After graduating from CSM’s Fashion Design with Marketing in 2009, Marina Guergova asked herself what was missing in the current fashion market. Having focused on silk in her degree collection, she found that this was lacking in contemporary fashion, and in 2010 she started her own brand, MARINA London. Specialising in beautiful-in-their-simplicity silk tops, shirts, dresses and, as of this season, the perfect-fit jumpsuit, MARINA London is now in its fourth season and is launching its spring/summer 2013 collection and a brand new webshop on marinalondon.com on 4 April. After meeting Marina at her successful one-day popup shop in collaboration with jewellery brand Moxham in Shoreditch House a couple of weeks ago, we had a coffee together and talked about moving to the UK at 9, starting her own brand, and meeting her boyfriend at CSM (it’s possible!!).
First of all I’d like to ask you something about your background; where are you from?
I’m from Bulgaria and came over to England when I was 9. I’ve been studying here ever since.
Why did you move to the UK then?
There were no English schools in Bulgaria and my parents wanted me to learn English. Basically they wanted to send me away from Bulgaria so I could make a future for myself and have a better chance in life, I guess. I went to boarding school when I was 12, and I’ve kind of been alone ever since – my parents have always lived in Bulgaria. But it was the best thing I guess – I was living in London and didn’t know any Bulgarians, so I was forced to speak English.
And when did you first think of fashion as a career choice?
At 17, I think. I was studying art and there was a fashion-side to the course I was doing. My teacher was very complimentary and said I might want to think of doing some more fashion-based projects, and I was like ‘great!’. Then I went to Kingston for my foundation year and after that I applied to CSM and got accepted. Although I actually applied for Womenswear, they thought I was a lot more suitable for Fashion Design with Marketing, so they gave me a place on that course. And it really was true, FDM is very me, I like their way of thinking.
So how was your time there – what did you think of the course and the people around you?
It was scary at first – they give you a project and then leave you. But it really was a great learning curve – you develop your own kind of organisational skills. You might not like it at first, but it’s that ‘for your own good’ kind of thing. And I met some really nice people – I think there are about 5 people I met in CSM who still are good friends of mine. Everyone was so different; I’d come from a fairly standard school, no one expressed themselves that much and then you go to CSM and everyone can just open up and be themselves. It was like a treasure chest with so many cool people.
What did you think of the course specifically?
I liked it a lot because it reflected the way that I thought. When I think about fashion I think very logically, very practically. I like it when things can be worn for real. I love looking at stuff that’s a bit more out-there but I can’t really design it, or maybe I’m not just that into designing it. So that’s why I loved the course, it was practical, logical and about the customer. It could’ve been a bit more hands-on in terms of the marketing side; it was basically the Womenswear course. Although at the end of the day it’s really up to you to choose what you want to focus on. We hardly had any lectures then – in all of my time at CSM I think I had about two or three. But we had good teachers and tutors. And for each project they’d invite someone from outside the school who would come and work with us. That was really cool.
And how did that work with those external tutors?
Basically they’d come in, give you the project, and then you’d go away for a couple of days to figure out what you wanted to do. Then go back and explain and at the very end they did a crit.
Looking back, what do you think is the most valuable thing you learnt from the course?
The freedom to do what you want, to be who you want to be in terms of aesthetic. To do whatever you like. They wouldn’t stop you from doing something really crazy or something that was an essentially more normal, more practical way of looking at clothes. You were free to roam. That was the best thing I think, at the end – them leaving you. And it was scary at first, but actually in the end you realise that them leaving you to do your own thing and you then having to explain what you’ve done is the best thing about Saint Martins. It taught you a lot about who you want to be, your personality… All of that stuff.
Did you do any internships?
I did a year out in the industry in my third year – I interned at McQueen, where I did illustration. They’d give us a theme – I think it was art nouveau at the time. So we’d get all these books on art nouveau and we’d think of an idea and adjust it and turn it into something new. It was really interesting, really good. So I did that for three months, and then I went off to Paris to work for David Dzeto for another three months. It was a very small team, which was very nurturing. I learnt a lot about pattern cutting and how a small brand works in the studio – sewing samples, very hands-on stuff. David was the nicest guy and that was definitely my favourite internship. He’s so kind, very modest, really clever. He’s very Comme des Garçons-inspired and he’s got a very strong following. It’s this genius thing – he’s in Harvey Nics and all the big stores, but still he’s totally under the radar. And then I went to Proenza Schouler in New York, that was my last one.
How was that?
It was really cool, though it was mainly doing errands, picking stuff up, taking pieces everywhere, going to factories. I was a courier, essentially. But it was good to see the sampling process and how you go about making something. It was winter and I was soaked every day…. yeah it was pretty nasty. But Lazaro and Jack are really friendly, they’ve got this little dog running around the studio.. The whole atmosphere was super friendly. Oh and casting for models was really fun as well! I’d call them in and look at the whole process. Katie Grand would come in and do the styling for the collection.
How did they do it – does Katie interpret the collection in her own way?
They’d go and sit around a table and discuss the looks. God knows how many pieces they’d got, but they’d put them all on a rail and then she would adjust pieces on the rail. And there were two girls that she would be adjusting the looks on all the time. It probably took a day or two until they finalised each look. She basically makes it more edgy, more interesting, gives it a twist. I think they design it but they do want a second opinion. And she creates a vibe for the whole collection including hair and makeup – and she discusses what will be coming into fashion…
And then what did you do for your graduate collection when you came back? Was it similar to what you do now?
I think half of it was; it was drapey silks and there were some heavy linens, chiffons and crepes as well. Everything was in white and yellow – they’re my favourite colours – so that was the colour theme of the collection really. And then I also had this other side to it, I was going through this period of loving viscose jersey. So I made these dresses with lots of panels, all very graphic. I’ve always been into the sporty side of luxe fashion – something really sensual with something really graphic. Something a bit architectural; I like hardness with softness.
What do you think is the most valuable lesson CSM taught you?
It teaches you what you want to do. Just forget about grades and go and do something. You know, if you don’t get into the final show – fair enough, maybe your stuff wasn’t right for the show. But that doesn’t mean you’re a bad designer. I just think it depends on what you do with yourself afterwards. Just ask yourself what you really want to do and just make it happen. Just get on with life and do something about it. You can sit there and whine about not getting into the show, but you’ve just got to pick yourself up and move on. You’ve just got to be proactive.
So what did you do after graduation?
I ended up being the art director for a magazine in Bulgaria for four months. The magazine was a bit old but it had a great name. We completely changed the look, made it cleaner, more up-to-date. That was recession time in Bulgaria, budgets were very bad, there were problems with paying… It was just a very tricky moment. My plan always was to come back to England, so I came back and I interned with Amelia Wickstead for two months. And during that time I’d ask myself ‘What do I really want to do?’. So I sat down and started designing and I was like ‘I’m really drawn to silk’. So I just decided to start this company and do silkwear. And yeah, I think it’s the best thing ever. So that’s how I started.
Did it really come to you that easily – just by asking yourself what you really wanted to do?
Well you know, I asked myself ‘What isn’t there in the market right now?’ There’s not really a silk specialist, so I really wanted to do that really well. Some silk shirts, some silk tops, some dresses. Anything off the shoulder; I didn’t want to bother with bottoms. It was very simple, you know. I’m not going to be like ‘This is a really alternative thought, it’s got to be all crazy and out there’. It was just like what’s practical and what do I love doing as well, and that was it. It was a manageable project that I wanted to start. And from there on I started designing. I wanted to do everything really well. It’s about what’s practical, what I love. Very simple things that are worn for real by women.
How did you go about starting your own brand?
I registered my company, bought a website, opened my site and designed a tiny first collection. I also went to Premier Vision to do research, found out where to produce, where to buy the silk. For my first collection I bought my silk from Italy, which obviously is a learning curve, you realise you shouldn’t buy your silk from Italy – it’s actually very expensive… Then after that I found an amazing supplier in China, much better prices and the quality is just as good to be honest. So I’ve been working with them ever since. Starting your own brand really is a huge learning curve – a lot of trial and error… By now I’ve nailed it. With this collection everything’s fallen into place after the first years of trying and doing. You learn so much. And it’s not the easiest thing at all, that’s why people don’t want to do it. But to be honest I’m so happy I’ve done it.
What I find so interesting about your brand is the fact that it’s all silkwear, even though most brands that specialise in one type of fabric are quite old-fashioned and just not very up-to-date. Your brand is quite the opposite – clean, contemporary and aimed at stylish women. What did you do to brand it in that way?
I’ve always been into the sporty look of fashion. I’m a huge fan of Stella McCartney, Phoebe Philo, Alexander Wang… Anything clean and cool. And the fun of Isabel Marant… You know, if you mix it up you find what you like. I’m very much about clean lines and silk is a great fabric to work in if you keep it simple. Actually lots of people have this idea that silk is this really old-school fabric… All satin and gross and you know, it reminds them of smelly silk sheets that they sleep in.. But actually if you just give it a nice simple shape, it’s one of the greatest things. You can wear it totally relaxed during the day or you can go out or you can wear it to work. It looks smart, but it can look casual too – I love that. ‘Cause you can’t really wear a cotton shirt and feel comfortable in it, it’s very restricting. Whereas with a silk shirt it’s kind of slithering around you and it moves with your body. It’s like a pyjama party the whole time; it’s great!
How do you start designing, what are your designs inspired by/based on?
First of all, a lot of designers are inspired by one particular era, for me it’s the 70’s. When I first started designing I was most drawn to that time. So I’d go to the CSM library and pull out books and all the 70’s Vogues and it would be so much about draping and big shapes and I love that. High flares and really bellowing white tops, braids in your hair… I love it! I’m a bit of a hippy as well at times. So I’m kind of inspired by the 70’s, but at the same time I get a lot of inspiration from street style blogs. I’ll ask myself ‘What are great shapes on girls?’. And I look at the way people dress and what’s flattering – that is really important to me. And you know, I also think about the girl I’m designing for. Who is she? She’s really effortless, she just throws her clothes on without thinking about it too much. Really easy-going. I’m not in love with layering, it’s more about wearing three pieces at a time – and that’s it.
So do you wear your own clothes a lot?
Yeah, I wear them all the time. Not if I’m working in the studio and feeling gross of course… I wear them a lot, which I like ‘cause they’re pretty practical.
Any favourite CSM moments?
Meeting my boyfriend, for sure.
You met your boyfriend IN CSM??
Yeah I know… Can you believe it? When I started my bachelor I basically signed a contract with myself thinking ‘I’m going to St Martins, I’m not going to find a boyfriend, it’s just going to be about work.’ I never thought I was going to meet my boyfriend there. But there was this fine art group and a bit of a menswear group that we formed with a friend of mine. And yeah.. that’s where I met my boyfriend. We were very close friends for about 1½ years and then I did my year abroad doing internships. And came back and we started seeing each other. St Martins can create relationships… would you believe that??
In conclusion, have you got any advice for current students?
If I knew they were in Charing Cross I’d give them advice, but now I know they’re in this amazing new building… I’m jealous! I love that building. I would say work hard, but don’t worry too much about results. And don’t get yourself down about things that might go wrong at uni. ‘Cause in St Martins, they quite often do. And you feel like it’s the end of the world, but actually it’s your own world you’re creating. Just make it lots of fun for yourself and you’ll always find a group that all relate to what you want to do. So I guess, stay true to your ideas and enjoy your time there. ‘Cause when you leave you realise it was pretty amazing. And make use of the space… I’m so jealous… it’s so amazing!
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