Glancing over a notebook with her head cocked, reddish hair framing her quizzical face, Catherine Quirk scrutinizes one of her drawings, “It’s not very good,” she says wrinkling her nose and passing it off to me. Anyone could see that the drawing, which disgusts her, is good. In fact it’s very good. Flipping through the pages of her design sketchbook is like flipping through the pages of a beautiful dream; soft palettes of blush tones make way for deeper, more fluid shades of blue and rich canary. Lithe figures dance across the pages in sweeping ethereal gowns; fabric samples layered like paint over silhouettes bring Quirks’ unearthly designs to life. It is clear that she is very talented, whether she knows this or not, remains to be seen.
Quirk, a budding fashion designer is modest to a fault. Having studied at both the Fashion Institute of Technology, and Parsons in New York City, Quirk also lived and studied in Milan, putting in two years at the Politecnico during her time abroad. After finishing a freelance designing position at Kate Spade this fall, she was hired as a full-time assistant designer at Ralph Lauren. A pretty impressive resume for her 22 years, that most aspiring fashion aficionados only dream of. Still, she believes she has a long ways to go, even considering how far she has come.
Growing up in Milwaukee, WI, Quirk can’t remember a time she wasn’t interested in fashion. Her mother, Margaret, can’t either, laughing over the phone when recalling a period when Quirk refused to wear anything but orange;
“One year everything had to be orange, another year it was hats,” she chuckled. “Catherine always had a unique sense of style.”
By the fourth grade Quirk’s interest in fashion design had peaked, catching the attention of Margaret, who sought to enroll her in sewing lessons. It was in Barbara Quelling’s home studio in Mequon, WI, that Quirk’s interest grew into a passion.
“I could tell from the very first class that she had talent. It’s one thing to have sewing skills, those can be taught, but you can’t teach creativity…and Catherine has a creative brain,” said Quelling in a phone interview.
In high school when most of her classmates were struggling to master geometry and physics, Quirk was fixated on conquering the nuances of draping, and the technicalities of pattern making. Her focus, and attention to detail paid off; by her senior year with the help of her teachers, Mrs. Quelling, and a few more fashion design courses, Quirk had put together a portfolio strong enough to catch the eye of FIT admissions. After viewing Quirk’s senior showcase, Quelling was shocked;
“It was amazing to me to see what this 18-year-old was doing at the time,” she recalled, and that was only the beginning.
Nearly five years, and many lessons, later Catherine still finds inspiration all around her, and is eagerly looking to a future that will hopefully someday, include her own fashion line.
“I’m normally very inspired by nature, and natural things…most of the collections I’ve done have been inspired by nature,” she gushes proping up her sketch book, as if proof is needed, pages bursting with photographs of agate, and feathers, and lava flows.
Quirk’s mother has witnessed this fascination blossom from its humble beginnings,
“When we moved to our house over looking the lake [Michigan], she was always talking about how beautiful [it] was. For some of my other daughters its just, “oh, this is where we live,” but for Catherine it was all about the lake and how beautiful it is.”
Quirk continues to squint her eyes while examining her work grimacing, “This is kind of sloppy,” she says tossing a stack of delicately knit fabrics my way, “You can’t really get the full effect.”
What the full effect is I may never understand, the stack of materials she throws me are intricate and yet simple, delicate and sturdy, I shoot her a look that says, “You’re crazy,” but Quirk has moved on peering over another page. The wheels in her head are turning, and there’s a fire in her eyes; the talented Catherine Quirk is just getting started.