More than 5 Minutes With… Stella McCartney

As you may have gathered from my extremely over excited tweets, Monday was possibly one of the best days EVER as I got the incredible opportunity to meet Stella McCartney. I was one of just 5 lucky MOP’s (that’s members of press) invited along to Stella’s recently launched Adidas store where the designer spent a good hour talking us through her AW12 performance wear, team GB collection and generally giving us the lowdown on her amazing career so far. Unsurprisingly, I was more than a little bit nervous as I awaited the arrival of the one and only Stella McCartney with my blogger buddies, Reem Kanj of Five Five Fabulous, Naomi Mdudu of The Fash Pack and Alex Vanthournout of Alex Loves. At last – we all arrived early due to nerves/excitement – Stella walked in all golden tan, glossy hair and beaming smile, an endearing combination of superhuman chicness and down-to-earth charm.

Stella McCartney & Ella Catliff

In between comparing handbags (Stella prefers the ‘lightweight’ variety), bitching about the weather and manhandling most of the new season stock, I managed sneak in more than 5 minutes worth of interview time with the multi-talented Mrs McCartney…

LPA: You’ve been working with Adidas for eight years now, how did the collaboration actually come about in the first place? Was designing a line of (very stylish) sportswear something you’d always hoped to do one day?

SM: Initially it came about because I knew someone (working) at Adidas! When I did my first solo collection after leaving Chloe I wanted to have sneakers on the runway but I didn’t really love the fashion sneakers around at the time, so I wanted to collaborate with Adidas to make them. Because of my friendship we did this one-off sneaker and then about 6 months later they came and asked if I would do the Originals line - the more casual, fashion side with no technology – and I said look, number one you do that great, you don’t need me and number two, I don’t find it exciting. I don’t want to just design tracksuits, I’d rather do a performance range… And here we are. It all came from working together on one little thing with them but it’s a really big part of our brand philosophy now, it really is part of our woman.

LPA: How greatly does the design process for your Adidas collections differ from what goes into your Stella McCartney mainline collections? 

SM: The design process isn’t completely different. I’ll always be a fashion designer first and foremost so I always start from a fashion point of view. I do the research and get inspired by a woman, that’s the same for anything I do, but then the technology does come into play. There are loads of limitations when you’re working with technology so the design process has to be led by it because of all the constraints. Some of the time we work in the same way as I would on my mainline collections but then other times the process is more technology led. For instance, if we’re working on a new sneaker it’ll be the technology that leads the actual project whereas on some of the outfits we have more freedom. Technology really drives this range so often it can be a new material that inspires the product itself.

LPA: How important do you think it is to stay chic whilst exercising? It can be pretty near impossible but when you live in a city like London, it’s hard not to want to look presentable at the gym or in the park. Do you have any top tips for sweating in style?

The starting point and the foundation of the whole collaboration (with Adidas) was, ‘why should you sacrifice your style for your sport? Why should you be embarrassed when you get caught on the way back from the gym?’ You should look as cool working out as you do in everyday life. You should be able go for a pint afterwards, you should be able to feel confident in how you look. What I found really disappointing, and still do 8 years in, is how women especially take technology less into when dressing for their sport. We so want to look good that often, a woman will just wear her favourite t-shirt to work out. You should be able to wear your favourite garment but it should have the clima cool technology in there and it should be made from a material that doesn’t sweat as much. I think those were the foundations for me in working with technology and style so I really love the whole idea of pack-away and lightweight clothes you can chuck in your bag. You want to be able to bike to work but you don’t want to carry around a load of stuff…  I think with exercise it’s really important that you should be able to bring it in to your life.

When you’re working out it’s so hard to get motivated and I think you need to feel like something’s going to take you that extra little bit. Getting dressed to work out should inspire you to work out. I think that colour has a great home in sportswear. When you start with black it’s really hard to get away from it and if you’ve just got the same old black leggings and black t-shirt on that’s not going to inspire you. Fashion’s there to inspire people and with sports, the two together takes it to a whole different level.

LPA: Stella McCartney mainline, Stella McCartney Kids, Adidas by Stella McCartney, Stella McCartney perfumes, accessories, sunglasses… How do you find the time to do so much, so successfully? 

I’m not going to pretend we’re not extremely busy. I have just one girl that I work with on Adidas so it’s a really tight team. I’m the one that has the overview of everything but that works well as I know what’s going on with kids, with Adidas, our own collection and lingerie and sunglasses… I really am the Creative Director and I think that’s good because it brings everything together in the same voice. But I have a good team. If you want to grow you have to at some stage think, right, I cannot do everything myself, I have to trust in my team and enable my talented people. I had to learn to delegate a bit more and learn to be part of the process rather than trying to control everything.

LPA: The Olympics are just days away now, how do you feel about seeing your designs on every athlete representing Great Britain? 

SM: I’m really, really excited about it. I’ve been working on it for nearly 3 years so it’s been a huge part of my life and really one of the most challenging design projects I’ve done ever without a doubt. I feel like my work is done and I can now hand it over to everyone else.

LPA: What were your main considerations while designing the kit for Team GB? 

SM: The main thing for me was working closely with the athletes and delivering on what they needed. One of my big roles was to really try and make them a team. I think they really wanted that, both when they were performing and when they weren’t, even when they’re just in the village. I thought it was funny how so many of them said ‘we want to go and get our meals together in the food hall. We all want to sit down round a table and everyone to look at us and know we’re team GB’. There in a village for two weeks and want to feel unified so I worked on the village kit very closely and wanted it to look like a famiy, one body of work.

This is the first year that a fashion designer has ever worked on the Olympic kit. It’s also the first time that an entire team’s kit has been worked on so comprehensively and more products have been introduced than ever. In previous Olympics a lot of the time women just got the men’s stuff, for instance, in the last games the women cyclists just had the men’s all-in-ones. I was outraged by that so I made a point of trying to really deliver for both sexes this time round.

Love Ella. X

Posted on by Ella Catliff in Interviews 3 Comments

5 Minutes With… Donna Ida

For anyone who knows anything about fashion, Donna Ida Thornton will be a woman who needs no introduction. Since opening her first boutique back in 2006, Donna has opened three further stores in the London, an international online denim emporium and gathered a legion of denim-loving devotees. As a newly converted denim addict, I’m currently a little obsessed with Donna Ida – the store and, I’ll admit, the person – so I was thrilled to quiz London’s reigning ‘Queen of Jeans’ on personal style, denim trends and how she built her business…

Donna Ida Thornton

LPA: What were you doing before you started Donna Ida? Have you always worked in fashion? 

DA: I’ve always been interested in fashion and I know what I like. I was working in Marketing in London before I started Donna Ida.

LPA: What prompted you to launch Donna Ida in 2006? Starting up your own business was an incredibly bold move. Did you feel fairly confident that it was going to take off? 

DA: I launched Donna Ida because I couldn’t find anywhere to buy jeans that I felt truly comfortable in. Department stores have a great selection but I couldn’t get the service I needed and I was paranoid I wouldn’t be able to get them up over my thighs and would have to get dressed and go out looking for more sizes myself. Which usually did happen. I believe that if you work hard you can make anything happen, so I’ve always been confident that Donna Ida would be a success.

LPA: Despite the disastrous effects of the recession on so many other businesses, Donna Ida has been incredibly successful and grown hugely over the past few years. What do you think has been the key to your company’s success?

DA: Service; whether it is online or offline we want to make sure that shopping for jeans is a great experience. All the Donna Ida girls receive regular training which ensures our advisors are denim experts.

LPA: As someone renowned for helping women wear denim well, you must feel under pressure to always look good yourself. What’s your failsafe outfit formula? 

DA: Skinny jeans, a basic silk tee and a blazer. Plus heels, no less than 5 inches! I also like accessories, a good handbag and jewellery always make me feel pulled together.

LPA: Which has been your favourite and least favourite trend for SS12? 

DA: Neon has been so big for SS12 and it’s continuing through to SS13 too.  It’s the Isabel Marant effect, and is clearly in evidence across a lot of brands! Least favourite? I don’t really have one, I like little bit of everything, and as long as you’re confident and happy with what you’re wearing then that’s ok by me.

LPA: Printed and bright denim is everywhere this season, but can everyone really wear these tricky styles? Should certain body types steer clear of certain colours or cuts? 

DA: Everyone can wear prints and coloured denim. It’s the same rules as buying any style of jeans, there is a style to suit each body type. Some women even find coloured denim the most flattering and prints can hide a multitude of sins.

LPA: Would you recommend that someone who wanted to work in the fashion industry study it at university? Or do you feel it’s better to gain experience through interning instead? 

DA: It depends what you are like as a person. University can expose students to a wealth or knowledge and volunteering at different companies can demonstrate the day-to-day running of a business and help you understand the areas you are most attracted to. For me university was never an option – I got out of school and into work as quick as I could. It would have meant I was years behind where I wanted to be, but everyone’s different.

LPA: What advice would you give to someone hoping to launch their own company? 

DA: Work hard, keep your head down in the early days and solve one problem at a time. Don’t look up at the whole terrifying mountain, just keep putting one foot in front of the other and make some progress every day. Grab what sleep you can and drink plenty of coffee the rest of the time.

Love Ella. X

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5 Minutes With… Amy Hall

With features, high profile stockists and fans including Susie Bubble and Paloma Faith to her name, it would be easy to assume that knitwear designer Amy Hall came from a strictly fashion background. But, unlike many other designers who knew their calling from the word go and went straight down the art foundation, fashion degree route before either going to work for an established fashion house or setting up on their own, Amy actually studied photography and then went on to work for Magnum Photos in New York. It was only after returning to London several years later that she decided to rekindle her childhood love of knitting, consulting at Rowan Yarns and teaching at Liberty London and Central Saint Martins where she herself had taken a summer course.

Amy Hall

Amy Hall AW12

In 2010 Amy made the bold decision to launch her own knitwear label and given the success she’s had in just four seasons, I’d say it was a leap of faith that paid off. I caught up with the designer to get the lowdown on her career so far and how she plans to make knitwear sexy again…

LPA: After studying and working in photography, what prompted you to pack it in and turn your hand to knitwear instead?

Amy: When I did my degree it was on the cusp of the start of the digital boom. Some of my fellow students embraced this but I didn’t, as the magic of doing everything yourself from putting the film in to developing prints in the darkroom, was what drew me to it in the first place. After spending a couple of years working in the industry I quickly became disillusioned as digital photography took over.  Knitting and crochet had been in the background the whole time and it didn’t take long for me to realize that that was what excited me more.

LPA: While Central Saint Martins’ summer courses are of an extremely high standard, they’re not as in-depth as doing a degree in fashion design. What made you choose this instead of, say, an MA in Fashion Knitwear Design? Have you ever felt it’s put you at a disadvantage compared to your competitors?

Amy: It wasn’t a case of choosing to do the short course instead of a fashion degree, more that I already had one degree and couldn’t really afford the time or money to go and study for another.  I took the summer course at CSM to improve my machine knitting skills and just thought I’d try to start the business with what knowledge I had accumulated myself.  If it hadn’t worked out, I would probably have gone back to art college.  Thankfully it doesn’t look like I’ll need to and I don’t think I am at a disadvantage as a result of that. To have studied fashion or textiles would have been fantastic, but to make a success of this without having done so is a huge achievement in itself.

LPA: After deciding to pursue a career in knitwear, you initially started by teaching knitting. How did you get from there to launching your own highly successful knitwear label?

Amy: I was already teaching knitting as a part-time job before I considered starting the business. It only served to remind me how much I enjoyed working with yarn and needles. I would say it probably helped to give me the boost I needed in order to get the business started.

LPA: What has been the most challenging thing about running your own brand?

Amy: Learning on the job. It’s a cliché, but I literally learn something new every day. I don’t really have a business head, so dealing with the day-to-day issues of actually owning and running a knitwear label alongside the creative element of designing and making the garments is the biggest challenge. I have to be quite structured when I’m planning my time.

LPA: Who, dead or alive, would you most like to see wearing your designs and why?

Amy: I’ve recently stumbled across some beautiful images of a young Talitha Getty in the ‘60s, looking stunning in a very natural, almost slightly unkempt way. I think she’d have slung something on and just make it look fantastic.Right now, I’d love to see someone like Erin Wasson wearing one of my pieces. I love her style – to me she owns that sexy, boyish, insouciant look.

LPA: The fact that it’s “handmade it London” is integral to your work. Why is this so important to you as a designer?

Amy: I think a lot of designers are becoming more aware of the importance of having their pieces manufactured closer to home. But for me, when I set up the label it was always something I felt very strongly about. I knew I didn’t want my pieces churned, en masse, out of a factory in China. How can you possibly have full control over something happening so far away? Every single piece I produce is made by hand, which makes each of them unique.  Everything is made by me, or one of my small team, in East London. They’re also made using the best quality yarns I can get my hands on, so if the garments are taken care of, they’ll last a long time.  As consumers are becoming more concerned with provenance and spending more on fewer things, it makes sense to offer them more for their money.

LPA: Wool doesn’t exactly have a reputation for being the sexiest or most fashion forward of fabrics. How do you hope or plan on changing this?

Amy: I hope I already am changing that.  Wool is an incredibly versatile fibre that is sustainable and long-lasting.  It’s tactile and feminine, and can be crafted into everything from a sheer dress to a heavily textured coat. There’s so much you can do with it, there’s no reason for it not to be sexy!

LPA: Could you ever see yourself doing a collection using a completely different material?

Amy: For Autumn/Winter 2012 I have introduced a leather belt to the collection.  I found somebody who works in London with the same values as me and we worked together to create something that compliments the knitwear beautifully. I love the contrast of leather with knitwear, so it is possible I will branch out further and do more leather pieces in future.

LPA: What’s your ultimate aim for the Amy Hall brand?

Amy: Ultimately, I aim to continue to push the boundaries of the medium and the perceptions around knitwear within the industry. I’m incredibly fortunate to have the label recognized and stocked by a couple of the most exciting fashion forward stores in the UK, so I’d like to continue to reach out to more women by being stocked by other cutting edge boutiques in London and beyond.

Love Ella. X

Amy Hall is currently stocked at Wolf and Badger.

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5 Minutes With… Laura Bailey

Model, writer, mother, blogger and, as I discovered the other week, a real laugh too. If ever there were a candidate for major life/looks/wardrobe envy it’s Laura Bailey.

Over the past 15 years Laura has been starred in campaigns for Temperley London, Guess Jeans, L’Oreal and is currently the face of Radley London. Having also found the time to write for Vogue, Vanity Fair, Harper’s Bazaar and The Telegraph to name but a few, it’s universally acknowleged that’s Bailey’s much, much more than just a pretty face.

Oh and let’s not forget that she’s travelled the world and had two gorgeous (I assume) children too. Like I said, Laura Bailey is someone who’s achievements and sheer loveliness could coax the green eyed monster out of even the most Christian souls. I tried to put my jealousy aside last week when I was lucky enough to be offered the chance to interview Laura and discovered that besides being in posession of beauty, brains and impeccable style, she’s also unfairly likeable.

Laura Bailey & Ella Catliff La Petite Anglaise
LPA: Having graduated from Southampton University with a first class degree in English Literature, a career as a writer seems like a natural step, but how did you get into modelling?

LB: I’m afraid to say it was the cliché of being picked up on the Kings Road. I had never considered modelling before and I went along with it almost as a dare at first. But when you’ve been a student, once you start working, making money, travelling and having an amazing time it becomes your career even if you initially thought it was just a kind of holiday job. But the great thing about modelling for me, even at the beginning, was that it supported my other dreams. I always wrote and had so many other interests but modelling is how I’ve made my living and I’m so grateful for the lucky, strange coincidence which made it happen.

LPA: Fashion journalism is one of the most competitive and sought after careers around. What was your first big break and how did you get it?

LB: Well I think it’s a very different world now due to the diverse access to the industry, it wasn’t like that when I first started. My break, so to speak, was when Conde Nast very first went online and I’d write a weekly New York stories for GQ online. Embarrassingly I faxed my copies over from my little apartment! It was such a gift at the time as it made me look at my New York adventures in a different way and it was a really good discipline. So I’ve now ended up very much back at home with Conde Nast, they absolutely gave me my first break.

LPA: What advice would you give to someone hoping to work as a fashion writer?

LB: Number one, just write, because I think a lot of people including me spend a lot of time talking about writing and worrying about writing. It’s also really important to let people read what you’re writing which I think is another huge fear, but less so for people like you (bloggers) and for me in my Vogue blog because you write, it’s done, it’s out there and you move on. Bottom line, just write and don’t be afraid to put it out there.

LPA: How do you balance being a writer and a model? Do you find doing one benefits the other?

LB: I think each fed a different side of my personality. There is absolutely a side of me that is happiest as a complete loner, either reading or writing and then there’s another much more show off, extrovert side of me which is fulfilled through the modelling. So I think I’ve been really lucky with my split personality to somehow find two careers that fit… That doesn’t sound like a very healthy answer but I think it’s the honest one!

LPA: You also somehow find the time to be a cultural ambassador for the British Fashion Council, what does that role entail and why did you decided to take it on?

LB: It’s a relatively new role and the remit is very broad but to give you an example, the focus of my work with the BFC right now is that I’m heavily involved with this new FASH/ON FILM festival which launched in February but is seriously premiering in September. That involves matchmaking directors with designers, suddenly becoming a producer which is totally new for me and really looking for other ways to tell fashion stories beyond the catwalk. And also, on a more frivolous front, my role involves waving the flag for British designers by wearing the clothes and having fun with it.

LPA: What’s your failsafe outfit formula?

LB: Kind of. I’m not the kind of person who puts an outfit out the night before because I could have an idea that I want to wear my favourite little black dress but then be in the complete opposite mood. I don’t plan and I don’t have a complete safety net but I do have my favourite things that I’ll wear until they fall to pieces and designers that I go back to again and again like Stella (McCartney), Jonathan Saunders, Chanel, Roland Mouret, Bella Freud for everyday kintwear… Admittedly I’m saying my friends but I like clothes with an emotional story as well. If I was forced to choose, I probably have 10 pieces that either I love for nostalgic and emotional reasons, or perhaps in a spoilt way because they were made especially for me or things that might look really boring and simple but I just can move fast in and love to wear.

LPA: Over the past few years we’ve seen a lot of young, independent London designers really starting to gain recognition within the fashion industry. Which of them do you see making it long term and why?

LB: I love the work of James Long and some of the younger menswear brands like Folk and E.Tautz. I’m now starting to look more at smaller menswear and accessory brands and off-schedule designers. An example of an off-schedule show I really loved last season was Sister by Sibling. I’ve followed them for so long and it just felt like their time. It’s really exciting for me to see that journey and how a brand I’ve followed for ages suddenly captures everybody’s attention, plus I love their clothes. I’m a terrible shopper but when I saw their collection I went and did an uncharacteristic advance order and wrote a big, fat cheque… That’s quite unusual for me!

LPA: During your career as a travel writer, you must have been to countless incredible places. What were your top three destinations and why?

LB: Firstly Rwanda which I visited when I was pregnant with my son – so it was probably ill-advised in the first place – because of the incredible political story of Rwanda and getting to tell that story. The combintation of that and going trekking in the volcanoes to see the Gorillas which had been a dream of mine for so long that I couldn’t cancel it just because I was pregnant! For absolute spoilt, Princess, model paradise I’d have to say Sonava Fushi in the Maldives just because I needed that kind of disappearing act at that time in my life. Then finally for hardcore adventure I’d have to say Kilimanjaro but I’d never do anything like it again in my life. It’s very hard to pick a favourite though because each place I’ve visited has it’s own beauty.

LPA: You’ve been a guest blogger for some time now, what do you think of the relationship between print and online journalism? Do you think online will eventually replace print or the two can continue to co-exist?

LB: I really enjoy writing my blog but I believe, perhaps optimistically that there’s absolutely a place for both. I love the idea of a paper magazine becoming something more collectable, something to treasure. I still have memories of reading my mother’s old Vogues and I hope my daughter will do the same with my old magazines. For now, I like the mixture of print magazines and the fast pace of online and the diverse voices if offers. But if I’m really honest, when something I’ve written or edited is out on paper it feels slightly more real. I really hope there will continue to be a place for both but I think it’s a big debate going forward.

Love Ella. X

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5 Minutes with… Rebecca Taylor

When it comes to urban femininity, few do it better than New York based fashion designer, Rebecca Taylor. Rebecca’s chic-yet-practical pieces have found there way into the hearts and wardrobes of some of the world’s most stylish and successful women and earned her a reputation for being a master at fusing wearability ith covetability to create wardrobe staples with a edge.

Rebecca Taylor

I managed to snag an interview with Rebecca when she was in London last month to grill her on first jobs, wardrobe disasters and fashion empires…

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Posted on by Ella Catliff in Interviews 1 Comment