I first came across Nocturne when I was browsing Instagram one day as I was on the hunt to discover new designers and stand out companies to feature. Falling into the ‘Instagram hole’ I came across a stunning statement necklace on one account, tapping the ‘tagged photo’ I saw Nocturne’s name pop up.
The piece of jewelry I found myself admiring was unlike anything I’d seen before so I quickly jumped on Nocturne’s account, before hitting the Internet to begin researching the company and as I did I fell in love even more.
I found out that Nocturne had been founded by Claudine Bertinotti-Lenoble, a French woman who had been raised in a French medieval town where the main industry was the manufacturing of clothes. Having been raised around the manufacturing industry, Bertinotti-Lenoble naturally moved into it herself. She moved to Hong Kong in the 70s with her husband and set out to create a company called Affirm Heart, which would produce clothes of high quality for well-known UK high street companies as well as for bigger designer labels. The Lenoble’s soon realized they had found business gold with their model and off the success of their thriving business they launched ‘Nocturne’ as their in house label.
The Nocturne brand has certainly gone through some changes since then, going from more of an Evening Wear focused line (hence the name Nocturne) to more an Everyday Wear line, that now has a very heavy concentration on stand out and statement jewelry.
The structuring of the company has also seen a change as now Catherine Howkins who had previously come from Paul Smith, and impressively was one of the original team that launched All Saint’s internationally, is now at the helm. The rest of the creative team is also incredibly impressive with combined career backgrounds that including Chloé, Burberry and Loewe.
However one thing that hasn’t changed throughout the years is Nocturne’s strong aesthetic, which is rooted in western design, but with luxurious eastern artisan craft. It’s a brand that is rare to find these days, with a heavy importance on the pieces being handmade and using only the highest quality of materials. The company has truly retained the heart and soul of where whey originated from and is uncompromised in the handcrafted artisan DNA of their brand. I now own several Nocturne pieces, and it's a guarantee whenever I wear a piece, I will get asked where the piece is from. They are stunning, and need to be seen in real life to understand just how beautiful they really are.
I had the wonderful opportunity to chat to Catherine Howkins about her personal draw towards the company, how she has updated it, but still managed to retain the heart of it and where she plans on taking the company next.
Catherine, Thank you so much for taking the time to interview. I’m a huge fan of Nocturne, and became even more of a fan after hearing the fascinating story behind the brand.
I love the story of the company especially of Claudine Bertinotti-Lenoble moving to Hong Kong in the 1970s. My father is from Hong Kong and my mum is English. They married in the 70s and moved there soon after so I feel a strong affiliation with the brand and it’s western design and Eastern craft, so I very much relate to the mix of cultures reflected in the company!
Can you tell me more about what it was like when you met the founder of Nocturne, Claudine Bertinotti-Lenoble and what it was about both her and the Nocturne brand that was such a draw for you?
How lovely… I love when people find a true connection to the brand. We experience this all the time… That sense of discovery is very important for us! When we met, I understood immediately Claudine’s concept for Nocturne and the passion to evolve Asian artisan craft, it was a very natural and enticing draw for me, I’ve been hooked ever since.
What influence do you feel London has on you as a creative and how do you parlay that London influence in to your vision for the Nocturne brand?
I love the London sensibility; the laid-back attitude & multicultural plethora of references. I love the London approach to confidently curate eclectic references. I instinctively anchor to London as an undercurrent in our inspiration. We enjoy combining elements of London with Asian culture, or an artist or historical piece that we have found. It has been an adventure of learning, that’s what keeps you on your toes, keeps you stimulated to be playful and experiment with design, mixing the unexpected.
What is a typical day like for you when you’re in the Nocturne head office?
Busy! We’re a small team and work incredibly hard with passion for the product we create. A day in the office can encompass anything from sourcing new unusual materials, talking with stockists, reviewing sketches and hand-beaded samples, devising new display concepts for the evolving jewellery range. Today I’m working on the art direction for a new social media photo shoot - watch this space at @nocturne_studio! I love days like today where I can collaborate with a new photographer on innovative ways to visually communicate the story of the collection.
What was the inspiration behind the latest collection?
AW16 started with an antique Art Deco jewellery box we found on our travels. It captured our imaginations; the rose wood exterior was inlaid with mother of pearl shell (a traditional South East Asian craft), the design is boldly Art Deco. That combination of European design with an Asian artisan technique is really what Nocturne brand identity.
What is your favorite piece from the collection?
I love the Luna earrings. They were inspired by Art Deco window frames and the Luna Half Moon range features a metal base with bespoke pearlescent smoke resin beads that we create with Florentine artisans.
What are some of the things that inspire you as a creative director?
So many things! London is an ever-inspiring city, there is always a new exhibition to see or people watching. I think the rise of modern artists on social media is another inclusive and progressive way to constantly feel like you’re absorbing new culture.
Have you visited Asia and picked up influences from the local culture?
I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Asia many times. I have often visited the Nocturne artisans in China and recently went on holiday to Vietnam where I fell in love with Hoi An and it’s mixture of French colonial and traditional Vietnamese architecture. We managed to take a bicycle tour visiting the village artisans weaving rugs from grass they cut, dried and dyed, weaving into vibrant designs. Yunnan to soak in the landscapes is definitely a destination on my bucket list!
I’ve read that you knew from a young age you wanted to be in fashion. What was it that made you fall in love with fashion so young?
There was an art teacher at school who was formerly a fashion designer. She taught her students with great zeal how to create fashion illustrations and I fell become obsessed with the process. From an early age I had a focused vision of what I intended to become. I couldn’t have anticipated then quite where it would take me and the varied context I’m able to work in creatively now.
What designers did you look up to growing up?
Just as I was graduating from design at university Lanvin launched its first collection with Alber Elbaz. We went to Paris to see the shows and we had the chance to see his collection unveiled for the first time. It made an enormous impression on me, he hit the nail on the head for that moment in time: laid back luxury with beautiful details.
You have already had an incredible career. Can you tell me more about your background, where you studied and what your first job in the fashion industry was?
I studied Fashion Design at Kingston University in the UK, I’m so glad to took that course at it is geared to the realities of a creative commercial practice. They teach design with great integrity but also apply realistic business notions into your method from the outset. My first job was at Whistles, I worked under an incredible manager who instilled excellent practices and gave me clear insight into design that is business building and as methodical as it is creative.
How would you describe a Nocturne woman?
Sophisticated and bold, she has a carefree confidence with an innate sense of fun.
It’s so wonderful that there is an emphasis on Nocturne’s jewelry being made up using the Asian artisan techniques, which have been passed on through generations. Can you tell me more about the process of creating the jewelry using this method?
When Claudine first went to China, she discovered that many traditional crafts such as hand embroidery and crochet were practiced by the older generations, but she feared it could become a dying art if the craft wasn’t passed through the generations. We like to take those skills and traditions but mix them with modern materials such as gold-plated cast metal, Perspex. We use hand-crochet as a backing to our refined stones, and mother of pearl, interwoven with gold-plated chain. This breathes a new energy and enthusiasm for an ancient craft. This really is the very essence that inspires and encourages us to push the boundaries of technique in each new collection.
We are in such a culture of fast fashion and mass production, how important is it for Nocturne to keep the emphasis on the artisan techniques and not give into mass production?
Artisan techniques are at the centre of everything we do. The brand was built on an appreciation of Asian craft and motivated to evolve the techniques with a contemporary eye. It’s the tactility, lightness that comes from a product being loved and made by the hand of a person that makes Nocturne unique and the wearer feel special. Trends come and go, but beautiful craft transcends, we feel we have discovered a community that appreciate and value this.
Where do you see Nocturne five years from now?
We have recently introduced hairpins and brooches to our ever growing collection. Our chokers are also a product we pride ourselves with – especially we we’ve managed to make them so comfortable! We want to add to our range and respond to our followers, who knows, it might be a completely new product!
Are there any current trends you are enjoying at the moment?
Earrings! Chokers too and a bit of a shoulder reveal, we can’t get enough in our studio. I love the Egon choker with clear glass over hand-stitched sequins & finished in 18k gold plating.
What is your best tip for styling a Nocturne statement piece?
The things I love about the Nocturne woman is how she confidently styles her own look to suit her personal style, I love to watch this unfold on our Instagram feed @nocturne-studio or Webu nocturne 小夜曲. At the moment, I’m pairing my new AW16 chokers with stripe wide leg trousers.
What are some of your must-have Nocturne accessories that you wear time and time again?
I’ve been indulging daily in our friendships bracelets, they work so effortlessly with an everyday look. A signature necklace is a look I turn to over and over, it’s great if you have a meeting or plan to have dinner after work - I’m mostly wearing them with full white looks.
What is your go-to outfit for an evening out?
Absolutely loving our new earrings for an evening look. The Valerie earrings are my top choice, they are uniquely crafted with real feather underneath cut glad stones, backed in hand finished leather and combined with dangly fun crystals so they have lovely movement and feel light and comfortable…playful.
For more information visit Nocturne online
China Stockist: Bei Jing: Nocturne, 2-17. Top Win Center
Wu Han: Nocturne, Wu Han International Plaza Shopping Center
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