British designer Catherine Quin began her career as a lawyer at Lincoln’s Inn in London. A moment of serendipity - realizing that the prestigious fashion college Central Saint Martins was a ten minute walk from her law practice, allowed her to enroll in courses at the college and indulge her love of fashion and design. Tired of the high-pressure corporate environment and craving a more creating outlet, a year later she launched her own clothing brand. With a minimal aesthetic of simplicity and timeless elegance, the brand is influenced by the industrial designer Dieter Rams' Ten Principles for Good Design along with other proponents of minimalism (such as the artist Donald Judd and the architect Tadao Ando). Catherine splits her time between LA and London.
Photos by: Lauren Pisano
Girls At Library: Do you remember the name of the first book you fell in love with, that turned you into a life long reader?
Catherine Quin: This wasn’t the first book, but a book that really influenced my future reading was The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. I loved and was constantly surprised by her playful and sumptuous prose. She rhymes and invents words in her narration and captures the charms of spoken language, the diction of children and the English-influenced local language. I love how the narratives of the characters are beautifully woven with the surroundings of the Indian countryside and how she constructs the most intimate relationships—lovers, twins, family—as being shaped by the movement of history.
GAL: Your line is minimal yet traditional, do these concepts within your work reflect back on what you seek out in narrative?
CQ: I think it’s rather too difficult to link my fashion design practice to a specific literary narrative. I like to be surprised in the narratives I do read, rather than seeking out any particular effect.
GAL: I agree, it is always more interesting to be open to new narratives. Within your work would you say, that there are books that have inspired parts of your design practice?
CQ: YSL and Richard Avedon Photography Books
As Little Design As Possible (Dieter Rams)
GAL: To you, what is the power of story? Feel free to describe some ways in which fictional narratives have impacted you and your life.
CQ: One book which really affected me was the epic
Any Human Heart by William Boyd. Based on the journals of Logan Mountstuart, it traces one man’s life through some of the most interesting events in 20th century history. A number of his life experiences had some affinity with my own, such as moving country at a young age and attending English boarding schools. I also found the first person journal style, spanning the protagonists’ entire life and entrapping the collection of selves that form us fascinating.
GAL: If you were to estimate, how often do you read? (Everyday? Six hours a week?)
CQ: Depending on my design and travel schedule, I try to find a few hours a week to read. It’s great downtime.
GAL: What would you say is your current – or “forever” – favorite book?
CQ: I will always be intrigued by the mysterious narrative of The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera.
GAL: Do you have a favorite author?
CQ: J.M Coetzee.
GAL: We have a friend who has a “Sanity Shelf” dedicated to books she returns to again and again, to reread for pleasure, knowledge, and solace. What books would be on your Sanity Shelf?
GAL: Please tell us your current favorite reading spot? Where is it?
CQ: Outside in the sun on the terrace of my apartment. It’s surrounded by trees and has a great view over LA.
GAL: Can you also read anywhere – place is not important?
CQ: More or less – it depends on my state of mind more than the location.
GAL: Do you find it important to physically hold a book you read? Or can you read on a device with no problem and no impact on the experience?
CQ: Yes, I think it’s really important. I like the book to be tangible, with pages to turn, so that you can engage it with your senses, rather than just a lit-up screen.
GAL: How do you choose the books you read?
CQ: I try to balance my reading between classics that I haven’t yet read with current releases. I’m lucky enough to live across the street from the fantastic bookstore, Book Soup, so it’s easy to just stop by to see what’s new on display.
GAL: Are you more into non-fiction to fiction?
CQ: I do like a lush photography book, which is also great for inspiration and image research, but I tend to read more fiction because it can summarize the human condition from the inside in a way non-fiction can’t.
GAL: Within fiction, what genre do you prefer?
CQ: I like fictionalized biographies, and novels which weave a human story with historical events.
GAL: And do you have a favorite fictionalized biographies that you have read?
CQ: Any Human Heart by William Boyd
GAL: If you were to write your memoir, what would you title it?
CQ: “Dream as if you will live forever, live as if you will die today.” (James Dean).