How Winston Churchill helped one graduate take his first steps into fashion

My story, by Denzel Currie

Denzel Currie [pictured centre] entered a competition in 2015, after studying Illustration and Animation at Kingston University. The competition was the Winston Churchill Design Competition, sponsored in association with ARTS THREAD, that gives young designers the chance to take these crucial first steps in the industry.

We met with Denzel to find out about his journey from design graduate to Designer & Creative Talent Mentor at Pentland Brands.

“My university had a stand at the D&AD New Blood Festival”, Denzel said. “I wasn’t selected to go but my portfolio was there anyway. ARTS THREAD came over and took one of my business cards, contacted me and asked me to sign up to their website. The Winston Churchill Design Competition came up and I realised it was an amazing opportunity.”

The chance encounter led to the first of many visits to Pentland Brands HQ. “I presented my design [a paper form of Winston Churchill in gold on a royal blue background] to Katie Greenyer [Creative Talent and Network Director at Pentland Brands], two heads of Pol Roger, members of the Churchill estate and leaders from ARTS THREAD”, said Denzel.  Denzel was placed third, out of over 700 applicants, and was offered a job as a Junior Designer in the coveted Pentland Brands Design Pool team.

From making paper sculptures to working for the fashion label Red or Dead, the first few months were a learning curve. “It was eight months of learning, getting better, understanding the brand and how to work in a corporate environment. When you start you don’t realise how new you are and how to learn to make your creativity fit with a brand’s DNA – and we have an extensive portfolio, so that means all our 13 brands”.

Today, while he’s still working for Red or Dead, Denzel now has joint responsibility for Pentland’s Design Pool team; nurturing the talent that helps us evolve as a business. “We’re all about finding new designers, bringing them in, then helping them learn the way I learned – from having raw talent to developing designers that are reliable, capable and show consistent creativity.” What some see as an unconventional route into industry actually means a wealth of uncharted opportunities. “With design, there’s no real roadmap. You leave university and the first question is “what do I do, and how do I get people to see my work?”, Denzel said.

“If it’s a worthwhile competition it’ll get you in a room with people that can really help you. I was in a room with Katie Greenyer, and members of Winston Churchill’s estate who actually ended up buying the artwork that I’d made. Showing your personality and telling people about your work is priceless.”

“It’s no coincidence that businesses that identify and nurture graduate talent are the ones that make a lasting impact. In a competitive industry, the graduate designers who make up the Pentland Brands Design Pool are vital in helping our brands stay on-trend with fresh ideas and unique perspectives.”

The deadline for the Winston Churchill Design Competition is 16th April 2019 – find out more about how to enter here.

Denzel’s top three tips for design graduates:

  • Research the brand. A lot of the time people are married to their aesthetic – so the design needs to be new but within the context of what the brand does. Understanding who you work for is always important in design.
  • Creativity – they want a new, fresh spin. Use the fact you’re a young designer and your unique perspective to your advantage and add that to their existing DNA and values.
  • Finish the brief a few days before the deadline – it’ll give you time to look at your work and you never know when things could go wrong! Give yourself enough time to really get it where it needs to be.