We met Central Saint Martins’ legendary fashion print tutor Natalie Gibson fresh from her visit to Buckingham Palace, where she was presented with an MBE for services to fashion and textile design. The artist wore a dress created from her own print design for the event. An inspiration to generations of students including Sarah Burton and John Galliano, Natalie is renowned for her style. Natalie founded the fashion print course at Central Saint Martins in 1981 and has nurtured hundreds of students, who now work in every notable fashion house across the world, as well as creative directors from Sarah Burton to Craig Green.
Who or what first inspired you to follow your chosen career?
It was a mistake really! I went to Chelsea Art School and in those days it was a course called intermediate. The teachers were fantastic – they were all famous in their own right. The chic thing then was to do lithography, but I was starting a term late so I chose to study craft. I always knew I was going to be a painter, so I wanted to try something different and the Chelsea textiles course leader suggested I try the course at the Royal College… and then I never got out of textiles!
What are you working on at the moment?
Trying to get everything together to have an exhibition of my work – so I’m really doing everything but that! It will be an exhibition of my print ideas and decorative stuff.
Which piece of art/design/performance/communication/fashion do you wish you had created?
There are lots really. I probably wish I’d drawn all the Orlando books – the drawings are just amazing – but I could write quite a long list.
Where is your favourite London haunt?
I would have said Soho but it’s changed so much. Probably now I would say my friend Roxy’s pub, the Seven Stars in Lincoln’s Inn. She has a rescue cat that wears a Westminster choir boy’s ruff that roams the bar. The V&A is quite a favourite as well. And the Goldbourne Road on a Friday morning!
What is your signature dish?
Borscht – as I’m half Russian – and I always do meringues and fruit salad.
Do you think University of the Arts London has an important role to play in Britain’s cultural life?
I do – despite misgivings about the building! The only bit I know is the fashion department and I think it’s of an incredibly high standard, the level of the students that come out is fantastic.
Could you tell us more about the Grayson Perry project for students on your course?
I bumped into Grayson on the bus and asked him if he’d give the students a brief to create an outfit for him. He agreed, and has been coming in for the last ten years. He’s wonderful – he comes in at the beginning of term and stands there being measured by the students, tells them what he likes and doesn’t like. Then each year he makes a ceramic prize for the first, second and third prize winners, and always buys lots of the students’ final designs – this year he bought 15!
What advice would you give to aspiring creatives?
You have to really believe in what you’re doing and work at it, and find someone who’ll appreciate you if you stay true to what you want to do. And I tell everyone don’t stop drawing, and looking, and being curious.
What’s next for you?
Every year I go to India to teach fashion printing with natural inks.