 30 to 40 bikinis and swimsuits and a few light dresses. Swimwear makes summer dressing a bit more versatile and liberating. The rules change somehow and people are more carefree. It was that essence I wanted to capture. Fashion wasn’t something that I planned, but it crept up on me gradually whilst I was running a pop-up restaurant in Soho with a friend. I began making some of my designs and sourcing interesting fabrics on the side. It didn’t feel any different to any of my other passing creative outlets, such as taxidermy, pottery or life-drawing, but it sort of snow-balled. And here I am!
“Once upon a time, someone told me the Secret. And that Secret was Lilliput & Felix” is the first statement that greets you upon entering the website. What is the story behind your brand name?
This is a bit weird! I was in a cosy pub hiding from the rain in the Cotswolds; and I met someone who came to sit with us. He regaled us with long tales of life, adventure, and mystery. He was entertaining and interesting, but showed no signs of ever being on his way. Eventually he boasted, “Well, I do have a Guinness Book World Record…” “Oh right, Colin.” “Yes, for the highest number of standing forward flips in a minute. I’ll show you.” And this 60-something man teetered outside and started doing forward flips one after the other. When he’d finally finished he came in and said, “Do you want to know the Secret?” And he leaned in and whispered, “Lilliput & Felix.” He refused to elaborate and left. I took it as a sign… the Secret.
How would you describe Lilliput & Felix? What do you think differentiates you from other swimwear brands?
Lilliput & Felix is about celebrating individuality and personality. Each piece is designed to allow for self-expression and encourage confidence. I want women to look forward to donning their L&F costume and ‘dressing up’ for the beach, the sea, the sun, the boats, and the summer! Each piece is either designed for a particular shape or figure, or made to be ‘multi-option’; so you can customise the fit or the look of the garment, in order to make it truly yours. The SS17 collection was all reversible - so you can wear the solid colour side or the printed side. The High Summer 17 textured gingham collection is all multi-tie with removable and adjustable straps and ties. I like to wear the bikinis and swimsuits as ready-to-wear with high-waisted skirts and trousers both in the city and by the sea - to make that ‘summer feeling’ transcend the everyday. So all the beachwear can be worn as swimwear and vice-versa. There are so many fabulous swimwear brands out there run by inspiring men and women. Lilliput & Felix is about adopting an attitude to life, living it your way, exploring it to the fullest, with all the other wonderful people in it.
Talk us through your creative process. Where do you usually get the inspiration for your designs?
I start with a lot of painting. Sitting on the floor surrounded by paints, paper, pencils, brushes, flowers (always flowers- a lot of my prints and shapes start from nature). I collect hordes of fabric swatches from current suppliers, market stalls, new suppliers and then feel overwhelmed by them. I sketch shapes and fits, adapting existing designs and imagining totally new ones and then start toiling (like the bath towels when I was little) with swathes of fabric on myself in front of the mirror. When I’ve finally condensed all these options into something vaguely resembling a (if overly large) collection, I discuss it with Bea, my amazing pattern-cutter, who takes the designs to the next level and makes sure all the shapes fit the Lilliput & Felix block and flatter the female body as best as possible. After more fittings and sampling in various colours, pattern tweaks and excruciating reductions are made, finally, a design is signed off. I’m usually quite tidy and organised but when it comes to creating and designing (even cake-making) everything goes everywhere and it is hard to contain it. I like to go with the flow, but soon it becomes all-consuming and I find making the final edit decisions hard.
What inspired you to make the decision to have everything designed and manufactured in Britain?
Originally, it was so I could make sure that I could oversee everything and maintain control over the entire production line. I love making everything in Britain; the team are wonderful and their attention to detail is excellent. However, having grown up and lived all over the world, it is important to me to keep moving production towards a process that creates as much good as possible where it is needed, whilst maintaining the quality the brand has become known for. Bespoke fabrics are woven by traditional French mills or made using recycled fishing net fibres. The production line is constantly being re-evaluated to make sure it is something I can be proud of. The design and development process will always be in-house but I would like to move towards an entirely sustainable supply chain - perhaps also in-house! Currently, part of the beachwear is manufactured in Cambodia by Holi Studios, where local women are offered an in-house training programme and a fair living wage so that they are both financially and figuratively empowered in the community. It helps women invest in skill development as part of long-term employment, hopefully helping change lives for the better.
Do you think that travel is an intrinsic part of Lilliput & Felix?
Absolutely. Lilliput & Felix costumes are for elevating the day-to-day but also for capturing the joy of travel. Designs have a retro element to them and I want the brand to bring back some of that luxury of travel from a bygone era: tailored jumpsuits for jet-travel and glamorous high-waisted bikinis for sun-bathing, rather than just baring all. Layers of fabric and long ties aren’t necessarily practical, but they are wonderful and fashion should be about expressing oneself and dressing for you, and the same should be said for holiday-wear. I don’t want anyone to fear the bikini because it can be whatever you want it to be.
What are you working on now? What can we expect from Lilliput & Felix in 2017?
Getting everything ready for Resort and Spring/Summer 2018! The collections are showing in London, Paris and Miami this year and I’ve just finished preparing for that. Expect 1950s and 1970s inspired shapes with unusual textured fabrics, more ready-to-wear that can be worn as swimwear and swimwear that can be worn as ready-to-wear, as well as some big, bright prints. Also, a lot more travel, for one reason or another!
Words by Hannah Tan
Following the mystique trails of the dazzling swimwear brand, we spotted Erin wearing magical Liliput & Felix swimsuits in the tropics of Brazil’s Copacabana.