A biography of designers of the most elegant and romantic couture fashion collection.

Charles Lester, photography
Pleated silk velvet evening coat.
Photograph Charles Lester

The Designers Work and Inspiration.


There are no distinct boundaries in the interests and talents of Charles and Patricia Lester and their differing skills have resulted in an unusual design team.

They have constructed a comprehensive workshop where all the equipment used for the business is built. The invention of processes and techniques is taken from the experimental stage to full production on the premises. This completely individual approach to their work, with the exploration, inventiveness and production all being carried out ‘in house’ has resulted in a very special collection which is now sought after by individuals and museums around the world.

The Couture Collection.

In order to have totally original designs Charles and Patricia have achieved their own house style for the fabrics as well as for the garments that they create. After many years of study and experimentation they have developed interesting and varied ways of applying colour and texture to fabrics. The collection includes lustrous velvets and silks which are hand painted using special techniques of applying dye that transforms the fabric into a piece of art, alive and rich with colour. As an artist paints all the shadows and highlights into the painting to give depth and lustre, so too do Charles and Patricia work with their colouring. This gives the cloth an interesting iridescence and dimension even before any work is done on the texture and tactile qualities of the fabric. Various additional methods of printing, including devore (the very exacting and difficult burn out process), are included in the decorative processes as well as many methods unique to themselves. The unusual colouring and hand pleated silks are part of their distinctive collection.

Patricia Lester has had no training in fashion or textile design other than a very exacting ‘self-taught apprenticeship’. She designs clothes in a way that she considers simply as the adding of cloth to the human body. She is unhindered by traditional methods and techniques, making clothes that are sculptural and engineered. They are structured in ways that are original using the unusual qualities o the fabric to mould onto the shape of the body allowing the body and cloth to dictate rather than conventional darts and intricate seaming.

The clothes are sensual, minimalist, uncluttered and refined in the shaping. Patricia’s hallmark – meticulous attention to detail – has attracted an impressive numbers of admirers, who appreciate the craftsmanship as well as the ‘inspired’ qualities of the collection. Their fans include royalty and icons of the film world including HRH Princess Michael of Kent, Elizabeth Taylor, Barbra Streisand as well as the younger and exotic successes of the pop music world. Toni Braxton’s hit video ‘How could an angel break my heart’ featured many of the signature pleated dresses and Charles and Patricia designed the costumes for the Swingle singers for their 2000 world tour.

Charles and Patricia’s passion for textiles has lead to the extension of the collection into the home. They undertake commission work for interior decorating projects including tapestries, bedspreads, throws, cushions, screens and curtain fabrics. These are made in the pleated silks, cotton and silk velvets – all dyed and printed in such a way as to compliment any decor whether it be for a classic period style or modern simplicity. The fabrics are all painted in such a way as to harmonise with the richest antiques, while at the same time having their own timeless quality which adapts to any environment.

Designers in Film, Opera and Exhibitions of Their Work.

Charles and Patricia’s work was included in the Victoria and Albert Museum’s ‘Cutting Edge of Fashion’ exhibition in London (March – July 1997), illustrated in the book of the same title. In August 2000 they took part in the ‘Fashion in Motion’ project at the V & A, an interesting exercise to show fashion as a work of art moving with live music wending through the extraordinary collection of art and antiquities of the museum.

In 1997 they were invited to be costume designers for the Opera ‘Iris’ by Mascangni for the company Opera Holland Park. The performance of this beautiful opera was the first major performance in the United Kingdom since 1919. The costumes were receive with huge critical and public acclaim. The opera was such a success that Opera Holland Park decided to repeat the production the following year.

The costumes were then sent to America for Teatro Grattacielo’s 100th anniversary costumed concert performance at the Alice Tully Hall in the Lincoln Centre in New York.

In September 1997 the Leighton House Museum and Art Gallery in London staged an exhibition titled ‘A Textile Experience’ – dedicated entirely to the work of Charles and Patricia Lester. This was the first public showing of their textiles as works of art. They had the unique privilege of having the entire house at their disposal for this exhibition as well as the art galleries.

Charles and Patricia have designed and made costumes for films and television productions. They made a number of major costumes for the film ‘Wings of the Dove’ starring Helene Bonham Carter, Alison Eliot and Charlotte Rampling and the pictures of which were used on all the posters and video covers for the film. The film was nominated for an Oscar for the costume design. Other film work includes textiles for Kenneth Branagh’s production of Hamlet and more recently Helen Mirren can be seen wearing their designs in the film ‘Greenfingers’.

Charles and Patricia’s daughter Georgina is now a valued member of the family team. Although a talented stained glass artist she is now committed to the family business. She has a special interest in film work and her contribution to the design of garments contributes a fresh and young approach to the collection. It is hoped, at a later date, that she will be able to continue with the stained glass work as part of the whole design complex at the workhouse studios.

The Lester’s latest project is to open a museum in one of the buildings at The Workhouse in Abergavenny where their design studios are situated. This museum will house their vast collection of antique textiles, as well as the diverse range of their textile art from fashion pieces going back to the beginning of the company and their very large unique silk tapestries only ever seen once before at the Leighton House Museum in London. They have a very large selection of costumes that they have created for films and operas as well as examples of clothes worn by famous people such as Elizabeth Taylor, Vanessa Redgrave and Helena Bonham Carter.

Abergavenny Design Museum

They are aware that there are very few places in the Abergavenny area of interest for people ‘on a rainy day’ and having had many requests from all over the world for people to see their work they decided that a museum as ‘a centre of excellence’ would be a great asset to the area, a place of interest for local people and tourists visiting the town and surrounding countryside. Charles and Patricia are very keen to promote other work at the museum as well as their own. There are many talented artists and craftspeople in Wales and an exhibition centre at ‘The Gateway to Wales’ would make an interesting place to visit especially if there are many different focuses of creativity throughout the year. They would therefore be delighted to hear from anyone who would be interested in showing at this proposed centre. They are considering all sorts of possibilities and there might be opportunities for people to give demonstrations of their craft as artists in residence and conduct creative workshops for those interested in learning new skills.