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Iona Crawford: part-artist, part-designer, part-chameleon

Most people who work in the creative industries will tell you that on any given day they find themselves assuming a number of identities completely different to the one their job demands. Iona Crawford is no exception. 

That isn't to say that what Crawford does full time - what she trained at art school to do - is not good enough to be her permanent guise. Rather, she is the kind of person who will naturally find herself adapting to a situation as it requires her to, such are her versatile qualities.

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I arrive at her brand new premises, the Iona Crawford Atelier, much earlier than our agreed interview time, but even taken by surprise and greeting me in Converse and sans-lipstick she is genial and unflustered. The atelier, it seems, was a natural progression for the brand and one that marked Crawford's first foray into interiors in her line entitled The Art of Living (think cushions and greetings cards in the patterns her garments are famed for). While I sit at the rough-hewn table in the shop's reception room waiting for Crawford to change, I notice how relaxed and enjoyable the feel of the space is, unlike the preconceptions one might perhaps have of a luxury designer's showroom. 

Then, supremely punctually and bang on the time we are due to meet, she emerges having changed into one of her own dresses and a glamorous pair of shoes looking like a completely different person. It is my first in-the-flesh experience of one of the many metamorphoses of Iona Crawford.

The daughter of a farmer, Crawford left school aged 16 to attend art school, studying fashion.

 "It doesn't equip you with business skills," she explains, when regarding her university education. "That's not to say that the art school falls short of what it does, because it doesn't, but I've always felt the joy is in finding out how to work the business myself."

Even as a young woman, her tastes were clear and her aspirations high. Crawford explains that one of her interns was lucky enough to receive a fancy handbag for her recent coming-of-age, and we discuss what we received for our own 21sts. "I had a Shakespearean medieval banquet," she smiles, a little shyly. Despite her occupation, creating couture garments, I get the feeling that the experiential is as important to Crawford as the tangible object. 

It is apparent that she is deeply involved in all aspects of her business, but it is as clear that this doesn't spill over into the realms of control freakishness. I notice, too, that nothing is seen as menial; perhaps a trait acquired from her days on the farm. Crawford is the one who prepares our afternoon tea in the atelier's kitchen, who cuts the cake into fat wedges for us, who tops up the glasses. She may do it in five inch heels, but her hospitality and easy company never waver for a second.  

Even though she is now far away from the fields of her childhood, family remains a close and important thing that keeps her anchored. The jam and scones we eat are made by her mum and dad respectively, and at the atelier launch a number of weeks ago, the game pies were from dad's estate, while the eggs used for mini Yorkshire puddings were from the family's hens.

When her parents go on holiday, Iona moves in to the farm. She feeds the cattle, sheep, chickens and dogs and then goes to work designing and making high-end dresses, blouses and skirts. It is an almost-unbelievable thing to imagine her in wellies mucking out and then creating such intricate, fine work, but then again, this a woman who is adaptable in every sense of the word. And she is not afraid to learn, too: from all sorts of situations.

"The other day, I gave another of my interns a task and was fascinated to see that the way she approached it was completely different to the way I would," she elaborates. "And it worked."

So, yes: a designer who interacts with her environment in perhaps unorthodox ways. These unusual answers are perpetuated when I ask her about what fuels the Crawford brand, what inspires her work. Her thoughts turn to friend and Kelpies sculptor Andy Scott.

 "He works from this gritty studio in Maryhill and has this broad Glaswegian accent. He'll always order haggis, neeps and tatties and caramel shortbread when out for dinner, albeit from Cafe Gandolfi, but he's very modest.

"It's that juxtaposition between occupation and persona that gets me, that inspires me."

"Take this dress that I'm wearing. It's a peacock pattern, but it doesn't look like peacock. In the commercial world of fashion things are a lot more literal - a peacock print is a peacock print."

The pattern itself is richly toned in greens and blues but Crawford is right: it doesn't shout its intentions from the rooftops. Essentially, it is a more sophisticated and nuanced approach than is often seen in the current light of loudest-brashest-gaudiest-wins-all trend. It is intelligent without being too abstract, and it shows identity. And, most importantly, it looks good on - the all-important factor that Crawford has managed to stay true to, in light of her aspirational design aesthetic.

I wonder whether it is a case of a restless creative mind forever seeking out new challenges that prompts the metamorphosis in Crawford from fashion to homeware (while, crucially, ensuring her output is never spread too thinly) or whether she feels that the right Eureka moment hasn't yet been happened upon. Whichever it is - and even if it's neither - this is a designer whose previous skins are proving to hold the secrets to some of her most creative work, and the process is almost as absorbing to watch and be a part of by purchasing her pieces as it is for Crawford herself to experience.

Whatever's happening, and whatever will happen next, we can be sure there are many glory days yet to come.  

Iona Crawford's new homeware line The Art of Living can be viewed online at www.ionacrawford.com and at the Iona Crawford Atelier , 5-7 Lynedoch Street, Number Four, Glasgow, G3 6EF  through a private appointment.

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