Interviews

More Than 5 Minutes With: Alexander Lewis

Alexander Lewis

Remember my post on Alexander Lewis a few months ago? (click here for a reminder) Well since that initial introduction, my obsession with the designer has grown big time. I may sound like some kind of crazed stalker saying this, but having fallen in love with his contemporary take on boy-meets-girl cool and been beyond impressed by how insanely savvy he sounded (thank you Business of Fashion) I was dying to meet this particular designer. So when the lovely folk at KCD London casually enquired as to whether I fancied popping along to Alexander’s studio slash apartment in Knightsbridge to check out his Resort 2014 offerings my answer was, obviously, a big, fat YES!

Resort 2014 mood boards…

Alexander Lewis

Alexander Lewis

Alexander Lewis

Manolo Blahnik for Alexander Lewis Resort 2014 footwear… AKA the dream

Alexander Lewis

After spending far more than five minutes with the man himself (partially due to the fact that halfway through out interview I realised my iPhone hadn’t recorded a thing, embarrassing) I can attest that not only are his designs to die for, Alexander Lewis is one smart, not to mention obscenely talented, cookie. Tom Ford better watch his back, that’s all I’m saying…

LPA: One of the things I found most interesting when reading up on your background was the fact that you studied Business & Communications at the University of California. Why did you decide to go down this route rather than studying, say womenswear design at FIT?

AL: I had been sketching and putting my efforts into the creative side of things for many years but I wanted to do degree that would put me in a good position going forward no matter what happened in my life, so I decided to study Business and Communications rather than going straight down the arts route. At the time was very heavily involved in acting so I actually went to university to do a theatre degree while taking business and communications classes alongside that with the idea that if I needed or wanted to, I could go on to an arts school after getting a more conventional BA degree. I just felt that it was something that would prepare me for whatever came as opposed to just one idea.

LPA: What impact do you feel your business background has on your work now you’re running your own brand?

AL: I think it’s definitely had a significant impact. When I start to think about a new collection I’m already thinking about a range plan from the outset, from the very beginning I’m aware of how much the fabric is going to cost and how that’s going to affect the product. I’m very aware that putting something in that might be really great creatively and show a lot of skill might not be the best thing for the collection because it just won’t sell or it’s a show piece and as I focus on pre collections those kind of products aren’t really necessary. From the first day of the new season and all the way through the design process I’m already thinking about the bottom line s opposed to only at the end once I’ve sold the collection then going back to the financial side and noticing there’s a problem.

LPA: Another fascinating point of difference is the fact that you’ve so far only released Resort and Pre Fall collections, rather than the more traditional route of launching with main line collections and then expanding. What was the reasoning behind this decision?

AL: I made that decision because of the business side of the industry. Basically, I was looking at the way the market was working seeing that buyers were starting to spend a lot more time, a lot more focus and a greater percentage of their seasonal budget within the pre buy. I viewed this as a really great opportunity for me to try and get into the market because any field you go into, there are going to be hundreds of other people trying to achieve the same thing. When you’re in the fashion world there are 101 people that want to be a designer so how do you have a point of difference? As a point of difference (only doing pre collections) is a major one. I though it just makes sense. I was looking at the buying opportunities and space in the fashion arena. Right before I started I did a count and realised that with the main season Style.com reviewed 300 plus collections whereas for pre collections they were reviewing just 100 so automatically there are far fewer people involved in the category. Creatively I also felt pre collections really served the ideas and the creative inspirations that I was hoping to focus on better than the main season collections.

LPA: Your career so far has been hugely varied, including a stint assisting legendary Vogue Editor-at-Large Andre Leon Talley, working as a personal shopper at Harrods and apprenticing on Saville Row. How have these diverse experiences shaped your design aesthetic?

AL: I’m not sure how much they’ve shaped the design aesthetic, they’ve probably more shaped how I’ve chosen to run the business. That said, I suppose they have influenced it just because I’ve been exposed to a lot. The tailoring element, working as a pattern cutter, has influenced me the greatest amount because of the way I now look at the clothing when I’m going through the twarling process and the fittings. I think that I maybe look into details that would perhaps be overlooked by someone else.The way that tailoring comes into all my work, from obviously tailored pieces like jackets and trousers right down to t-shirts, has definitely been greatly influenced by the way that I trained on Saville Row.

LPA: I love the idea of creating clothes for “fashion situations” rather than “fashion seasons”. Why did you decide to design in this way? What kind of “fashion situations” do you focus on in particular?

AL: I think that fashion situations are more in line with what the pre collections are all about. Pre collections go into a store at a time when people in the northern hemisphere want to be in the sun so they go on holiday, that’s what resort caters to, and in the southern hemisphere it’s the summer so they can wear it right. The main seasons are very difficult to translate in the same way. To me the pre collection has a much more global stance and how that feeds into the fashion situations goes into the way that I imagine this story for the woman who wears the clothing. For Resort 2014 the situation is really looking at specific pockets of culture around the world where you have a large ex pat Asian community mixing with local communities, which in this case are surf cultures. My woman is travelling to Sydney, Costa Rica, beaches of Brazil, Southern California or she’s in South China sea or surfing beaches in Japan like China or Shōnan and she’s dressing for that location. She’s finding herself in this very specific zeitgeist of a location situation and that’s what my designs are meant to reflect.

LPA: Talk me through your resort 2014 collection. What was your initial inspiration and how did you get from there, to the finished looks?

AL: I started with the idea that Brazil has the largest Japanese population outside of Japan. I had been in Sydney f orNew Year’s which has a very large Chinese population. I also used to live in LA which has the largest South Korean population outside of South Korea and I’ve spent quite a lot of time in Costa Rica which has a very large Asian community who go for golf and surfing and holidays and have a large influence there. My previous two collections have been about very specific locations or situations and I wanted this collection to be about a situation that a woman could find herself in in various parts of the world, so it wasn’t so confined, it was on a global scale. This led to me doing the development of the textile print that happens in the jacquards in the collection which is based in a Japanese technique called Kanoko Shibori and then there are elements of other Asian influences in the Cheongsam Qipao style collars and the t-shirts which I’ve called “rash guards”, on the dresses. There’s also a sporty nature to it and the seam detailing in a lot of the pieces which are referencing wetsuits and the colour blocking characteristic to them. I wanted all of those elements to marry together. They all sound totally ridiculous separately and maybe a bit cliché but then come together in a seamless and un ridiculous way.

LPA: Given how successful the Alexander Lewis brand has been already, it’s easy to forget that that this is only your third collection it’s still early days. Where do you hope to see your label in five years time?

AL: Thank you. I feel like the brand is very young still. I hope that in 5 years time I will have brought in the other two seasons but for now I really feel like focusing on these pre collections is a really important element for me. While other brands may focus on growing their main season and then eventually adding in pre, I’m doing the opposite of that. A healthy but steady growth is what I see coming for Alexander Lewis the brand. In 5 years time I’ll probably have a store but it doesn’t necessarily have to be a huge one. It might just be something modest and small that reflects what the brand is at that stage. I’m very aware of not pushing it beyond its limits.

Think he talks the talk impressively? Well then check out these resort 2014 beauties…

Alexander Lewis

Alexander lewis

Alexander Lewis

Love Ella. X

Posted on by Ella Catliff in Interviews 2 Comments

5 Minutes With: Lucy Choi

Compiling weekly wish lists is a risky business. More often than not I’ll stumble upon something so exciting I find myself still staring at my computer screen two hours later, now having achieved a damn thing. Lucy Choi London was one such distraction. Whilst browsing MATCHESFASHION.COM and My-Wardrobe I spied a pair of sparkly stilettos so damn delectable I nearly fainted at the price tag, an unbelievably resonable £195! Naturally this discovery demanded further attention so I promptly set about reading up on this exciting young designer and writing a post in homage to her fabulous footwear (which you can read here). Since then, Lucy Choi London has become a major fave among fashion folk, especially shoe addicts without Imelda Marcos sized bank accounts. Even more intriguing is the fact that she just so happens to be the niece of none other than Jimmy Choo! I caught up with Lucy to find out more…

lucy choi london

LPA: As the niece of footwear legend, Jimmy Choo, it’s tempting to imagine your upbringing being all celebrities and stilettos. What was it really like?

LC: I was brought up in Hong Kong by my grandparents from a very early age with my sister and the main focus was on education, sport and morals in our household.   It definitely wasn’t glamorous!  We were taught the value of hard work, to be true to ourselves and follow our dreams.  I lived in Hong Kong until I was 11 and then moved back to the UK.   Growing up in two such thriving and exciting cities definitely influenced me and my future career path.

LPA: Much has been made of your lineage but how greatly do think it has actually shaped your career? What have you found to be the greatest advantages and disadvantages of having a footwear legend for an uncle?

LC: Prior to my ten enjoyable years at French Sole I worked in the city where I carved out my own, separate career path.  I could have gone straight in to the fashion world but I wanted to get an understanding of the business world first. This is where I learnt invaluable lessons in finance and how to manage every aspect of a business.  I cannot deny having the family connections I do has influenced my career but it has certainly not defined it. My Uncle has always been a mentor figure and installed in me from a young age the importance of giving 110% and I feel lucky to have such a person in my life.

LPA: Did you always see yourself going into the fashion/footwear industry or did something specific make you realise that it was the path for you?

LC: Yes, I knew early on that I wanted to do something for myself.  I could have chosen an easier path to join the family business but decided that I wanted to work in the financial world first, before following my heart into the fashion world.

LPA: Before launching Lucy Choi London, you held the position of MD at iconic footwear brand, French Sole. Giving that up to go it alone was a pretty bold move I must say! For want of a better phrase, what gave you the balls to do it?

LC: Yes, looking back I suppose it was brave!  At the same time it felt like a very natural step for me. I learnt so much at my time with French sole and enjoyed 10 happy years working there. My previous experience in business and fashion worlds, combined with my shoe heritage gave me the confidence I needed to start my own collection.  I’m not going to pretend it’s easy; I am a new mother and launched the new business in the same year. I’ve invested my time and own money into my business so it is more of a risk, but I’m confident in business as I have so much experience. I am enjoying every moment and am finding it very rewarding, my moto in life is to enjoy what I do. I’m also lucky to have a strong team and a very supportive family, my husband Jon was behind me all the way. To make it work you have to have a strong partnership – I truly believe that behind every business there is a strong partner! His support has allowed me to juggle both the birth of my business and my baby.

LPA: Your brand’s ethos is “Rock n’ Royal”, what inspired this motto? And, on a practical level, what does it actually mean?

LC: The collection is based on the principal that we provide luxurious, affordable shoes for women of all ages and for every occasion.  As girls I think we like to play around with our image.  Some days you might feel like embracing your inner rock chick, other days you might want something more elegant and classic. The collection reflects my own personal style and that inner chameleon all girls have!

LPA: Talk me through a day in the life of Lucy Choi…

LC: Well it’s usually an early start with my son Thomas, he’s quite a character and itching to walk so he keeps me on my toes.   I work just as many hours as I did before Thomas, but I have had to become more efficient and work on less sleep. Every day is different! I travel at least twice a year to Hong Kong, Spain and to Italy to design each new collection and oversee production. On other days I could be in the office, meeting with press or buyers to show the new season collections. Each day is rarely the same, I like to be involved in all aspects of the business from the warehouse to the showroom I like to make sure I’m back at home with my son for the afternoon and bath time.

LPA: So you’ve got footwear sorted for life. Which brands do you favour when it comes to clothes?

LC: I very rarely wear colour and I love black, it’s so chic and flawless.  I tend layer different textures and fabrics to create my look.   I like to wear different designers depending on the occasion. Wolf and Badger is my go to store, I’m wearing a lot of Vielma at the moment. It is important for me to support young and upcoming designers, everyone needs a chance. For formal wear I love Collette Dinnigan and Alice Temperley dresses.  For every day wear and weekends, I live in my jeans and I love AG, J Brand and Current Elliott.  Matches is perfect when I need something special, one off pieces for events or press meetings.  I also love My Wardrobe, the service is amazing, it’s easy to navigate and they stock Lucy Choi London – it’s the perfect synergy with my own label.

LPA: The phrase “style icon” is one we hear a lot these days. Who, if anyone, do you think truly deserved to be called “iconic”?

LC: Audrey Hepburn, she was the epitomy of style and beauty.

LPA: When adding to your team, are there any particular qualities or qualifications you look for in prospective employees or interns?

LC: I think its important to surround yourself with a with a variety of characters so everyone brings different strengths and something unique to the team.  I look for people who are loyal and not afraid to work hard.   I also look for people who are calm and efficient under pressure as fashion is such a fast paced industry, plus I am a bit of a perfectionist and I like things to be done in a certain way.  We have a very open office environment; everyone’s ideas and opinions are welcomed and nurtured.

LPA: Where do you hope to see Lucy Choi London in 5 years time?

LC: In 5 years time I would love to have opened our first boutique in London.  I also hope to see the brand increase its international presence and become a globally recognized brand.  I am so grateful for the overwhelming support from press and customers we have had throughout our first year.

Love Ella. X

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5 Minutes With: farfetch.com Founder, Jose Neves

I’m sure I probably don’t need to tell you about farfetch.com. Bringing together 250 of the world’s coolest independent boutiques on one equally chic platform, thereby supporting emerging businesses while delivering the hottest designer buys all over the world, it’s become one of the hottest online style destinations around. If you want to hear more about quite how awesome the site is, click here, but if you’ve had enough of my musings (and frankly I don’t blame you) then hear what farfetch.com’s dynamic Founder and CEO, José Neves has to say…

farfetch

LPA: You’ve been involved in fashion start ups since the 1990’s, how different do you feel it is to launch a fashion brand now than it was, say, ten years ago? Do you think that the rise of digital media and online retail has made it harder or easier to get a new business off the ground?

JN: Launching a fashion brand now is very different to ten years ago. Any new start-up has the potential to tap a global audience straight away, due to the rise of online retail. Local businesses are no longer restricted to local trading and can be braver and bolder. This makes it ever more important for brands to establish their own DNA, decide what it is they are trying to achieve and define and stay true to their brand values in order to enable them to standout in a highly competitive market.

LPA: When you launched farfetch in 2008 it was a unique concept in that it didn’t just offer multiple brands a platform from which to retail online, but also multiple independent boutiques. Many of these boutiques also have their own e-commerce platforms too so what advantages do feel being part of FarFetch.com offers them that perhaps their own sites don’t?

JN: In addition to instant access to a ready-made e-commerce infrastructure, and support from experienced and multi-lingual staff in four offices (London, Porto, Los Angeles and São Paulo), farfetch allows global exposure for boutiques allowing instant online presence worldwide to our established customer base; in essence, more ‘eyes on the prize’, the prize being their boutique and their collections. The concept creates a truly exciting proposition for a fashion hungry global audience who are able to shop an unrivalled collection of the world’s best brands in one easy to navigate space. I learnt first-hand the huge challenges facing a bricks and mortar retailer wanting to expand into the hugely competitive online environment. farfetch acts as a single portal offering independent fashion boutiques and designers an opportunity to compete in the online arena with the leaders of fashion e-tail.

LPA: To what extent do you feel that the landscape of luxury fashion e-tail is dominated by sites like Net-a-Porter and MATCHESFASHION.com? Could you ever see this balance changing in the future?

JN: Since farfetch launched in 2008 e-commerce has developed rapidly as a hugely competitive environment, with key players naturally emerging. Whilst the e-commerce market has increased with expansions and new ventures, farfetch has maintained an advantageous position through its unique business model, by uniting the very best boutiques and giving them an online platform on which to grow and flourish. farfetch is naturally at an advantage with an unrivalled product offer in excess of 82, 000 units of stock. We have an extensive fashion view point due to our portfolio of boutiques buying in such a varied manner.

LPA: How are the boutiques farfetch takes on board selected? And how much involvement do you have in the process?

JN: Each one of the boutiques in our community has been carefully selected for their unique approach, forward-thinking attitude and diversity. I have a personal interest, and take an active role in selecting new boutiques, especially internationally. In addition to boutiques proactively applying to join our network, we have a fantastic business development team who are responsible for finding the best boutiques in each territory we work within. Keeping in mind our mantra of quality over quantity they work tirelessly to ensure we are continually working with the best boutiques around the world.

LPA: Having been heavily involved in the success of SWEAR, bStore, SIX London and countless other fashion businesses besides, I imagine that you really know clothes. How would you describe your personal style? Are there any brands you particularly love at the moment?

JN: I shop on farfetch all the time, I don’t think you can beat having a highly curated edit of the best brands’ collections each season, as selected by some of the best boutiques’ buyers out there. I find it easy to shop specifically for brands I know I love; some of my go-to brands are Balmain, Kenzo and Qasimi, but I also like that while browsing I can discover up-and-coming talent alongside world renowned brands.

LPA: This summer farfetch has teamed up Paper Mâché Tiger to create BEACH IN THE EAST, a showcase for independent designers in Shoreditch. How did this project, and farfetch’s involvement in it, come about?

JN: Yasmin (Sewell) approached farfetch with the concept of a pop-up summer boutique she was creating, and expressed that she was really keen for it to be a part of the farfetch community. For the first time on the farfetch platform we created a virtual boutique showcasing the truly unique and creative visions of the designers; allowing a global audience of 150,000 customers from over 200 countries the chance to discover BEACH IN THE EAST. This project demonstrates quite tangibly how farfetch can enable a local project to become global.

LPA; How important is it to you to support up-and-coming design talent through initiatives like this? In what ways do you feel that BEACH IN THE EAST will help the designers whose work is featured develop their businesses?

JN: farfetch prides itself on connecting the global fashion community with the most exciting and unique products and new designers out there. The Beach in the East partnership unites Yasmin’s impeccable eye with farfetch’s global fashion hunters. The collaboration enables up-and-coming designers to access a customer base all over the world, alongside established brands.

LPA: What advice would you give to someone hoping or planning to launch an independent fashion business within the next few years?

JN: It’s important to acknowledge that start-ups involve a huge degree of risk, so once you have your idea don’t be afraid to go all-in!

Love Ella. X

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Clothes Show TV: Hilary Alexander

I don’t think I’ve told you this but recently I’ve been doing a spot of presenting on the newly relaunched Clothes Show TV! It’s a pretty new venture for me so please excuse any major bloopers but here I am chatting to the wonderful Hilary Alexander at Graduate Fashion Week…

You can subscribe to Clothes Show TV’s YouTube channel here, Facebook here and follow them on twitter @ClothesShow

Love Ella. X

Posted on by Ella Catliff in Interviews 2 Comments

5 Minutes With: Alistair Guy

During my three years of blogging it’s been an absolute privilege to interview some of the designers and fashion insiders who’s work inspired me to get into the industry. Recently I realised that despite seeking out interviewees all over the globe for my “5 Minutes With” features I’d totally failed to tap into a resource closer to home, my friends. So over the coming weeks and months fashion pals better watch out as I’ll be hitting you up with Q&A’s! First up is the lovely photographer and my regular party partner in crime, Alistair Guy.

Alistair Guy

Image by Emanuele D’Angelo

During his career so far Alistair Guy has worked for brands and publications ranging from Burberry and Net-a-Porter to Vodafone, Style.com and Smythson. His exhibitions have garnered rave reviews and featured the likes of Erin O’Connor, Yasmin Sewell and Lulu Guinness. I met Alistair shortly after starting my blog and since then we’ve chatted over Cappuccino’s at press brunches, sat together on God-knows-how-many uncomfortable fashion show benches, braved the blistering cold to get “that shot” and danced until dawn at downtown dive bars in New York. But despite all these shared experiences, I realised that I actually knew very little about Alistair Guy’s life before I came into the picture and frankly, it was high time to find out…

LPA: Tell me a little about yourself. Where did you grow up, study etc…

AG: I grow up in the countryside in Hampshire although all my family is from London originally. I studied photography at West Surrey College of Art and The University of the Creative Arts.

LPA: Growing up, were you always interested in fashion? Or was it photography that drew you into that world?

AG: Both. While I was a photographic assistant I did a bit of modelling so learnt the industry on the other side of the lens then put the two together five years ago and here I am now.

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

AG: Shooting for Style.com five years ago as my photography friend at British Vogue turned it down and recommended me.

LPA: Since then you’ve worked with big name brands ranging from Vodafone to Burberry, no mean feat in an infamously cut-throat and competitive industry. What do you feel has given you an edge? Can you pinpoint a time or particular job that really took you to that next level professionally?

AG: Keeping my head held high, being positive and enjoying every minute of it. My first solo exhibition entitled ‘Behind The Seams’, a lot of great people came along, especially from British Vogue and it grew from there.

LPA: Of all the fascinating and inspiring people you’ve photographed during your career so far, who has been the most LPA: memorable and why?

AG: I would have to say photographing Erin O’Connor (three times, All Walks Beyond The Catwalk campaign, The Independent On Sunday and for my third exhibition ‘On His Knees’) as she is a wonderful person inside and out who believed in me.

LPA: You do a variety of different kinds of photography ranging from street style and lookbooks to fashion editorials and portraits. Do you have a favourite? How different are they in both practical and creative terms?

AG: Yes its classic portraiture which is what I’m going back to now. Doing different types of photography makes me more diverse and I enjoy a challenge.

LPA: Is there anyone you haven’t shot yet but would particularly love to?

AG: My next exhibition will be on male actors so I’d have to say Bill Nighy and other Hollywood actors.

LPA: Besides your photographic work, you also run a successful blog. How and why did you decide to start it?

AG: It started off as a bit of fun then that industry grew as you know so now it keeps me even busier.

LPA: On the subject of blogging, a couple of seasons ago I overheard a pair of journalists complaining about the number of your bloggers running around Somerset House during fashion week. What’s your view on it?

AG: I encourage people to blog and be creative but with a purpose as there are too many people out there not doing this or having any real direction, I believe it is essential to any business great or small.

LPA: What is your ultimate career aim for the future?

AG: I’d love to do a book with all my portraits in it and maybe one day open a gallery with a tearoom.

Love Ella. X

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