Norfolk’s dream team for the fashion world

Forget Versace designing for H&M what about Annette Rolston and Lizzie Wenman? They may not sound familiar, but their collaboration could propel the designers to new heights at Norwich Fashion Week. EMMA HARROWING reports.

Designing a fashion collection of fitted block print shift dresses, a classically cut jumpsuit and a pencil skirt with fish tail detail is a far cry from the paintings Diss artist Annette Rolston is used to.

Annette's career to date has included creating printing blocks from polystyrene sheets and printed large scale wall hangings based on a sea theme at Queens Hill Primary School in Costessey. She also became an artist in residence at St Augustine's Primary in Old Costessey, where she helped pupils make their own collograph stamps and blocks, along with communal wall art of a Viking ship at sea.

With the majority of the 48-year- old designer's career to date working as an artist and printmaker, Annette has taken the bold step to transform her linoprints into a work of fashion.

'I don't feel that I have made a transition from artist to fashion designer, as I regard myself as more a textile designer and the move into fashion is a natural development of my work,' says Annette.

It's true that the designer's career has been littered with indications that a fashion line could be on the cards. When studying for her Fine Art degree her lecturer believed that Annette would find a career path in textile design. Annette's sister Nicola is a fashion designer who used to work as a senior designer of casual wear for high street fashion chain Oasis and she too could see that Annette's prints could work on cloth.

'My sister can see my motifs enlarged and possibly embroidered onto furnishings and clothes,' says Annette.

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'My latest prints are much more textile looking and decorative so I finally gave in to this side of my work and designed motifs on scarves. These got a good response. I made some sales and so I took my first steps into fashion design. I have to say I find fashion very liberating compared to my paintings; it's more fun and you get instant feedback for a scarf or garment.'

Annette still sees herself as an artist and as her creativity leads her into the world of fashion she likens herself to artists such as Henry Moore and Sonia Delauney who have had their designs produced on fabric.

Annette wants to collaborate with her sister on a fashion collection in the future, but with both leading busy lives, the time is not yet right. Instead, Annette is working with Falmouth fashion design student Lizzie Wenman to come up with her first fashion collection, which will be launched at the Open Store event at Norwich Fashion Week later this month.

Says Annette: 'I met Lizzie through a student of mine on a Collograph Printing course I was teaching at Diss Corn Hall this summer. She's a friend of the student's daughter and was recommended for this project. She can pattern cut, sew and of course design and create beautiful garments that show off my linoprint motifs!'

The collaboration sees Lizzie pattern cutting, making the garments and using her design flair to help structure garments Annette has initially shaped. The designs are incorporating Annette's patterned designs which include animal motifs, an autumn and winter trend that has already been seen on the high street this year.

'The images of the horse and the deer are just my signature prints,' says Annette. 'I introduced animal imagery into my work last winter and have developed it intuitively since then. It is not a trend that I was aware of. Nicola made me aware of the importance of printed pattern, placement prints and block colour shapes for the autumn season which was very useful and helped me see that my designs could be used in fashion.'

The collection Annette and Lizzie are collaborating on is being designed with the more mature woman in mind. Classic and simple styles featuring Annette's bold linoprint motifs are a key style and the materials being used include organic jersey, organic sateen and organic bamboo silk.

'The two of us have discussed every aspect,' says Annette. 'I had already bought the fabric, Lizzie designed the garments to fit my measurements and as we are targeting the more mature woman's figure, we have made decisions about the placement of the print motifs, details of waistbands and buttons.

'Lizzie has always wanted to use print in her designs, but while studying fashion design she found out that prints just weren't her style. Her collection has very clean, simple lines and uses plain fabrics. It's ironic that she is working with me, a printmaker, whose main concern is the look of the prints and patterns!'

Annette admires Zandra Rhodes' work, so could colour and pattern be a key look to the pieces in the collection at Norwich Fashion Week or will Lizzie's classic neutral style win through?

Rumour has it that Annette and Lizzie will be showing a block printed shift dress in black and cream with a printed waistband and linocut printed motifs on the skirt. Annette will also showcase her printed scarves alongside many other items from their new collection.

Says Annette: 'I am really enjoying this collaboration. I have often imagined my imagery on clothes and outfits so it's lovely to have the input of knowledgeable fashion designers who are sympathetic to and very keen on my textile designs.

'What I'm finding difficult is not understanding patterns and fabrics enough and working to a tight deadline!'

Annette Rolston and Lizzie Wenman's designs can be seen at Ethika at the Open Store event during Norwich Fashion Week on Tuesday September 27. Annette and Lizzie will be in store between 4pm and 5pm if you want to meet them to discuss commissions or ask them about their work.

Norwich Fashion Week takes place between September 22 and September 29. For more information about the shows and events taking place visit the Norwich Fashion Week website at