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How I got here: Phoebe-Lettice Thompson on having confidence in her skills

From fashion photography and styling to creative director of London streetwear brand Illustrated People, former Made in Chelsea star Phoebe-Lettice Thompson has achieved a lot aged just 24.  

Pheobe Lettice Thompson Illustrated People

Phoebe Lettice-Thompson says she never switches off, but loving her job makes it all worth it

What does your typical week at Illustrated People involve?

I begin my day with the morning meeting with my team and then start with emails and castings or design, whatever is on the top of my list for that day. I very much head up the whole brand and studio, and I have a team of six reporting to me, which includes my assistant, wholesale manager, an illustrator, production manager, and an intern along with our concession manager for Topshop. I also work with a number of freelance graphic designers and illustrators but that varies from season to season.

We are always busy. Right now, for example, I am working on around three collections, all of which will be at different stages of design and production. I work closely with illustrators in-house and externally, and we work on designs together after I have set the season’s brief. I produce, cast, style, photograph and edit the collection shoots myself, so thank God I have a great assistant who helps me to prep it all.

What do you like best about your job?
I love how I am involved in every part of the process and have complete creative freedom. I get so emotional and over-excited when new samples come in or we get a good new account – the brand is very much part of me now. I couldn’t choose between being a photographer or a stylist and I also wanted to make clothes, so it is a dream job for someone like me, to be able to take on a fashion label and be able to apply your own vision to the whole company. It has been a learning curve taking on a whole studio, it’s not just a creative director role. I have been given the company to run. The owner, Duncan McNamara, started it 13 years ago predominantly as a T-shirt label, and he is still involved in the business, but I run it day to day and control its direction.

What is the most challenging aspect of your role?
Juggling everything and switching focus between collections, as I am working usually on a few at different stages in addition to capsule collaborations. I am one of those people that never switches off from work, so I am lucky to have a job that I love and is exciting to live and breathe 24/7.

How is the growing influence of social media affecting your role?
It has been really vital to connect to our customer and interact with them, especially when building a brand image. It would be really hard do that as quickly if it was just collection-based. I manage our Instagram account, and I am always trying to find content. I tend to upload something three to four times a day.

What are your plans for the brand? 
We stopped doing menswear when I started at the brand in 2014 [the range stopped from autumn 14], because Illustrated People really needed to focus on womenswear. We will relaunch menswear when womenswear is where I want it to be. However, many of our T-shirt styles are unisex and picked up by menswear buyers. I am really excited for Illustrated People to grow into a massive, worldwide wholesale business. We started wholesale when I joined and launched for it from autumn 15, though we also sold spring 15 as an instant buy, as lots of stores wanted high summer newness. I only created a few extra drops for the spring collection, so autumn 15 was my first full collection. We now have around 12 UK wholesale accounts. I want to get the brand on a lot more platforms in the UK, Australia and Los Angeles. We’ve also picked up two really big accounts in the US, though I can’t say which ones just yet. Our concession business is still going strong. We have been in Topshop for 13 years, and we have just picked up Happy Shop, which is a concept store in Berlin. 

What would you say you’ve got wrong in your career and how have you learnt from it?
Not being confident enough with the skills I have, I am quite humble. I feel Americans have that thing where they say “I can do this, I can do that”, and I have learnt to be more like that.

If you could change one thing about your career what would it be?
Probably not freaking out as much. I used to ask fashion editors ‘what did you do?’, but ultimately you have your own path, you cannot try and mimic someone else’s. It’s the way you act, and in some ways it’s the luck of the draw how your career path ends up. I’ve worked in fashion since I was 16. I started interning at a couture house called Bruce Oldfield in my school holidays. I always knew this is where I want to be and I’ve always worked really, really hard, even if it’s from dawn until dusk doing anything anyone asked. I just wanted to learn as much as I could from the people I respect.

Who in the industry do you aspire to emulate?
Kate Phelan, she has been fashion director at Vogue and the creative director of Topshop. I would love to learn from her.

If you could choose another job in fashion, what would it be?
I would like to do my role but at a bigger company, such as Adidas or Topshop. 

CV:

2014       Creative director, Illustrated People 

2014       Launched collaboration collection with Illustrated People called Phoebe X IP, which retailed in Topshop 

2013       Freelance assistant working with various stylists for US Vogue and other publications

2012       Fashion assistant, Tatler 

2011       Graduated in Photography BA (Hons) from Brighton University 

2010       Wonderland and Condé Nast International internships

2006       Internship at Bruce Oldfield

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