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Scottish Design Icons: Christopher Kane

Scottish Design Icons is a series of small articles showcasing the big hitters of Scottish design. Ailsa Purdie reflects on her love of designer Christopher Kane and the importance of sibling support in creative pursuits.

As soon as I entered the world, my older brother was my self-appointed best friend: loyal, protective and wise, he's ruthless in his support of my every venture. His encouragement was unwavering, no matter how much (or little) he understood about my work. Having no knowledge of design and a passive disdain for fashion, he still spent hours sitting with me on the floor of the haberdashery store while I decided which buttons conveyed precisely the right message my shirt was trying to communicate.

While neither is creatively-challenged like my dear brother, I can’t help but draw parallels between our shared experience as siblings and that of Christopher and Tammy Kane, the minds behind eponymous design house Christopher Kane.

Like my own brother and I, Christopher and Tammy grew up together in Scotland and relished every moment of it. Often calling on their shared childhood memories for inspiration, the pair share fond recollections of their Scottish upbringing and translate them into beautiful, fantastical clothing designs.

Seeing Christopher Kane’s iconic A/W 2015 dress displayed prominently in V&A Dundee struck a chord with me. Not only is it mesmerizingly beautiful with its intertwined human figures captured eternally in lace, it is also a symbol of hard work, passion and the significance of sibling support.

Dress from Kane’s Autumn/Winter collection 2015 showing entwined naked bodies, based on sketches made during life drawing classes in his studio. (© Courtesy of Christopher Kane and Victoria and Albert Museum, London)

Growing up, Christopher Kane became an exemplar of the modern fashion designer for me. A young Christopher moved to London aged 18 to pursue a career in fashion after witnessing his older sister study at The School of Textiles and Design at Heriot-Watt University. His 2006 graduate collection caught the eye of Donatella Versace.

Perhaps drawn to their close sibling bond herself, in 2007 Versace commented in Vogue "Christopher Kane is my favourite designer. He and Tammy remind me so much of me and Gianni - brother and sister, working together." Shortly after graduating, he established his eponymous label, winning numerous awards and quickly becoming one of the most celebrated names in British fashion. Throughout all of his success and achievements, however, Tammy has always been there. It’s this aspect of his career that inspires me the most whenever I see Kane’s designs.

Although my own brother can’t tell lace from lurex (and I’m finally coming to terms with the fact he may never be the Tammy to my Christopher!) I know he’ll always be my biggest supporter. As he said when he saw my own graduate textiles collection: “I don’t quite understand it, but I’m so proud of you.”

Ailsa Purdie is the Membership Co-ordinator at V&A Dundee.