Marchioness > Archive > Volume 1 > Francesca Kappo: ‘slap-dash cuteness’ [Published February 2022]
Interview by Jessica Ann Richardson / Introduction by Lara Delmage 
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Francesca Kappo: ‘slap-dash cuteness’

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Marchioness talks GETTING KICKED OUT THE RCA, BURBERRY INTERVIEWS, CSM EXPERIENCES, MOTHERHOOD, DOING EXACTLY WHAT YOU WANT and CREATING YOUR AUNTY'S SUNDAY BEST BAG with handbag designer and founder of Flat Fifteen, Francesca Kappo.
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Francesca Kappo, designer and dear friend of Marchioness, blesses us with her first interview to promote her gorgeous brand, Flat Fifteen. Kappo cuts the ‘I’m oh so successful’ chat and gets real with us. She talks about the various struggles she faced as a young creative; being skint, feeling underappreciated, misunderstood and lost. After getting kicked out of the Royal College of Art and sacking off a ‘dreamy’ gig at Burberry, she decided to forge her own path during the first lockdown. This path took the form of Flat Fifteen, Francesca’s burgeoning bag business lovingly named after her South London flat. She’s started off by making bags that “your aunty would probably wear to Church on Sunday”, but has grand plans to broaden Flat Fifteen’s horizons into other artistic pursuits, as she doesn’t like the idea of being a one trick pony. Although Francesca has an aversion to the demeaning attributes of the word ‘cute’, her bags are cute as heck. Inspired by vases of flowers, they’re dainty, slap-dash and fierce all rolled into one outfit friendly accessory. Francesca is not only a young business owner and creative goddess, but she is also a kick-ass mum, dedicated to showing her child that it is you who is in charge of your own life. On the subject of motherhood and creativity, she says that having her child made her feel “more fearless in a way. I just made a child. I can do anything. I can do whatever I like.” Get ready to feel a pang of inspiration, as Francesca is a testament to the fact that you can make your dreams come true, and though it might not be easy, it’ll make you happier in the long run.

 

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Could you walk us through your journey post-graduation to the creation of Flat Fifteen?  

 

When I graduated from Central Saint Martins in 2017, I went straight into the Knitwear Masters at the RCA. I got kicked out after the first year because I didn’t want to be doing knitwear. 

 

Why was that?

 

I don’t enjoy knitting something completely from scratch, and that was seen as lazy at RCA. It was never the case that I was lazy, I just preferred to use something that exists already and knit into that. When I was doing that, the reaction was ‘that’s not a design kind of thing’. They just didn’t get it. In the end, they said I couldn’t come back for the second year. I didn’t even ask them. They just told me that I wasn’t doing the kind of work they wanted me to do. The other students' work was really clean and professional looking, while mine looked not childish...it looked rough. That was how I purposefully worked at the time and they just didn’t get it. 

 

What happened during the time between getting kicked out of RCA and starting your business? What inspired you to make that first move?

 

One of my friends told me there was an interview for Burberry, you know, a really typical fashion job, a knitwear job, and I was like OK, I’ve been kicked out so I might as well just apply for it. I had an interview for Burberry and that process lasted six months because they kept putting it off. In the meantime, I got a job at the exhibition shop at Tate Modern because I had no money when I was doing the MA and I got into some financial trouble. I couldn’t afford to be at RCA even though I had a scholarship as it only covered tuition fees. I was telling everyone I was going to have an interview for Burberry. Being really honest, I knew I didn’t actually want the Burberry job, but I felt like I should. From doing internships, I didn’t like the way I felt working in a studio. I didn’t get the job but the interview went well. The guy interviewing me pointed out that I was really good at putting mood boards and collages together. He suggested I explore working in image or accessories. To be honest with you, I didn’t even bring any clothes to the interview. 

 

Whilst all this was going on, I made a gold bag out of fabric given to me from Burberry, funnily enough. It was made of loads of gold cord. They donated deadstock materials to the RCA, so I just took it and made a crocheted bag just for myself.  I loved doing that. It made me think that I would love to leave the Tate because at that point I was working full-time. I would love to be able to do the bags. I always made little bags for myself even before CSM. I don’t know if you can remember but there were these little tiny bags that I used to wear around my neck. So I thought, why am I fighting? Why am I trying to do something that I naturally don’t want to do because it just looks good on paper? So, I thought: I’m just going to make bags and try and make it into a business. 

 

Fast-forward a few months…

 

I started a business without any business experience. The knitted bags take so long to make, so I was thinking that I would have to sell them for lots of money to account for the time I’d spent. Because of that, I thought that no one was going to buy them for that much, so I’d make fabric bags since they were easier, cheaper to sell and less time-consuming. I was telling my family that I am trying to do this bag thing, because I thought that if I told people I’m doing it, then I have to follow-through. I started playing around with all different things. I wanted to find something that looks a bit unique. I wanted to make a bag look like a vase of flowers. 

 

Technically, and in relation to your design process, what does that look like?

 

I made the handle look like a flower and it ended up looking really ugly. Then I did this scalloped edge just by accident. I just put my foot down on the sewing machine and played around and thought about it. I don’t know how, it was just really playful. There wasn’t loads of deep or intense research. It was more imagery, I guess. 

 

It’s funny because at fashion school you spend all of this time researching for your final collection, but then it’s just a few moments of playfulness and creativity and you come up with a business like Flat Fifteen. What are your thoughts on that?

 

CSM taught us a way of thinking. It’s not technical stuff. I don’t know anything to do with fashion technically but I am really good at just using what I have. I don’t even have a proper machine, like I borrowed a machine off a friend. It’s like being resourceful I guess. It feels nice that I made up this whole business from my vision. 

 

Has this experience given you a confidence boost in your creativity? After you graduated it seemed like rejection after rejection…

 

I feel like it has, in a way. It’s the knowledge that you can make something for yourself from nothing. But it’s up and down, honestly. There are times when I think I can’t do this, I should just stop and then there are times when you do okay and you are like oh, I can do this. 

 

Did you ever have moments where you wanted to walk away from fashion?

 

Yeah. When I was interviewing for Burberry last year, that was just what I thought I should be doing and I wasn’t being honest with myself. It was kind of like living a lie the whole time. I don’t regret any of it though, as it led me to now. The way I have worked through my life, is that I’ve done things I don’t want to do, so that I know what I do want to do.

 

I don’t mind if I’m not doing the things that look good on paper. Honestly, I feel really happy in the sense that I get to just do what I want now. I don’t have tons of money. I don’t have tons of time. Not many people know about my work, but I feel so happy that I am doing something that is mine. I used to have this really dreadful feeling - I’m just talking about internships for example - when I’d go into a job and think ’I have to do another day here’ and be talked down to by the creative director. I don’t want to have to deal with that. 

 

Has having a baby changed the way in which you approach creativity and think about your work?  

 

Not really. It’s more that I have to do well for her. I want her to see that you can have a child and still do things for yourself and you can make your life how you want it to be. I don’t think it’s made me more creative. I guess it has made me feel a bit more fearless in a way. I feel like I just made a child, like I can do anything. I literally can do whatever I like. 

 

When you think about the aesthetic of Flat Fifteen, or your own personal style – if you could condense it down, what would you say it is? 

 

I’ve always pushed against my aesthetic because I’ve hated the word ‘cute’. I wanted it to be sexy or cool, but I just can’t do it. I’ve always thought that I don’t want to be described as ‘cute’, but naturally, my stuff is always cute, so I’ve learned to just embrace it. I might as well do what comes naturally to me. My designs aren’t rough and ready, but they aren’t slick at all. The aesthetic is really homemade, like really homemade. I like it to look a bit slap-dash. I guess that’s something good I got from CSM. You can tell someone has made something by hand. Even my business cards are super CSM. Do you know what I mean? It’s really not super slick. It’s glue or paint. 

 

How do you plan to develop the visual side of Flat Fifteen?

 

I’ve got a whole archive of personal photography, of me documenting people who go to this market in this area that I grew up in. I like to collage and embroider the bag design onto these collages. I want you to look at it and think, ‘that’s a nice image’, and the image becomes more important than the bag. I’m exploring that. 

 

Do you have a total vision for Flat Fifteen?

 

This is what I’m struggling with at the moment, how I want to define what I really want to do. I hate being one thing. I think that’s my biggest problem and something I battle with the most. I don’t want to just do bags! I want to think of my work as a kind of department store. I would offer things that still have the ethos of using materials that are already available, nothing’s bought new. So it could be loungewear, ceramics, anything! Anything I can create, and sell it under one brand. This is where I want to go.

© Eva Watkins
© Eva Watkins

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© Eva Watkins
© Eva Watkins

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© Eva Watkins
© Eva Watkins

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© Eva Watkins
© Eva Watkins

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Your story is really important because it sounds like even when things have gotten hard, you’ve kept on trying to explore different ways of being creative, but never compromised on your own values. Even now, while you’re still feeling unsure about how to define Flat Fifteen, you’re content to mull it over and go with the flow. 

 

I have this really weird belief that I know I’ll be okay. Deep down, I know it’ll all work out. Even when I’m having a really shit day, I have my moment and think okay, what am I doing with my life? And move on. Even on those lowest days, I still think I’ll be okay, I just know it. I’m not someone who comes from money. I lived in a council house. I don’t have a choice. The reason why I think that I’ll be okay is because there’s no other option.

 

What area of London did you grow up in?

 

South East London. Camberwell. Now I live in Battersea because I had to move when I was about to give birth because I had this mad neighbour. He’s schizophrenic and he’d claim that I talked to him through the walls! It started off fine, and then throughout the whole of the lockdown last year he’d bang on the window and started recording me in my house from outside. It was so crazy. He smashed all the windows! 

 

What the hell! That sounds like an experience out of a horror film. I wanted to take you back to another strange time – which is how we ended up meeting in the first place. We were in class together at CSM. I’m curious as to your general thoughts or consensus on your time there?

 

I did enjoy it, but there were some parts I didn’t enjoy, like the politics, the favouritism, the culture of spending thousands of pounds on your final collection. That is seen as normal when it’s really not normal, to me anyway. You get sucked into it. I’d never been around people with money until I went to CSM and so I was just learning to navigate that, really. I look back on that time and think I had fun as a whole. CSM was a bubble, and nothing like real life at all. I enjoyed that bubble, but now I have to figure out what I want life to be now. 

 

They say that CSM is about breaking rules, but I wonder at what point the students will be able to design in whatever way they choose to.

 

That's another thing I was trying to explain when I was at RCA. They were trying to get me to make four looks, and I was like, I just want to make a cardigan and wear it with a t-shirt and a pair of jeans. Why would I go and make a pair of jeans when I could just go and buy a second hand pair of jeans and maybe re-edit it? It's really rare that you’ll go into a shop and buy a full look by the same designer. You buy a piece and then wear it with something else. So why would you design that way? It’s just silly and wasteful.

 

Your uncle David Kappo is a designer and a tutor. I’m curious what he thinks of Flat Fifteen? Did he give you any support or advice when you were starting out?

 

Practically – probably about 70% of my materials came from when he had his label, Tristan Webber. In terms of advice – because I do want to do many things, at the time when I was talking to him, he was saying to me that you can’t do everything at the same time. His advice was to try and find ways to incorporate all the things you want into your project. 

 

I remember you saying to me some time ago that you were interested in teaching. Is this something you’re still thinking about?

 

Yeah, I do still like the idea of doing that, but when? I think eventually I would like to go back to CSM and teach, just to offer something different to how we were taught. I feel like when I was a student there, I had to do a different design or different research method for every single project. I would teach that if you really loved one technique or one method of design, that it’s fine to just keep doing that and adding to that, so that it becomes one massive big project rather than lots of little ones. I’m sure I’m not the only one who doesn’t want to have a job in a fashion house or doesn’t want to follow the typical Fashion East route. I feel like it would be nice to offer an alternative to students. To say: there is nothing wrong with you if you feel that way. 

 

What are your thoughts on the fashion industry right now?

 

Do you know what? I don’t care. I don’t think I have ever cared. Sometimes I might look at what this designer is doing, but I don’t know my fashion history, I don’t know who is where or who is doing what. That side of fashion doesn’t interest me. 

 

If you were offered a job in the fashion industry, would you take it?

 

No. I feel like mental-health wise it’s not for me. I reckon that sensitive, introverted people don’t really tend to do well in that environment.

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@ Eva Watkins