“I’ve always wanted to have a shop with a pink sign”
The 37-year-old English designer shot to fame after his scarves and beaded bags caught the attention of the three supermodels Kate Moss, Helena Christensen and Amber Valletta. Matthew was then inspired to launch his own clothes label which he went on strategically developing while also taking over as creative director at Pucci, and launching his own perfume range. The designer whose collections have always been known for their vibrant colours, continues to move into new areas: for the new season he debuted his first collection of bags. We met up to discuss fashion trends in general, and those of the Matthew Williamson label in particular.
How did it all start?
It started in 1997, and it’s gone from being a childhood dream and fantasy to a multi-million pound global business.
Did you dream of creating your own fashion or a multi-million pound business?
Maybe of the fashion. (Laughing.) When I was 11-years-old, I already wanted to have a shop with a pink sign. My elder sister was in a college at the time, and she always used to say, “Shall I be a nurse or a teacher?”, and I’d always ask, “How do you not know?” I’ve always wanted to be a fashion designer.
And what was your friends’ reaction to your “hobby” when you were at school?
I felt like a Billy Elliot. But I think it’s good to be different from the others. Although back then it wasn’t that easy. It’s not easy for a child to be more eccentric than others, to stand out. But I’ve got through. Luckily, my parents saw that I was different and helped me develop my talents. I think I had a happy childhood.
Did your parents have anything to do with fashion?
My father used to sell TVs, mum was an optical recep tionist. Mum was, and is, a very stylish woman, and she exposed me to fashion. She’d get ready for work the day before, laying her clothes and jewellery out, painting her nails. I’d sit at the end of her bed at night, looking at her preparations. I’d give her advice sometimes.
I’ve always been amazed by the bright colours in your collections, which aren’t very typical of British designers. How do you explain your passion for colours and flamboyant style?
You tend to dress towards your climate. And after being around the world, I think the temperature dictates not only the fabric but the colours. Think of Brazil, Thailand, and Mexico. Manchester, where I was born, is grey, and I wanted to escape - I did it physically and through my work. Colours are very expressive, and are one of my favourite things in the design process. My inspiration often comes from culture and nature - landscape, birds, and plants. In the spring/summer collection there’re a lot of cleaner pieces, many bright pinks, purples - I want people to cheer themselves up. People think black is easy to wear and think it suits any complexion. I think it’s harder to wear black than bold colours. I like clothes that draw attention to people and make them feel a unique, special individual.
Which colour do you prefer in everyday life?
I’m wearing black jeans because I’m doing a project and was sent this pair to test its fit. I would never wear black jeans. I wear all sorts of colours - blues suit me best.
Your dresses are quite bright and bold. Do you cater to young women only?
If we go to my shop now, we can put together an outfit for a 40-, 50-, or 60-year-old woman. My mum wears my clothes. She wouldn’t wear some really bright colours, though: she’s very precise how she dresses, and she won’t wear anything crazy.
Do you have someone in mind when you’re drawing for a collection?
Not always because if I visualise just one character, it becomes limited. I think of a character when I am putting together a show because I want to be consistent.
Do you believe in luck?
Yes, I had a lucky break myself. During my trip in India I made a skirt and then sent it to the Vogue office. Then it found its way to the Tatler office, which is in the same building, and went on a shoot with Jade Jagger and ended up on the cover. She called me and asked me if she could keep it. We became friends and had a good connection. It was my lucky break.
Why have you decided to do a perfume?
Every fashion house these days has a perfume. It’s a fascinating process, like a science. When I did my fragrance, I was led by the direction of specialists, not my taste. My preferences for a scent are woody, dark, strong, and that’s not what the perfume with my name is. My name’s on it but it’s not me.
Why do you do your fashion shows in New York?
For business reasons. At first, London’s great because you get lots of media attention. Then, when you start turning into a bigger business, you need big buyers and editors like Anna Wintour (of American Vogue), and these people often skip London Fashion Week. London’s a very innovative city, powerful in terms of creativity, and a great education for fashion. By leaving it, I haven’t done anything unusual - McCartney, Saunders, McQueen - all show abroad. If we all - me, McQueen, Luella, Westwood, McCartney, Galliano, Paul Smith, Burberry - came back and did a show here, then big buyers like Barneys would have to come. It’s not an easy thing.
You like travelling. Which countries do you prefer?
Exotic and sexy countries – the opposite of where I live. I want to be in a different mindset. My favourite places are India, Thailand.
Do you have a car?
I don’t - I have a driver. I’m a bit scared to drive in London. I live in Hampstead. The roads are so tiny there. I find it the most hassle to find parking etcetera. I prefer to sit in the back and work.
Do you look at what other designers do?
I’m trying not to. If you start to, then subconsciously you’re influenced by it, and lose your own vision. I don’t want someone to say my cut looks like the cut of, let’s say, Prada.
How could you do designs for your brand and Pucci?
It was difficult - that’s why I look so old (Laughing). But I’m finished with doing two lines - it’s like reading two books at the same time. They hired me because they wanted to buy into my aesthetics. It was brilliant to go on that journey but my business is expanding and I need to take care of my brand, not someone else’s.
Do you think English designers one day may be as famous as Italian and French ones?
There’s a possibility. There’re three scenarios: first, and most common, you do a show, get press, then fail. The second, most likely scenario is that you don’t go bust, and become watched by the industry and get bought out – like Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen who got bought by Gucci and became part of big global brand. The third route, which is what I’m doing, is going on my own, and sustaining and expanding. I’m in the middle, and it’s a difficult route.
How do you see your company in 10 years’ time?
I would like to think that we’ll have advertising campaigns, shoots. I would like to have a menswear line, more stores, more stockists, and maybe then retire. (Laughing.)