“We more or less all operate on a micro basis” - Beverly Smart
The slow pace of life in the medieval French village of Lagrasse is a perfect setting for slow fashion. Meet Beverly Smart – a multi-talented designer with a minimalist fashion aesthetic and a lifetime of experience sourcing ethical products from artisans throughout Africa and beyond. Here’s our interview with Beverly.
Escama: In photos, your shop has an eclectic mix of sustainable fashion clothing, accessories and objects that are up-cycled and ethically sourced. If someone were to visit your shop what might they find?
Beverly Smart: My concept shop consists of 3 worlds: my fashion room, where I show my own clothing designs and knitwear, using natural fabrics and vintage trousseau linens; my jewelry room where I showcase my ethical jewelry collections, including of course, Escama’s fabulous range, and my housewares room, where I have an ever changing range of hand woven baskets from South Africa, Ghana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Niger and Burkina Faso, as well as a beautiful range of up-cycled horn cutlery and tableware from Madagascar.
Escama: Do you have a connection to Africa and a passion for international travel?
Beverly Smart: Years ago, I managed a company that imported African art and craft into Europe, and that’s where I discovered the creativity and talent that Africa holds. When I got the chance to go to South Africa and reconnect with one of the company’s founders, my strong bond to that country was set in stone and the jewelry and housewares that I now import into my own store is a huge part of my business, and my connection to that continent is an essential part of my life. I’m not a passionate traveler as such, but I love to visit anywhere that has interesting craft culture. I have also visited India to buy artisanal silk fabrics for my own clothing designs.
Escama: Are the clothes in your shop all your creations?
Beverly Smart: They are! My designs are always based on my own personal, minimalist style, using quality fabrics and lots of bias cut, which allows for the fabrics’ innate qualities to shine and drape beautifully. I create a summer and winter collection each year, with designs that evolve with every new season. I have gained a loyal following and many of my clients have become friends, something I value, as I also cherish the quality of my relationship with my own suppliers. We more or less all operate on a micro basis, and it seems to me that mutual trust and respect makes life so much more enjoyable.
Escama: Do you have any ‘guiding principle’ of what you want to achieve with your fashion design?
Beverly Smart: Elegance AND comfort! Long gone are the days of our youth when we struggled and strained into fitted clothes that we never felt relaxed in. My clothes are fluid and draped, very clean cut, almost austere, and never fitted. New clients find the shapes unusual, but generally, they become fast converts. I want the client to wear the clothes and not the other way around, which is so often the case, particularly when we are younger and have less confidence in our personal style. My clients tell me how many compliments they receive when they are wearing my designs. No designer could ask for more.
Escama: I’ve seen many of your customers on your Instagram account. You have a great clientele. Do they have style sensibilities that set them apart from other people on the street?
Beverly Smart: They appreciate handcrafted goods, originality, and quality. My clothing designs are virtually all one offs, and you are unlikely ever to find yourself in a room with someone else in the same dress or accessories. That’s a big deal for those of us with modest budgets, and when my clients are looking for an unusual gift or even something for themselves, they know they’ll find it in my store.
Escama: Last question -- you are based in southern France in the medieval village Lagrasse. It looks incredible, like a hidden gem. If we are coming to Lagrasse what can we find there?
Beverly Smart: Ah, lovely Lagrasse! I am crazy about this village that I came to 33 years ago. It is officially one of France’s “Most Beautiful Villages” (there are only 150 out of 35000) and I still pinch myself every day when I look around me as I walk from my home to my shop (all of 5 minutes). Dominating all this is the Lagrasse Abbey, founded in 799 by Charlemagne, which is home to a large group of monks and also soon to be the Cultural Centre for the department* of Aude. We have several festivals throughout the year, two classical, one world music, a comic book convention, and a literary and philosophical festival, among others.
As well as a large group of food (well, it IS France!) orientated businesses, such as artisanal vinegar, chocolates, local specialty alcohols, honey, and a great selection of restaurants and wineries, Lagrasse has a national award for Craft, and we have potters, soap makers, leather workers, jewelers, textiles artists, clothing designers and stained glass artists. People will be astonished at the amount of craft and art in such a tiny village.
And above all, you will find a slow pace of life where your day will revolve around a coffee with the locals in the morning, a swim in the river, choosing which restaurant to eat in, saying hello to passersby, whether you know them or not, and meeting up with your friends at the Saturday morning farmers and craft market.
*Note: a French department is fairly similar to a US county.