‘Liaison’, by Kat Swank ~ Hand Crafted Fascinators, Headpieces & Other Textile Art Accessories

 If you're a regular reader of Love My Dress – then you'll know already that we love to write about beautiful, glamorous things, especially if they have something of the 'vintage' about them, and even more so, if they represent what we would describe as 'exquisitely different'.  You'll also know, that we are pretty big fans of Author and Illustrator Gisèle Scanlon and her 'Goddess' books.  And if you have a copy of Gisèle's new book, The Goddess Experience, you  might already be aware of one Katherine Roach-Wright (see page 90), aka, Kat Swank, creator of handmade fascinators, headpieces and other textile art accessories, which Katherine sells via her label 'Liaison' on the Etsy and Vintage Glitterati websites.

When I first visited Katherine's Etsy pages, I was truly blown away.  What greeted me was a gallery of some of the most fantastic finery I've ever seen; elaborate feathered and beaded headpieces, resplendent in their attention to detail ~ beautifully hand-crafted head bands and cuffs and pretty hair clips, barrettes and combs.  It was like stepping in to a fantasy boutique ~ a place full of dreamy pieces that instantly captured my imagination and left me lusting after a creation of my very own…

All Imagery provided by kind courtesy of Katherine Roach-Wright {Kat Swank}
Below, Katherine Roach-Wright modelling her own creation
Photography Copyright (c) 2010, Jennifer Manuele

Katherine Roach-Wright modelling her own creation...

First things first, I have to say, Kat is one of the most wonderful, down-to-earth, sweet and funny people I've had the good fortune to connect with since establishing Love My Dress (we had a very funny conversation about our style of 'work attire', but that's another story….).  As we pinged emails back and forth and Twittered away, it felt like I was catching up with an old friend ~ Kat was only too keen to tell me about her Daughter (we're both Mummy's to little girls) and talk to me about her true love for designing and creating the most gorgeous works of art…

How did you start out?…"I've always been attracted to old things. From homes, furniture, clothing ~ anything that has a soul and a story, I'm drawn to it. I've always loved taking something old and shining it up a bit to recycle or reuse it.  Funnily enough, the headpieces started from simple headbands that I made for my Daughter (see below left) who was pretty much bald for the first two years of her life! I made her headbands with feathers and vintage remnants and women would stop and ask me where I'd bought them, because they wanted one for their child or for themselves.  That was when I knew I was onto something! I literally couldn't go anywhere with my Daughter wearing one of my headbands without getting stopped 3 or 4 times."

  Left:  Katherine Roach-Wright & Daughter Ava, Right: Kat Swank headpiece design
 Photography (Left Image) Copyright (c) 2010, Jennifer Manuele
Photography (Right Image) Copyright (c) 2010, Vorpal Images, Styling Alicia Elfving

Katherine Roach-Wright modelling her own creation (with Daughter Ava)... Design for 'Liaison', by Katherine Roach-Wright (www.katswank.com)...

Qualified or Self Taught?..."I'm entirely self-taught. I have a Liberal Arts Degree, but nothing in textile or design. My Grandmother taught me to sew when I was a child and I used to cut up her old clothes to make doll clothes. We used to quilt together and things like that, so hand sewing is something I'm very comfortable with- it's almost meditative!  I really think of myself as an Artist, and I've been creating art for as long as I can remember! But my current line, LIAISON by Kat Swank has been in production for about a year and a half now. Before that, I made jewellery and I love to draw and paint. I particularly love figure drawing and portraits.  All my pieces are original and hand crafted with love by me. I don't have a team working for me, I do it all myself, so custom pieces may take up to two weeks or more to produce, depending on my current workload & the depth of the project, thus, it is very important that bespoke orders are placed well in advance, as all of my customers are on a first come first served basis."

Left: Custom OOAK Mucha inspired headpiece (colour optional) $1600 USD
Right: Luxe Alphonse Mucha inspired head-band (colour optional) $1800 USD
Photography Copyright (c) 2010, Vorpal Images, Styling Alicia Elfving

Design for 'Liaison', by Katherine Roach-Wright (www.katswank.com)... Design for 'Liaison', by Katherine Roach-Wright (www.katswank.com)...

Where do you seek your inspiration …"Wow, that's a tough one! It really is a very individual thing. Sometimes inspiration comes from the person I'm designing for, and sometimes it comes from the vintage scraps themselves. Often, I'll make up stories in my head about the textiles I'm working with ~ I especially love the mystique of the late 1800 mourning capes, black jet beaded pieces and 1920s flapper era remnants ~ I guess you could say I'm a romantic! These remnants that I work with for my higher end pieces are all very special to me and they really have a life all their own. I love taking them out of the shadows and giving them new life."

Left: Photograph Copyright (c) 2010, Jennifer Manuele
Right: Photograph Copyright (c) 2010, Katherine Roach-Wright {Kat Swank}

Design for 'Liaison', by Katherine Roach-Wright (www.katswank.com)... Design for 'Liaison', by Katherine Roach-Wright (www.katswank.com)... 

Bespoke?…"I do bespoke, yes, I LOVE it actually. I usually work directly with my clients primarily over the internet through email. They tell me what they're looking for, and I ask them to send me swatches of fabric if we're making the photo to match a gown, and photos of the gown and of them if possible. I create a mock-up of the piece based on their description and e-mail photos for their approval or to make changes. I include two mock-ups in the original cost of the piece and that's usually enough for me to get the piece right for the client.

Recently I created a piece for Courtney Love that she is planning on wearing for a Vogue UK Bridal editorial. She told me that she OF COURSE isn't your average blushing bride, and she told me the colours she wanted, and we went from there. That piece was changed four times before I finally got it right, and Courtney actually apologised to me for being so critical, but I told her "Don't be ridiculous!" I mean, this is COURTNEY LOVE, and VOGUE UK! It must be PERFECT, and Courtney is SO knowledgeable ~ I appreciated every bit of constructive criticism she gave me. And the work is the finest I've created yet. Courtney pushed me and the result is absolutely stunning. I can't wait to see her wear it!" 

Courtney is a regular customer of Katherine's and is seen below (left) wearing another of Kat's designs…

Left: Image Copyright (c) 2010 and Property of Courtney Love
Right: Photography Copyright (c) 2010, Vorpal Images, Styling Alicia Elfving

Courtney Love wearing a 'Liaison' head piece, by Katherine Roach-Wright (www.katswank.com)... Design for 'Liaison', by Katherine Roach-Wright (www.katswank.com)...

Your favourite materials to work with?…"I adore the very pricey handmade antique materials that someone like Courtney Love demands I use in all of her pieces. There's something about a very old hand beaded dress applique from the 1920s ~ Who made it? How long did it take them to make it? Who owned the dress it used to be on? Where did they wear that dress? All of these questions really intrigue me. And the quality is unsurpassed. I mean, antique trims that have real gold or sterling silver thread embroidered into them.  I just love the quality, the look, the feel and the history behind antique re-purposed materials. I also use a lot of old/new stock (antique or vintage stock that was never used)."

Photography Copyright (c) 2010, Jennifer Manuele

 Design for 'Liaison', by Katherine Roach-Wright (www.katswank.com)... Design for 'Liaison', by Katherine Roach-Wright (www.katswank.com)...

How does a Headpiece relate to the rest of an outfit?…"For me, the hat IS the attitude, well, all the accessories are the attitude! You can definitely dress any outfit up or down and change the entire mood by your hat and shoes. I ADORE the individuality one can express with the right head piece."

Tell me about the illustration of Courtney Love?…"The illustration that Gisele sketched (and by the way, is Gisele FABULOUS or what? Fabulous doesn't even begin to describe her, but anyway…) the piece in the sketch was another very organic piece of work for me. Courtney told me 'pale pink and ivory'. And that was it! She wanted an Alphonse Mucha style headpiece, ultra dramatic with lots of feathers, and she gave me the colours. I made the piece for her and didn't even send her photos of mock-ups or anything, I just did it and sent it to her. She wore that one for a photo shoot recently for SPIN magazine."

Left: Illustration Copyright (c) 2010, Gisèle Scanlon/Harper Collins
Right: Photograph Copyright (c) 2010, Katherine Roach-Wright {Kat Swank}


Who/What is your muse?…"Courtney has definitely been my muse for the duration of Liaison. Courtney discovered me on Etsy and the rest is history! Besides her character which is in itself inspiring, Courtney believed in me enough to pay me what I needed to be paid in order to do what I really wanted to do, and that is create a one-of-a-kind piece of art out of the best of the best antique materials, and to take my time doing it until it is perfect."

Price Guide?…"My prices range from $35 USD (£22, €25). for a birdcage veil all the way up to $5,000 USD (£3195, €3625). for a Bespoke piece like the Vogue piece I just made for Courtney Love.  The higher end pieces are really a gift for me to create, they are pieces of wearable art. They're so beloved to me that it is very hard to let go and send them to the client when I'm finished! I actually CRIED as I packed up the Vogue headpiece, I hope that it makes the cut and gets to be adored by many because the piece really deserves that (I know, I'm talking about it like it is a separate entity and has a life of it's own- is that crazy? That's really how I feel about it!)."

Photography Copyright (c) 2010, Katherine Roach-Wright {Kat Swank}

Design for 'Liaison', by Katherine Roach-Wright (www.katswank.com)... Design for 'Liaison', by Katherine Roach-Wright (www.katswank.com)...

Favourite Fashion Designer?…"I am an admirer of MANY fashion designers, but mostly I'm interested in the ART of the fashion world; the artists and designers behind the scene who take the clothes off of the rack and give them LIFE and a story, I'm referring to all of the stylists, makeup artists, and photographers. Have you seen the documentary 'The September' Issue about the publishing of Vogue's iconic September Issue {yes I have, I loved it!} … I highly recommend it if you haven't. The struggle that Grace Coddington went through in that documentary, all of those lovely photos that didn't make the cut and the pain she experienced as a result – I really empathised with her. There are so many talented people out there, and so many "little people" behind the scenes who make it all happen. And the stories that are told around the fabulous clothing ~ it's a crime that so much of it is never seen and appreciated. And so much work and real passion goes into creating the fantasy! I wish it could ALL be seen, loved and appreciated."

Photography Copyright (c) 2010, Katherine Roach-Wright {Kat Swank}

Design for 'Liaison', by Katherine Roach-Wright (www.katswank.com)... Design for 'Liaison', by Katherine Roach-Wright (www.katswank.com)...

Finally, do you secretly have a favourite piece?... "Honestly? I fall in love with each piece as I'm creating on it. I have a little romance with each piece, and I mourn it when it's gone.  So, my latest favourite is the Vogue piece for Courtney Love (fingers Crossed it makes the magazine!).  Besides that, I have a real fondness for the Black Sparrow Alphonse Mucha inspired piece I created for Courtney Love."

Wow! What an incredible lady and what a fabulous interviewee!  My sincerest thanks to Kat for taking the time out of her busy schedule to respond to my questions – I hope you've enjoyed reading.  You can view more of Kat's incredible work at  Etsy and Vintage Glitterati, or email Kat with any queries at all ~ she'd love to hear from you.

And here's a thought to see you out "Renounce the Ordinary! Be Your Extraordinary SELF" (Katherine Roach-Wright).


Annabel View all Annabel's articles

Founder of Love My Dress. Passionate Podcaster and Editor. Annabel lives in rural North Yorkshire with her husband and business partner Philip, their two daughters and menagerie of furry hounds. She loves photography, meditation, walking, being outdoors and star gazing. She is fierce when it comes to championing talent within the wedding industry and when she's not working on Love My Dress, she supports her husband Philip in the running of the family's sustainable flower farm and floral design business, Moonwind Flowers. In 2013, she became a published author.