The founder of House of Alistair tells Lucie Goulet about launching a womenswear label on Savile Row.
Why did you decide to create a womenswear label on Savile Row, traditionally a destination menswear shopping street?
I like a challenge. There was no womenswear-only tailor on Savile Row, and traditionally there isn’t a lot of suiting made for women. Tailors generally adapt men’s patterns rather than create new ones for women, but I wanted to offer something similar to the old couture houses. I’d previously worked with Savile Row tailor Ray Stowers at department store Liberty, when Stowers was advising Liberty’s menswear tailoring department, and he approached me to work with him on a womenswear line.
Were you worried about setting up a high-fashion company in the midst of a recession?
No. Whenever there is a recession, people look for something that takes their mind off hard times, something glamorous and sexy. I knew it would be tough, but I never thought the economic climate would really hinder us. Since the clothing I make is so high end, I have a well-off clientele and the people who have that money will always have that money. Because of my determination, when I get an idea, I run with it and if some aspects don’t work I’m quite resilient and keep changing them. I think it’s important to keep reinventing the way I approach design.
How did you make the transition from designer to managing your own business?
Although Central Saint Martins College trained me as a designer, not a business person, while I was there I worked at the Burberry store on Regent Street, which taught me the retail side. I then took a job at Liberty and worked my way up to management, running the women’s contemporary room, which meant I had a lot of data to analyse. It gave me a good grounding on how business operates. House of Alistair then took about two years to set up as I had to save enough money to have a buffer in case something went wrong.
Do you think it’s better to diversify than focus on specific product categories?
Everything with me is a package. I sell a lifestyle rather than a product. When you do something as specific as couture, you have to have everything matching. I don’t just design pieces, I design the whole uniform. I make my own clutches and headpieces.
What made you decide you wanted to work in fashion?
I think watching old Hollywood films with my gran developed the show-loving side in me, but it was when I was watching The Clothes Show years ago that I found out about Central Saint Martins and that John Galliano had just graduated from there, and I knew I would stop at nothing until I got there.
What goals have you set for yourself and your business?
I want to spend my first year establishing my product and building up a good clientele. Next year, I hope to expand and employ a team because I do everything myself. In the long term,
my goal is to launch a ready-to-wear collection at London Fashion Week.
- Alistair MacDonald os founder of womenswear label House of Alistair
Which celebrities have worn your clothes? Karen Hassan, wife of Dead Man Running actor Tamer Hassan, wore a dress at a premiere.
What designer do you look up to? The amazing French couturier Thierry Mugler.
Who do you consider to be your fashion mentor? My old pattern cutter tutor at Central Saint Martins College.
Which is your favourite store? Creative Beadcraft on Marshall Street in central London.