The creative director of Texprint tells Stephen Spear about a life of scouring fashion for trends and unearthing gifted talents.
What is the most rewarding part of Texprint?
The incredible amount of talent coming out of the universities and colleges in the UK. It is astounding – obviously the arts and crafts side of education is still intact in the UK and it is respected worldwide.
What do you look for in a developing textiles designer?
Originality, innovation and guts. You have to have guts to make it, particularly in textiles design. The fashion designers get to have so much publicity but so few people even get to see what it is the textile designers do. They also have to understand how it works on a body or a dummy.
How did you get into textiles?
I was working in Copenhagen designing interiors but I was also working as a model. I would work with all these photographers over from London who said how great it was there. I just decided that I would get involved and get into fashion. I walked away from a well paid job and a career in interiors when I got a place at Kingston University to study.
Do you ever regret it?
No, no regrets. Kingston was the main college for fashion at the time and I had an interview when I left with Valentino in Rome, which was amazing. But I wanted to work in menswear so got a job on Savile Row. I loved menswear and there was a regimental aspect of Savile Row that attracted me.
You left to work in the world of trend forecasting. What was that like?
Yes, I went to work for French, which was the Rolls-Royce of trend forecasting in the 1980s. You would have to look at the trends that were already out there and also at what people were doing, how they were living, and analyse things – like the drive from the synthetic to the natural at the moment. And you have to see how peoples’ lifestyles change – like how people now need to go straight from day to evening. Fashion has to accommodate these changes.
Is there a psychological or emotional element to fashion?
Yes, definitely. If you look at someone like Diane von Furstenburg, she always wears amazing colours which match her colouring perfectly. And this amazing energy comes out of her – she comes across as positive, she inspires positivity, and part of that is to do with what she wears. You see so many people dressing in black now. I know it’s convenient but it is not good for the state of mind.
Who drives creativity in terms of trends – mills or designers?
Everybody has their place and there are different layers of the cake. But high up in design the mills make what the designers ask for and there are these little lights that come on in couture that have an effect.
Which place has most inspired you?
Japan – for a long time it has embraced the new like nowhere else on Earth. I was there when Sony launched the Walkman and went straight from there to the Pitti Uomo menswear show in Florence. I was the only person outside of Japan wearing a Walkman and people at the show thought I was crazy.
And what is in your wardrobe?
For formal I wear Prada and Gucci. The fabrics are always fantastic and the cut is great. For casual I wear all sorts but I do love Dolce & Gabbana. And I love Paul Smith – about a third of my wardrobe is by him.
Who is your fashion icon and why?
You always remember your first break and Tom Gilbey gave me mine on Savile Row.It was amazing to work in London in fashion at that time – it was Savile Row but with a twist and we had amazing people such as Elton John coming in.
Known as the waistcoat king, Tom Gilbey opened his fashion house and design consultancy in Sackville Street in 1968. He was one of the young generation of designers who had trained at art school and were pioneering new style combinations. His CV includes the styling of the youth culture aristocracy, moulding looks for the likes of The Kinks, a band that had dallied with several styles. According to legend, Gilbey took one look at the young rock stars and decided the way to go. He produced high-collared, double-breasted coats that bear a striking resemblance to the pea coat styles that are still so commercial today.
Gilbey trained as a tailor and led the design team at John Michael before setting up on his own. His designs balance function and creativity, using strong, clean lines.
Peter Ring-Lefevre is creative director of textiles charity Texprint