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…
Manolo Blahnik for Alexander Lewis Resort 2014 footwear… AKA the dream
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…
Love Ella. X