5 Minutes With: Dawn O’ Porter

Dawn O' Porter interview La Petite Anglaise

Somewhere amidst the madness of fashion month I received an email inviting me to a lunch to celebrate the launch of Dawn O’ Porter’s brand new clothing line, BOB. Without thinking twice I rsvp’d a big fat OUI! This was for a number of reasons. Firstly, I think Dawn is fantastic. She’s gorgeous, funny, a brilliant writer and one of a legion of women defining feminism today and making it an attractive cause for hundreds of thousands of young people who might otherwise shy away from its previously unattractive associations with man hating, bra burning and an aversion to waxing. I was also very intrigued and, I won’t lie, pretty sceptical about what her clothing brand would be like. Every week sees more famous ladies launch fashion labels and, while the ladies in question may be very stylish themselves as Dawn O’ Porter most certainly is, their role in the design process is often questionable to say the least. I arrived at the lunch excited to meet Dawn and prepared to be slightly underwhelmed by the frocks on show. And do you know what? My scepticism couldn’t have been more unfounded. The collection was utterly and totally gorgeous, not to mention beautifully made. Dawn talked us through each piece in such painstaking detail that I felt rather ashamed about having been so ready to judge and swiftly got stuck into asking all about all of it. And then we talked careers, fashion and feminism for a bit, Enjoy…

LPA: Between TV presenting, radio, writing for magazines like Glamour and publishing several books I think it’s fair to say that your career is both very successful and incredibly busy! Why did you decide to launch your own clothing brand on top of all that?

DOP: It’s been a case of ‘when’ for a long time, and this year just felt right. I’d spent last summer filming This Old Thing for C4, which taught me so much about dressing other people. Mix that with what I’ve learned about dress making over the past few years – mostly by reading books and tearing clothes apart to look inside them – my obsession with vintage and my life long dream to design clothes and I just thought it’s now or never. Of course these things start off as a small and fun idea then escalate into something huge and complicated, but once the ball has started rolling you just have to roll with it. So here I am, doing it. It’s just happening!

LPA: With so many celebrity clothing lines out there, what in your opinion sets BOB apart?

DOP: My knowledge of fashion, rather than just a love of it. I think loving fashion is a great reason to start your own line, but I believe my research into the past and how clothes used to be made has a huge influence on the dresses that I make. My quality is incredibly high, but the dresses remain affordable. I’ve worked hard to ensure the fabrics are perfect for each style, and I’ve cut no corners on the caliber of the fabrics I have used. Some of the dresses, for example, are made from 100% pure wool. They are luxurious but very wearable. The finishes inside the dresses are beautiful. My novelty skirts are block printed so each design sits perfectly on the front and back of the skirt, this takes care and time, and it took a long time to find a mill that could offer the standard I was looking for. BOB is about style but also great dressmaking. Beautifully made dresses that are built to last that never go out of fashion. That’s something that takes a lot of work. So I keep the collections small, but the level of attention that each garment gets is very high. This isn’t just a whim for me, I take the detail very seriously.

LPA: Tell me a little about your personal style. How would you describe it and what influences you when you’re putting an outfit together?

DOP: My style changes day today and I pretty much always dress for my mood. The most important part of the process for me is the shopping. I aim to have a wardrobe full of fun and varying looks, mostly vintage. By making sure I have a range of things to choose from, means that whatever mood I wake up in there is always something to suit it. Of course the overriding ‘look’ is vintage, and my go to is certainly the 60s, but some days it’s just necessary to wear a power dress from the 80s, so I do. And I love having the freedom to do that, where people aren’t surprised if I walk in the door looking like I just flopped out of Dynasty. But the next day I can wear a floaty hippie number. It’s important to me to have that variation as no day seems to be the same.

LPA:What is your ultimate aim for BOB the clothing brand?

DOP: With the mix of the vintage and the contemporary collection I just want people to find a dress they love and enjoy that it is unique. My quantity runs on each style will (hopefully) be big but I am limiting the colours in each. So the chances of you walking into a room and someone else wearing the exact same dress is very small. That’s important to me, for women not to worry about that. But mostly I want BOB to be where women go to find a dress that they can trust to be made beautifully, that will have oodles of personality and make them feel like the most fun person in the room. Whether that’s at work or at a party. BOB isn’t a gimmick brand, but it is fun. Clothes women want to show off in, that them feel proud for discovering.

LPA: I’ve always really respected how you voice your feminist views in your writing and on your social media platforms. What, in your opinion, does feminism mean today?

DOP: This is where I want to come up with some hotly educated answer that will blow your mind, but the answer is insanely simple. The goal of feminism is for women to be treated equally to men. It’s that bloody simple. Pay us the same for doing the same job, and stop disrespecting us by behaving like you have unlimited and unwarranted access to our bodies. Of course there are many deep and dark issues imbedded in feminism that will – probably – not be resolved in my lifetime. But if the average person on the street adhered to the above then the movement would make some heady progress very quickly.

LPA: How would you characterize the relationship between feminism and fashion? And how do you think it could or should be improved?

DOP: One of my bug bears is when I hear feminists say they don’t care about fashion, I think that’s incredibly ignorant. Over the course of the previous century fashion literally changed the lives of women. Without the progression of fashion we would still be in corsets. Fashion has given women such freedom. Freedom to be comfortable, to express ourselves, to enjoy the way we look. Of course in some ways this has been abused. As our society becomes more and more sexualised fashion obviously tries to keep up with it, but I think to have a go at fashion in the name of feminism is wrong, as the vast majority of designers don’t aim to exploit women, they aim to encourage a confidence and empower them. Fashion and feminism work well together, it’s peoples individual choices that challenge it, and I’m not sure that is fashions fault. I am talking mostly here about sexualisation, but I will always be angry at the fashion industry for promoting ‘super skinny’ as the blue print for how someone should look in clothes. That needs to change. It kind of has a bit, but not enough. I’d like to see more ‘mediums’ on the cat walks. I don’t agree that would make the clothes look shit.

LPA: What did you think of Chanel’s “feminist march” on the catwalk this season?

DOP: It was a fashion show, not a strong political moment. If you start looking to that as a genuine feminist statement then I think you’d be disappointed. A load of extremely beautiful women wearing expensive and boxy clothes holding signs that say bizarre things like ‘Tweed is better than tweet’ is just theatre, a play, a scene, nothing real. It was a fun idea, but nothing but the clothes had any major impact on me. I’m not offended by that sort of thing, but it doesn’t really grab my attention. Not like when the women who are really trying to change the world do it. But the clothes are rarely as interesting in those scenarios.

BOB by Dawn O’ Porter is now available online here

Love Ella. X

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