The Milan-based designer tells Gemma Dunn why he prefers to focus on individual designs rather than trend stories
You have an MA in fashion design. How important has academic training been to your career?
You don’t need it, but there are so many new designers these days that it’s essential to have an edge over someone else. The best thing is to go to school and learn the methods, the techniques and how to construct and cut a garment. Afterwards, [it is a good idea] to go to work as an intern in a small company for at least a year.
The smaller the better, as it means you’ll be doing better things and learn more in all areas and processes. You’ll get to know the whole A to Z of creating a garment.
What advice would you give to up-and-coming design talent?
Be realistic, and if you have a dream then go for it. You need to sell your strengths and work on your weaknesses, while experiencing as much as possible. You must also be practical, and make sure you know all areas, from the design to the fit, finish and detailing.
The Neil Barrett label comprises both menswear and womenswear. How would you sum up your spring 11 collection?
Both the men’s and women’s collections are based on colour, with prints and graphics also featuring highly. For us it was about the garments individually - how they look in a story is the next level. The womenswear collection for spring 11 is also a lot sexier; it’s still very masculine but there are a lot more dresses this season.
You celebrated your label’s 10th anniversary last year. How has the fashion industry changed since you started out? Is the economic climate affecting consumer confidence? The market was a lot stronger when I started out;
it’s very different post-recession. Ten years ago the industry was willing to take such risks, nowadays there are so many new designers, but they are short-lived.
You launched your menswear range in 1999. What prompted you to leave your job as creative director at Prada and set up on your own?
I had my dream job but I was too young to stop pushing. I needed a challenge without a financial safety net and I really wanted to create a collection in which the clothes would sell [because of] themselves, not because of a label. The business has now grown from 50 clients to 522 worldwide, and sees through a production of 160,000 pieces a year- a growth that has been achieved withno advertising, no brand, and no big-money backing.
How far do you see the Neil Barrett label expanding?
I now have four shop-in-shops in Japan and four in South Korea. I am opening a store in Hong Kong at the end of the year, followed by two stores in China next year. My main aim is to launch a transactional website by the end of the year.
Which is your favourite shop?
L’eclaireur (pictured) in Rue Herold, Paris, is amazing. Another favourite is Lost in Tokyo.
Who is your favourite designer?
Womenswear designer Azzedine Alaia.
Sum up your label. Understated, masculine, subtle detailing, incredibly well made, sharply tailored and authentically aged.
What is your favourite piece of clothing?
A really sharp, beaten-up Neil Barrett leather jacket.
Neil Barrett is founder of the eponymous menswear and womenswear label