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BEAUTY & FASHION

Q&A with Kathy Formby, Creative Director at Ghurka

Mable Yiu

By Meena Lee

How did you end up at Ghurka?

I have watched and admired Ghurka over the years and I always thought it would be a great brand to design for. I know it had changed hands a few times, but when I saw that Arnie Cohen was on the board, I contacted him to express my interest, and joined shortly after! 

You were brought to Ghurka to modernize the brand. How would you describe the brand’s current identity? From a creative perspective, where do you envision it going?

The current brand's identity is one of strong American heritage and top quality, with mostly mens and gift products. I envision growing the brand comprehensively by adding handbag categories for women and continuing to update the travel and unisex collections. All products will have the signature codes that meld military influence and utility of product, with a simple yet bold American statement as the prevailing aesthetic.

Where do you see the brand going in terms of its target clients?

Ghurka's current client can always buy the classics... Our original collection is revered and will remain as our foundation. It serves as the inspiration and core to launch the future collections that will target more women than in the past and also millennials (both sexes). It is interesting to note that we have seen a lot of our vintage products on young men in their 20's. This is a testament to the timelessness of Ghurka.

How would you describe the Women’s Spring 2016 Collection? What was the inspiration behind the collection?

The Spring '16 Women's collection was inspired by the Ghurka’s roots in military and travel. The subtle military "shields" and snaps add a sense of utility. Part of the collection uses a softer French bull skin and the other part uses the classic French calf skin that Ghurka has used in the past.

Do you have a favorite item in this collection?

My favorite bag is the Dali backpack. It is a single shoulder sling with military pockets and is a great everyday bag.

You’ve brought a lot of experience into this role, having designed and consulted for many iconic American brands, including Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Abercrombie & Fitch, Donna Karan, and J. Mendel. How does Ghurka’s unique brand identity—catering to the “quiet confidence and adventurous spirit” of its clients—interact with the experience you bring in from these other brands in your designs? 

Every brand has their unique "house codes" or core elements. This is no different... The creative challenge and the part I find most exhilarating about designing for any company is to research and understand the "soul" of the brand. Once you have that knowledge, the creative options become about distilling the brand identity down to its core and building it with new creative energy, while having reverence for its heritage. There must alway be that link. Whether I design for American or European firms, it has been the same discipline.

Is designing for a brand known mostly for its high quality materials different than designing for a fashion house known for its design? If so, in what ways?

The approach is no different. Good design is the work of research and understanding of a brand, whether it's “fashion," industrial, architectural, or environmental. I am trained as a fine artist and I find that the creative process is the same for me regardless of the project. Ghurka has the highest quality materials to work with, so this makes the process much easier to execute!

Where do you get your inspiration from, when designing handbags and accessories?

Inspiration comes from everywhere. I am constantly traveling and I try to absorb everything like art, architecture, craft, and the everyday simple details in a city. I love the simple craft of the American Indians, Amish quilt makers, Indian embroideries, hand tooled hardware, the painting studios and communities in Los Angeles, the golden light in Amagansett, Taliesin by Frank Lloyd Wright, Marrakech, Italian architecture and light.... The list could go on and on.

Are there any particular movements or trends in the fashion industry that you’re excited about?

Right now in fashion I find it exhilarating that each brand is quite unique to its own self- that everyone is inspired by whatever feels right for their own brand. Gucci is ethereal, colorful, energetic, and androgynous. The Row and Calvin [Klein] stay true to the beautiful minimalist approach. There are no rules right now. 

Photos courtesy of Ghurka.