Interviews

5 Minutes With: J.Crew Designer Tom Mora

As anyone who hasn’t spent the past few weeks, nay months, living under a rock will be well aware, J.Crew just opened their first UK store right here in London! I don’t need to tell you my feelings about this, excited wouldn’t even begin to cover it. In fact the sheer level of gut wrenching anticipation I felt as I rounded the corner or Regents Street last Wednesday morning to see the J.Crew banners blazing and glimpse the delights within could not be considered healthy. Add to that the fact that I was there to interview the man behind the looks we all go wild for and I’m surprised I didn’t actually faint. So, without further ado, let’s get chatting with J.Crew’s oh-so-charming Womenswear Designer, Tom Mora…

J.Crew

LPA: Do you feel the J.Crew aesthetic has changed or evolved since you joined the company in 2011? If so, how?

TM: When I first started J.Crew was a very different company, then Mickey Drexler shook everything up. He realised that the name J.Crew had such a cache to it, as an iconic American brand it signified quality and taste so we tried to go back to the roots of the company and that’s when it all changed. We really started focusing on using the best fabrics, the best mills, the best cashmeres and looking at how we were making the clothes and all these qualities became integral to the brand, like our unspoken language. I think that the customers very quickly responded to the way the clothes and the stores looked and also to the quality of the service within the stores. It was very important to me that you would be served the same way in a J.Crew store as you would at any designer store on Madison Avenue or Regents Street. I think all these things combined have made J.Crew what it is today and that has stayed consistent. The style evolves but there’s always a casual elegance to everything. There are a lot of luxe pieces but then there’s also really great casual pieces and it’s that mixing, that high and low that we do in a way that no other brand does. So you have the beautiful silk pant that you wear with the jean shirt, or with a utility jacket and it’s that combination of materials that allow us to really style out the brand.

LPA: J.Crew is always seen as an All American brand but, as the sheer levels of London-wise excitement around the store launch show, we Brits are just as obsessed. Why do you think the label has such a global appeal?

TM: I think the clothes do feel global because as we evolved as a brand we started thinking about the world outside of America. The elements of it that make it American are the sportswear and great classic pieces rooted in menswear like the blazer or the perfect trouser. But the reality is that they transcend classic American style and become more of an international style in that they’re just great clothes. They’re clothes that have great value and also great craftsmanship and great quality so I think all those aspects combined are what draw customers across the world to the brand.

LPA: While Brits and Americans clearly feel the same way about J.Crew, do you notice that we wear your clothes in different ways or tend to choose different pieces?

TM: As a brand, what we try to do is give you an idea of how to style the pieces but it’s just a suggestion. Quite often now we find that customers are coming in having seen a look in the style guide or our runway presentation and they want the whole thing just like that which I love. But what’s amazing about the pieces is that they stand on there own so customers can pick them up and style them in their own way. I think that’s what’s great internationally because every country, every area within a country has it’s own look. It’s much like whole the uptown versus downtown thing in New York. Customers can adapt our pieces to their own look by incorporating them into their existing wardrobe or just taking different pieces from the collection because it’s so vast. You’ve got everything from great t-shirts and plaid shirts to beautiful silk blouses which allows for a broad range of ideas so the customer can really pick and choose. Most people dress one way one day and one way another, for example I don’t wear suits every day but I sure like putting them on once in a while, so the wide range in our collection works well for the the international customer.

LPA: Whenever I’m in the states, I always make a beeline for your stores and every single one I’ve been to (which is a lot) look fantastic and very recognisably “J.Crew”. How do you translate the distinctive style of your collections into a retail environment, for example, looking at the Regents Street store?

TM: I think that it’s really important that the stores all blend in to the environment of the city and even the particular neighbourhood they’re in. For example, the Miami store. You just walk in and you instantly know you’re in Miami but also that you’re definitely in a J.Crew store. Our collection store on 66th and Madison is designed you really know you’re on Madison Avenue but it still feels like J.Crew. Then the men’s liquor store is different again, they’re all very unique. There are certain featured that are consistent and key to the brand such as the wood colours, the finishings, the light fixtures, the oxidized brass mirrors, but then there’s always an element that will be particular to the neighbourhood. I think it’s always important that we work with local artists, for instance we had British set designer Shona Heath do the windows and taxi cab display for the Regents Street store. I think how we submerge ourselves within an area is by staying true to the J.Crew aethetic but also making sure that the store feels like part of the area. With Regents Street we didn’t tear the whole front out of the store and make it into something very modern, it still looks like it was part of Regents Street originally as we just blended our style with the local style. You can see that with the menswear store on Lambs Conduit Street or the Brompton Cross store, they both feel like they’ve been there for a long time

LPA: One of the things I, and everyone else, really love about J.Crew is the bold, colourful styling. What do you think is the secret to mixing prints and colours successfully?

TM: As I said, our styling is always just a suggestion to us so I think what the customer should do is look at an outfit we’ve styled and think about what particular aspects attract them to it. We often mix two prints together, or three prints together or a print and a plaid so you have to work out what you’re comfortable with as it takes a very adventurous person to step out in a head to toe look. What you can do is take an element of a look, like a great printed coat, and style it classically rather than with orange pants and a crazy sweater, if that’s how you feel comfortable. A good way to start is by making sure that there’s one classic element in an outfit. That could be a white shirt or a chambray shirt if it’s bold jacket or coat you’re dealing with. Or if it’s a crazy top maybe you pair it with a more classic bottom like a capri pant in black or heather grey. You can use techniques like that to ground the look or just really go to town, try the whole thing and see how it works out!

Love Ella. X

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5 Minutes With: Giles Deacon

I know, right? As interviewees go, Giles Deacon is a pretty big cheese. Actually scratch that. As people in the fashion industry full stop go Giles is an important one. I suspect you know as much about the designer as I do, if not more, but just in case I’ll tell you a little about him and his career so far before we get on to the interview. Giles Deacon exploded onto the fashion scene in 1992 with a Central Saint Martins graduate collection that landed him a job with Jean Charles De Castelbajac in Paris. Since then he has worked for the likes of Bottega Venetta and Tom Ford at Gucci before launching the eponymous, insta-hit, award winning label we all know and wish we owned pieces of. On top of all this, Giles has also found time to do everything from concocting high street capsule collections to starring on Britain’s Next Top Model and his latest side project even sees him giving Müller’s yogurt pots a fash-over!

Giles Deacon

I caught up with the designer to talk career highlights, style icons and all the bits in between…

LPA: From designing for Jean Charles de Castelbajac straight out of Central Saint Martins then moving on to Bottega Venetta before being scooped up by Tom Ford to work with him on Gucci womenswear, your early career seems something of a baptism of fire into the world of high fashion. How did you cope with launching straight into all of that? Were there ever times you just thought, “oh God, take me back to Cumbria!” or did you love it from the word go?

GD: Loved it from word go, it was an amazing opportunity to work with such an iconic fashion designer. I learnt a huge amount and we remain good friends.

LPA: What were the most valuable lessons you gained during those experiences and how do you feel they influenced you after setting up your own brand in 2004?

The most important lesson I’ve learnt is to work hard and be nice to people. This on the whole seems to have paid off as you never know who you are going to meet going up or going down in this business.

LPA: Your debut solo collection in February 2004 was styled by Katie Grand, walked in by a coterie of supers and hailed by critics. It would be tempting to assume that all has been plain sailing for Giles Deacon but I suspect that’s not the case and some say we learn more from our failures than our successes (I remain dubious about this). When have things gone well and truly tits up and how did you deal with it?

GD: To get any new business underway is a phenomenal amount of work and from a dedicated team it is impossible to do alone. Favours from old friends such as Karen Elson and Katie Grand were instrumental in getting me to this point. When things do go wrong, I try to deal with them in a sane way and find the best way to move on.

LPA: I know there’s no such thing as a “typical day” in fashion but what does a day in the Giles studio look like during the run up to fashion week and how does it compare to a non fashion week day in terms of sheer insanity?

GD: In the run up to the show I am generally in the studio at 8am with back to back fittings, production, lighting, casting and director meetings to maintain the focus of the show. I try to keep insanity to a minimum but there are always some surprises that are guaranteed to appear!

LPA: The phrase “style icon” is bandied about a lot these days. Who, if anyone, do you feel truly deserves to be called iconic and why?

GD: Lauren Bacall, she lived an extraordinary varied and diverse life, was married to phenomenally interesting men, has been in some of the most impressive important movies in history and always maintained a style that can’t be copied.

LPA: In 2011 you took part in Channel 4 programme New Look Style The Nation having appeared as a judge on Britain’s Next Top Model the year before. How do you find being in front of the camera as opposed to dressing those in front of it? Could we potentially see more Giles Deacon on our screens in the years to come?

GD: I really enjoy being in front of the camera as much as dressing those behind it – I’d love to do more.

LPA: Besides designing for Giles collections per year, you’ve also collaborated with the likes of New Look and Nine West on capsule collections as well as previously designing for Ungaro and Daks. How do you choose the projects you work on and, perhaps more importantly, how the hell do you fit it all in?

GD: It’s always interesting to do outside projects; it’s a great way to get your brand introduced to a new market and to bring interesting, exciting products to the masses. Luckily I can work quickly yet focus which helps these projects happen.

LPA: On that subject, tell me a little about your work with Muller. How did it come about and what can we expect from the collaboration?

GD: I designed two pots for Müllerlight – Ms Strawberry and Ms Toffee (below), I wanted to give individual characters based upon imaginary fashion characters.

Giles Deacon

LPA: If you had to pinpoint one career moment you’re most proud of what would it be and why?

GD: It was fantastic to be named Designer of the Year award in 2007 and finishing any fashion collection is always a high point for myself and the team.

LPA: Who’s your young designer to watch for 2014?

GD: Simone Rocha has a fantastic individual accessible style that feels new.

Love Ella. X

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5 Minutes With: John Camuto

John Camuto

I know I often say “it’s been a while since I last did such and such a post” but it really has been absolutely bloody ages since you last saw an interview on the blog. The onset of fashion month madness tends to make basically everything else a no go but now the SS14 shows are over you can expect a bit more variety on LPA… Yay! And kicking off this return to non catwalk related posts is an interview with John Camuto, son of footwear extraordinaire Vince Camuto and Manager of Product and Store Development for the entire, global Camuto Group. An impressive fellow indeed and, as I learned, rather charming too…

LPA: Given that your father, Vince Camuto, is something of a footwear legend one might assume a career in that field was inevitable. Growing up, were you always interested in the industry or was there a specific moment/event that made you realise you wanted to go down that route?

JC: I studied business and design in school and have always had an appreciation for fashion, art and architecture. Like my father, I enjoy understanding what customers are after, what they’re looking for, and figuring out how to give people what they want. We’re both product people and we like the challenge of continuing to deliver style, comfort and value across categories.

LPA: What does the role of Manager of Product and Store Development for a major international fashion company like the Camuto Group actually entail?

JC: I work closely on the development of new product, styles, silhouettes –working on everything from actual design, production, studying trend, the customer, new materials, interests, what styles are missing, what performing well, etc. I also work with the product development team to see about new categories and brand extensions including Two by Vince Camuto and Vince Camuto Men. I also work closely with the retail team on store development and have the opportunity to review the brand and retail presence on the ground, both domestically and internationally ensuring that all elements are on brand, and also appropriate by market. I love to travel, speak with store associates, participate in marketing events and more to enhance our current presence in various markets and also learn where else we may wish to extend the brand reach.

LPA: I’m guessing you didn’t start out in such a high powered role, talk me through your professional trajectory after graduating from the prestigious Fairfield University…

JC: Like my father, I started out in retail, at Nordstrom, and also at Vince Camuto retail stores. These positions allowed me to work with customers and helped me learn about the retail experience – how customers shop, what they look for, what influences a purchase decision. It truly has provided me a strong foundation as I embark on my career in this industry.

LPA: Have you ever been tempted to try your hand at design or has the business side of things always been your calling?

JC: Yes, absolutely. I love design and sit in the meetings with my father. I really enjoy all aspects of the business and I plan to continue exploring and understanding the business from every angle.

LPA: Besides working on the lifestyle product development for Vince Camuto, VC Signature and Two by Vince Camuto, you also assist on the retail development programme that has seen a huge expansion from 3 US locations to 35 global locations in just three years! What factors influence where the brand decides to open stores?

JC: I work with Greg Morel, President of International. There is a study of the market, where penetration seems like it may be most successful and discussion begins. Additionally, when we open a location, we employ marketing, advertising, PR, and social media, and look for strategic growth opportunities within each territory.

LPA: I was thrilled when Vince Camuto opened its first UK store on High Street Kensington this summer. What prompted this decision? Have you found the UK to be a strong market for the brand since partnering with Kurt Geiger in 2012?

JC: We were very excited too, and Kurt Geiger is a partnership we are very proud of. The UK is an excellent market for us – there is a strong appreciation for trend-driven product, particularly accessories. Our footwear and handbags make a statement as they are well-made and range between more trendy and classic/sophisticated. Vince Camuto offers collections with diverse silhouettes for a variety of occasions for women who appreciate fashion – and these women are most certainly in the UK!

LPA: What is your favourite aspect of your job?

JC: The interaction with the customers, media, and people I meet during my travels is one of my favorite parts of my job. Learning what each market likes and how they respond to the product helps us plan for additional growth.

LPA: What advice would you give to someone hoping for a career on the business side of fashion? Would you recommend studying a specific degree such as Fashion Management or do you feel its more useful to gain hands on experience through internships?

JC: Going to school and studying what you love is very important. Chances are whatever subject that is, you will apply it in your career – so hone those skills. Whether English, or business, psychology, design – these are all used in various departments. After the school year ends and during the summers it is important to gain hands-on experiences in the industry you are interested in pursuing a career. It gives you direct awareness of how the business works and prepares you for future opportunities.

Love Ella. X

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5 Minutes With: Antipodium’s Geoffrey J Finch

It’s been absolutely ages since I last posted an interview so I’m very happy to be bringing “5 Minutes With” back with a bang! If you spotted last seasons London Fashion Week coverage you no doubt heard me wax lyrical about the wonders of Antipodium. The brand’s AW13 collection, “Sex, Lies and CCTV” was a favourite out of everything I saw in New York and back home in Blighty. PVC skater dresses with Peter Pan collars, acid hued tweed, velvet twinsets in off-colour combos, walking the fine line between Princess and punk… It was a dream.

antipodium

Antipodium AW13

With just a couple of weeks until their SS14 show, I caught up with Antipodium’s Creative Director, Geoffrey J Finch… Enjoy!

LPA: What was your first job in fashion and how did you get it?

GJF: After a year on exchange in France I returned to Australia to scrounge cash to get to London. I tried desperately to get a job in retail but failed miserably. Ironically a job telemarketing photocopiers got me an in at a shop. The shop happened to be owned by some crazy fashion wholesalers who gave me a trial in the showroom. I was there for 3 years. It turned out that I was quite the salesman.

LPA: I was very interested to learn that you never really had any formal design training. Do you think this gives you a different approach to a designer who studied, say, BA Womenswear at Central Saint Martins?

GJF: I learnt just about everything on the shopfloor and in the showroom – and my mum was a dressmaker. I guess it’s given me a rather pragmatic approach to fashion. The consumer – let alone my mother – is an incredible and rather strict teacher.

LPA: Having been in the industry for some years now, you must have your fair share of stories. What has been your most fabulous fashion moment?

GJF: Liberty was the very first customer to place an order with us. I’ll always remember it coming through. I was 23 and had hair.

LPA: Antipodium was originally set up as a boutique PR and wholesale agency representing Antipodean brands. What prompted the launch of your own label in 2006? Was that always the ultimate plan?

GJF: It was more of a happy accident! Through the shop and agency we noticed a gap in the market for design-led wardrobe staples. We made up a few bits for the shop, Vogue and Liberty came across them and encouraged us to expand these into a collection. It would have been rude not to!

LPA: Given how hugely successful the label has been, I can imagine that aspect of the business has kept you very busy for the past 7 years. Has Antipodium continued representing and promoting other Antipodean brands too? If so, how do you and Ashe balance it all?

GJF: After we closed sales on our second season we were in a bit of a spot. Suddenly we had a rather big whack of orders to contend with and so we decided to close the shop and agency and focus our energies on the label. It’s been really satisfying returning to retail with antipodium.com. I’m a shop girl at heart.

LPA: One of the things I love the most about Antipodium is the element of humour that comes across in your designs. Why do you feel this has become such a key aspect of the Antipodium aesthetic? Do you think that fashion can sometimes be at risk of taking itself a bit too seriously?

GJF: I guess that’s a reflection of our collective approach to life – and it’s such a luxury to perhaps improve someone’s day. It seems to sell too. Phew!

LPA: Your AW13 collection, “Sex, Lies and CCTV” was one of my absolute favourites during fashion week this season. What was it that particularly inspired you about that theme?

GJF: Between social media, security cameras, sex tapes and phone hacking; there ain’t much that’s private anymore. We’re all very much under surveillance – and maybe we’re enjoying that? I guess I wanted to create a wardrobe for life on camera – and I got to reference Sharon Stone in Sliver.

LPA: Who would you be most surprised to see wearing Antipodium?

GJF: Sharon Stone.

LPA: Your latest collection featured some fantastic PVC pieces and it also appeared on the catwalk everywhere from Burberry to Jonathan Saunders. Any thoughts on why PVC is so hot for AW13? And more importantly, any tips for wearing it?

GJF: It seems to be particularly about texture this season. PVC clashes so perfectly with mohair and velour – not to mention faux pony. It’s all so wrong but right. The kink factor is irresistible but must be balanced with demure shapes – high necklines and below the knee skirts – and knowing plays on colour. And, you’ll never have to worry about someone spilling a pint on you. Let the good times roll.

Love Ella. X

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5 Minutes With: Zoe Jordan

I think it’s fair to say Zoe Jordan is on a roll. In fact, she’s been on a roll since 2011 when the Formula 1 boss’s daughter launched her eponymous label, garnering rave reviews for her debut designs and landing a nomination for the BFC/Vogue Designer Fashion Fund 2012. Since then Zoe hasn’t put a foot wrong, producing stellar collection after stellar collection and gathering fashionable fans and global stockists as she goes. With fashion month now just weeks away (sh*t!), I caught up with the woman herself to talk inspirations, aspirations and the city we both call home.

Zoe Jordan

LPA: In little over a year, your label has landed some of the world’s most prestigious stockists and featured everywhere from Vogue and Elle to the FT. What do you think it is about your style that has made the Zoe Jordan brand such an overnight success?

ZJ: It has always been important for me to grow the business at a steady pace with a huge focus on our customer and longevity, with out concerning my self too much on being an overnight success.  The  UK press and buyers have been supportive and encouraging since the launch as they see a long term vision with the collections and understand that there is more to come

LPA: One of the things I’ve always found most fascinating about you as a designer is the fact that you previously worked as a bond trader. What prompted such a dramatic change of career? And how have you found the transition from finance to fashion?

ZJ: Before my time in business I studied architecture, so after 5 years in  the face paced world of being a bond trader it felt very natural move into a more design focused direction in which i could still use my business skills. The fashion industry is the perfect place to merge business, structure, design and creativity.

LPA: You also studied architecture and cited ‘stark minimalist monochrome interiors’ and the ‘cathedrals of Renaissance Italy’ as inspiration for your AW13 collection. How do you translate the aspects of architecture that catch your eye into wearable garments?

ZJ: By using these two contrasting architectural references  I am playing with the different light, mood and feel a space can create and how it sits among other structures, much like I do with my collections by bringing  contrasting elements and styles together; soft tailoring with structured dresses balancing the the androgynous with the feminine and the classical with the modern.

LPA: Famously stylish fans of your work include Kiera Knightly, Cara Delevigne, Laura Bailey and Helena Christensen. Is there anyone else you’d particularly love to see wearing Zoe Jordan?

ZJ: I am happy to see anyone who loves the brand wearing it and who is not afraid of not following trends and styles. A natural confidence is something I admire and like to see in women such as Gwyneth Paltrow Sienna Miller and Poppy Delevingne.

LPA: With a high profile father like F1 boss Eddie Jordan and no formal fashion training, did you feel that you had to work harder to prove yourself as a designer?

ZJ: I think anyone, regardless of training and back round who is setting out to be a designer in the fashion industry has to work hard to prove themselves!

LPA: According to your bio, you divide your time between your home in Hong Kong and your London studio. How do you manage all the travel? Do you have any tricks for coping with jet lag? If so, I’d LOVE to hear them…

ZJ: I have since moved back to London full time however for a couple of years I was back and forth quite a lot. The only trick for coping with jet lag is to spend time in natural light and do some exercise, the sun in particular really helps the body to adjust to the new time zone, and the exercise helps to improve sleep, so as much as you don’t feel like it you have to head out for a quick jog!

LPA: With major developments afoot at the BFC and so many fantastic independent designers working and showing in London, the British Fashion Industry seems a really exciting place to be right now. How do you feel things have changed since you’ve been a part of it? Could you ever see yourself decamping to show in Paris or New York?

ZJ: I have seen a recent push in the the British Fashion industry in the contemporary designer market which is very exciting as in recent years this side of the market  has been fronted by American and French designers such as; Philip Lim, Alexander Wang, Isabel Marant, Carven  and Vanessa Bruno. I think the timing is perfect for brands such as Zoë Jordan to highlight this movement in London Fashion week and I have no intention to go else where. The brand is a homage to the London girl and her nonchalant glamour.

LPA: What is your ultimate aim for the Zoë Jordan brand?

ZJ: To grow from season to season both in the UK and Internationally building the brand and introducing more product lines, yet always staying true to the Zoë Jordan girl.

Love Ella. X

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