Interview with Gretchen - Anne-Christin Schmitt

Winner of Accessory Design Awards

Award Winning Designer Gretchen - Anne-Christin Schmitt shares insights


Interview with Gretchen - Anne-Christin Schmitt at Saturday 22nd of October 2016:

DL: Could you please tell us a bit about your design background and education?
AS : I started designing when I was 16 years old. At the time I was doing my A-levels (highschool) in the UK, and one of my three main subjects was Design. I designed and developed a ladies fine leather glove for my father’s company, which then sold to a major high-street brand. Ever since then I was in charge for the designing and development of the annual collection. I’m a self-taught designer, and I mainly learned from the technicians and craftsmen who executed my ideas.

DL: What motivates you to design in general, why did you become a designer?
AS : I grew up within a glove manufacturing family business, so I was always surrounded by beautiful natural materials, namely leathers and furs. To bring out the beauty of each material, to create accessories with a craftsmen detail is what I enjoy as a designer.

DL: Did you choose to become a designer, or you were forced to become one?
AS : Well it just kind of happened as a natural process. Being allowed to transform my creative ideas into real products from such an early age on is a unique privilege I am very thankful for. So it was never a conscious choice like “I want to become a designer”, but I took in as much knowledge about the workmanship as I could and that is the base for what I do today.

DL: What do you design, what type of designs do you wish to design more of?
AS : Leather being my second skin, I stick to the design of leather goods. Gloves, bags, belts. Maybe one day also shoes.

DL: What should young designers do to become a design legend like you?
AS : Get experience, go into production, understand how the technical processes behind the product you design really work. Understand what each line you draw on a sketch means in production reality.

DL: What distinguishes between a good designer and a great designer?
AS : Well, that’s a pure question of definition, no?! For me a really great designer is one who infuences other designers and an era.

DL: What makes a good design a really good design, how do you evaluate good design?
AS : When a product doesn’t just fulfil its purpose, but does so in a more functional or strikingly aesthetic way.

DL: What is the value of good design? Why should everyone invest in good design?
AS : Beauty. Long-lasting joy. It can be used not just by one person for some time but perhaps passed down to the next generation, and be enjoyed for years and years. Then it was a really good investment.

DL: What would you design and who would you design for if you had the time?
AS : Shoes for myself. I’m a size 42. I never find nice shoes that fit me and which are comfortable.

DL: What is the dream project you haven’t yet had time to realize?
AS : Well it’s not a dream project but I would love to do a giant Tango Pouch bag for outside our stores as an object and / or for sitting on it. But I don’t really get on with it as I don’t know what material to use for that.

DL: What is your secret recipe of success in design, what is your secret ingredient?
AS : Love. Love and respect for the product and material.

DL: Who are some other design masters and legends you get inspired from?
AS : Nature – the best source of ideas when it comes to shapes, textures, colors.

DL: What are your favorite designs by other designers, why do you like them?
AS : Armani. Beautiful accessories, very classy.

DL: What is your greatest design, which aspects of that design makes you think it is great?
AS : The Tango Pouch is a design I am proud of. It has a special wearability aspect: handle, closure and bag melting all into one. It has this beautiful, unique and aesthetic shape. It has nice detailing in form of profiles which underline the beauty of the leather. And it gives people strong emotions, like, most people react to it and will say “oh, that’s special”. Even if it is not for them to want to own it or wear it, but it gives them joy having seen it.

DL: How could people improve themselves to be better designers, what did you do?
AS : Be passionate about what you do! The base for bad design and unnecessary ugliness is carelessness and indifference and ignorance.

DL: If you hadn’t become a designer, what would you have done?
AS : Move to Ireland, buy a farm with cows and horses and run around in rubber boots all day. Or run a little country hotel. In Irland, of course…

DL: How do you define design, what is design for you?
AS : Design is the aesthetic definition of a product.

DL: Who helped you to reach these heights, who was your biggest supporter?
AS : My father.

DL: What helped you to become a great designer?
AS : My perfectionism.

DL: What were the obstacles you faced before becoming a design master?
AS : None. But it was a steep learning curve. Most important is to get it that, as a designer, you don’t design for yourself. You design for other people, and you depend on other people wanting to buy your design. So you must very well understand who it is that you want to design for, and what it is that they need and desire. That’s where most young designers fail.

DL: How do you think designers should present their work?
AS : Not at all… I don’t like presenting my own work. I don’t enjoy explaining it. I have a lot of passion for what I do, and I am hyper-critical about my products. But once they are final, they are final, and I want other people to come to a conclusion themselves. You like the design of my product? Good. You don’t like it? Fair enough. Try for yourself, decide for yourself! I like my products to speak for themselves.

DL: What’s your next design project, what should we expect from you in future?
AS : Currently I am working on the store design of the next Gretchen monobrand store, which is due to open next Spring. It’s a nice break from handbag design, all on a much bigger scale and dimension.

DL: What’s your ultimate goal as a designer?
AS : Create beautiful products which people can fall in love with 

DL: What people expect from an esteemed designer such as yourself?
AS : I don’t know. You tell me. Be always dressed to the tip? Well, I’m not. For every day, I wear clothes so I don’t run around naked. Fashion fashion is for special occasions. Then I love to take care about my outfit.

DL: How does design help create a better society?
AS : Good design makes life easier, more beautiful, more enjoyable. Like that good design can create good, positive energy and therewith influence society. Think of the Za-atari project in northern Jordan, where the tents and walls of a refugee camp were colorfully painted with the images of the hopes and dreams of the residents. That is the best form of positive influence design can have on a society.

DL: What are you currently working on that you are especially excited about?
AS : On a cooperation with a Berlin-based fur designer. He makes these beautiful fur coats and now we made a bespoke version of the Tango Pouch handbag with some of his furs, which we also showcased during this Septembers Vogue Fashion Night in Berlin… with very enthusiastic feedback. We also did some one-of-a-kind Pouches with beautiful exotic fish leathers, looking like snake but it is salmon and perch. I love the look of these leathers, the rich textures – stunning!

DL: Which design projects gave you the most satisfaction, why?
AS : The first Gretchen collection. Because it was so new to make a bag after years and years of designing gloves. On a glove, I can only play with the details on a very small scale – the upper hand usually. But never with the shape, because it must always fit the hands. Designing a bag is so three-dimensional, and finding a new and unusual shape is what motivates and challenges me until today.

DL: What would you like to see changed in design industry in the coming years?
AS : The better re-use of left-overs from over production and faulty production (in mass production).

DL: Where do you think the design field is headed next?
AS : Recyling of materials, Re-using of existing garments (2nd life), production on demand, individual production at home (print your own shirt)… creating less pollution during production and with consumption, and using up less scarce resources. That is the most important challenge for this industry.

DL: How long does it take you to finalize a design project?
AS : That depends on 100 factors… can be 3 weeks if everything runs perfectly smooth and swift, and everything is already in place. But usually the process with development of the preprototype, the making and revision of the 1st prototype and 2n prototype, material research, the final prototype in final materials, testing period, final revision prior to production… is 3 – 5 months or even more. I usually wear all my designs personally to test them and see if they stand the expectations and needs of everyday use. And when items are in stores and we get feedback from customers about what can be improved, if we agree we adjust a design again to improve it.

DL: When you have a new design project, where do you start?
AS : Well there is always an idea or need. Like: ‘we need a bumbag’. I pretty much hate bumbags. I have no personal connection to them. But each week we have customers in our stores asking for them. So the question is not: do I like bumbags or not. It is: how can I do a beautiful bumbag that matches the Gretchen philosophy. So first comes some design research, in books, magazines, online. Also browsing through our own archive of past models. The bits’n’pieces gathered during that research process are then like a puzzle I try to put together with my team.

DL: What is your life motto as a designer?
AS : Less is more.

DL: Do you think design sets the trends or trends set the designs?
AS : Mhmm. It’s all melting now with mobile communication, the classic design cycle has become way too slow and powerless to set trends. But even the biggest fashion houses have now adapted to that and have their immediate collections you can order right from the catwalk, endorse and use celebs more than ever… Slow fashion becomes faster and fast fashion also tries to slow down. Haute Couture gets inspired by street style blogs and vice versa. Where do you draw the boarder?

DL: What is the role of technology when you design?
AS : None, but having said that, I want to go into 3d printing for hardware development. Till now we do it from sketches and then it goes back and forth with our hardware producer, but I think it would be helpful to have our own 3d-printer and thus be able to develop more perfect prototypes for our hardware components (buckles, closures, etc.).

DL: What kind of design software and equipment do you use in your work?
AS : Pen and paper and imagination. My team uses Illustrator and Indesign. Paper, fabric and leather, glue and our sewing machine.

DL: What is the role of the color, materials and ambient in design?
AS : It is huge, it the one most important role. Material! Take a plain, simple classical design. Make it from beautiful, natural aniline-dyed leather and it will look classy and timeless. Make it from a cheap PU and it will look… well… cheap. Ugly. Same goes for color. Acid yellow on a bag for example. Not an easy color, but it can work, but only on a natural, vivid leather with its shades, structures and depth of color, not on a heavily pigmented, flat-looking plastic-like split which will also be considered “leather” but is just lightyears away from being a beautiful material.

DL: What do you wish people to ask about your design?
AS : How it is made.

DL: When you see a new great design or product what comes into your mind?
AS : Wow, how did they do that?!

DL: Who is your ideal design partner? Do you believe in co-design?
AS : A technician with creativity in his blood. And yes, co-design can work well, the whole design process can become like an inspirational dialogue.

DL: Which people you interacted had the most influence on your design?
AS : Final customers who criticize my products. NOT professional fashion buyers. From my experience most know little about what the final customers really want. (The exception proves the rule.)

DL: Which books you read had the most effect on your design?
AS : Books on design of the 50s and 60s.

DL: How did you develop your skills as a master designer?
AS : Spend a lot of time in production and work closely with the technicians. Stay curious.

DL: Irrelative of time and space, who you would want to meet, talk and discuss with?
AS : Cara Delevingne. Just to see her in real. She is awesome in every aspect.

DL: How do you feel about all the awards and recognition you had, is it hard to be famous?
AS : Famous? I’m not famous. Awards and recognition: that honors me, so I am thankful, yes. But still what means most to me is when I know I gave my best to make a design ‘perfect’ against my own, personal measures. And when I see a person on the street wearing one of my designs. That excites me.

DL: What is your favorite color, place, food, season, thing and brand?
AS : Blue, Berlin, Asian, Autumn, Horse (if that may count as a “thing”), none.

DL: Please tell us a little memoir, a funny thing you had experienced as a designer?
AS : A customer complaining about a Gretchen-bag she had bought: “This bag is way too heavy…!”. So I asked her to please take out her things and empty it. She was carrying around her household in that bag!! When I asked her to try it on again now she was like: “Oh gosh, you’re right, the bag is actually really light weight, I guess I carry too much stuff with it.” What can you say? It’s like the customers asking for a nice small bag, but it should fit A4 format. Haha…

DL: What makes your day great as a designer, how do you motivate yourself?
AS : When a new prototype comes in from production and it looks just the way I had imagined it, or even better… that’s damn enjoyable.

DL: When you were a little child, was it obvious that you would become a great designer?
AS : In retrospective maybe yes… I started cutting and pasting things already in kindergarten. In school I invested all my mathematic-classes into developing my drawing skills… I am really good at horses, you know!

DL: What do you think about future; what do you see will happen in thousand years from now?
AS : We will live on Mars and Karl Lagerfeld will showcase an Alien-collection for Chanel.

DL: Please tell us anything you wish your fans to know about you, your design and anything else?
AS : Do your own thing, set your own standards and trends, be creative and please don’t take fashion serious. Because it isn’t.