The House that Charla Built
Charla Hobson and her House of Panache brand have been ushering in an exciting new era of Anguillian fashion. Her designs evoke style and elegance and have graced runways locally, and further afield. The mother of two splits her time between teaching her first love, Visual Arts, her young family, but still finds time to design fab clothing.
The Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) graduate talks to us about her plans for her fashion line, her personal style and the importance of her family.
First thing you designed?
When I was younger, I remade my clothes into what I wanted them to look like. I don’t really like to sew (haha), but I love shopping. If I go somewhere, and have a look in mind and no clothes to match, I make it. My mom and I were at odds sometimes because I made my school skirts shorter. My parents signed me up a sewing class in Anguilla. At the time, I opposed and thought sewing was for old ladies.
How old were you?
I was 12. I ended up liking it and was the top student. I think that’s what started it.
What inspires your collections?
I love fabrics. Sometimes I start from there, and then develop a theme and run with. It can be different things: an experience, lines I see somewhere, or world trends. For the current Spring collection, I did a lot of research and finally thought about my close friends, hence the name, “Birds of a feather.” We have some similarities, but each also has a distinct personality.
Describe your process.
It’s changed over the years. Before, it was very random. Now, with formal training, it’s finding inspiration. I might jot down some words, and look at fabrics. I then begin thinking about silhouettes and begin sketching and whichever silhouette best reflects my theme, I produce.
What’s your personal style?
Minimalist, but I try to have that element of surprise. I think it’s important to come out of character. It keeps things fresh. I try to maintain a clean, sophisticated, chic look. Sometimes I decide to go a bit more junior and sporty.
Ever just throw something on?
I’m a wife and mom, so that happens sometimes! I’m not good at planning outfits; I just pick out something whenever I’m ready to go. Once, I tried ironing a week’s worth of outfits and ended up wearing other things.
How much of your wardrobe is your design?
Maybe 40%. There might be looks I can’t find elsewhere, so I create them.
Does your style bleed into your work?
Heavily! This might not always be good when designing for a market. I’ve evolved, and my brand has evolved from being trendy to being more mature and functional.
Does Anguilla inspire you?
Yes, but it would be very limiting to always be that way. My influence is more from the wider Caribbean – lighter fabrics, with a hint of colour and a sense of freedom.
International designers you like?
Yves Saint Laurent, Michael Kors and Tracy Reese – because I’m into a clean-cut, ready-to-wear look. I also like Rachel Roy, Mimi Plange & Korto Momolu, who was on Project Runway. I really like Meiling Esau from Trinidad. She was one of the first Caribbean designers I followed. I first saw her work at Caribbean Fashion Week in Jamaica some years ago before I went to university, and it was interesting to see a Caribbean designer that didn’t have a lot of colours or busy designs.
At SCAD, I realized that design is a process, not just the final product. Being able to look at things outside of design and integrate that is important.
Thoughts on the budding local fashion scene?
When I started, there was only one other local fashion designer. I think some people had the desire, but thought it wasn’t possible in the Anguillan context. After my first show, I would get approached by people saying they wanted to be designers. Now we have people like Janay (Feeloje) and Alexis (TheoChris) who are fairly accomplished and I see more people getting involved.
Positioning my brand in stores. There are many directions I want to take. It’s hard to figure out which one to focus on. Since 2005, I’ve done shows and that allowed me to put myself out there. I think now is a crucial moment for my brand. Long term, though, I want to have a brick and mortar boutique.
Where would it be?
Preferably in the West End, but I have access to a location elsewhere. The physical building has to represent my brand’s style and I have a vision of what that is.
Why only women & children?
I design for men sometimes. Your life often influences your work, and before I had kids I never cared about doing kids’ stuff, but I’m heavily into that now. My daughter is only 1 year old, but if she had to go somewhere special, I’d make something for her. She’s my little muse.
I love being an artist, but in many ways it’s second to my children, family and other areas of my life. Sometimes I think it may not be good for my design work, since I focus most of my energy on that.
Maybe that’s why many artists are loners?
For me, family is important. I get a lot of support from my husband, parents and friends. When you get older, regardless of what you’ve achieved professionally, you still wonder what else you’ve done in life. I was pregnant when I started SCAD. I became a bit of an outcast – I think I was pitied. I want to be happy as a designer – to have my brand, my store; and people wearing my clothes, but it has to include my children and family. I think I’m getting that balance now.