An Evening with Stella McCartney & Selfridges

So i had the amazing opportunity to attend the launch of Stella McCartney’s new fragrance, L.I.L.Y., at Selfridges the other night and let me tell you it was definitely worth bearing the freezy cold in my oh-so-thin Wilfred dress, holey TopShop jumper and sky high Jigsaw shoe booties for the champagne, to-die-for Red Velvet Lola cupcakes and an evening with Selfridges’ finest…

Alexandra Schulman, editor of British Vogue, conducted an intimate interview with Stella (who – of course – looked effortlessly chic in a signature blazer, white shirt, impeccably tailored trousers and a simple high heel)… here’s how it went:

AS: When you first started designing, you centred around lots of pale blues, bare arm knits and little cardigans … things have changed so much as now you’ve built yourself into such a big brand so where does the starting point of a collection come from — is it still the same as when you started, do you go through the same processes as before?

SM: My process has slightly shifted as when I started, the things I designed were more or less inspired by argyll knitwear; and I had more time to think about and reminisce and look back at pieces from memory and family etc…

Now i’ve moved on from that. It is very much a journey as I takes the last collection as the starting point to the next one and build upon it each season.

I work in a similar way now but I also work less with vintage… there was once a point in the fashion industry where no one was really working on that kind of stuff and I really loved vintage clothes so that was what I was doing – I got the contemporariness and modern language out of my system. Now I work a lot more in ways where I really think about what women want and what they need in a wardrobe

AS: I think what is so clever about successful designers is that although every collection is completely different, it’s got kind of a sameness to it in the sense that you know it is a collection by you, are you sort of aware of what those pieces are in your collections, the ones you know you’ll refer back to, to have a sense of completion to the collection?

SM:  I’m not really aware but i do know that we have a type of language and i feel very lucky to have it. It seems very effortless in a way and that comes very naturally and i guess i love the things that i come back to so I try to formulate pieces that change here and there; but for me think that i’ve learned if you try and be something you’re not it just doesn’t work; so i guess the pieces you can recognise are those which are honest to me.

Stella on finding inspiration… 

SM: With some seasons where I have less time I start off on a sort of journey…  so if i’m working on a summer show i’d wake up thinking about an autumn show and they may trickle on to each other in a sense… and then another time i might be riding a horse in the country and i might look down and see, a leaf and it might just be the colour and so the oranges would be the turning points of the collection…it can just be anything, it can be watching a film you just see a shot of bright pink peaking in the background or on a piece of art so it’s very abstract things

AS: Women designers almost always look great in their own clothes, and in fact I find that I mainly buy my clothes from women designers as I think they are kind of more understanding of women’s bodies; Do you think of yourself (i’m sure you don’t think of yourself as a template), but are you aware that the things that you do sort of suit yourself?

SM: I think the one great thing about being a woman designer is that you can wear the things that you make so i think i’m sub-consciously aware of that; but I don’t use myself as a template. I do think it’s unavoidable, I mean I think it would be silly to pretend that I don’t think about what I find interesting or what I find lacking in my wardrobe and what I sort of desire… 

…But at the same time i’m really interested in the psychological side of being a fashion designer; i’m really interested in what’s inside women’s brains of different ages and what their needs are and even sometimes what they aren’t even aware that they need. If they don’t think they can wear something then i’m always thinking about why don’t they think they can wear that, because i think, “yeah you can wear that!” and i think that really kind of drives most of my designs with women. 

AS: What do you think the most useful things to have in your wardrobe are generally?

SM: I think you need a great t-shirt, preferably a really old one, you know like i’ve got one t-shirt that was my husband’s and i’m obsessed with it and I take it into work and every collection i go “can we please do this t-shirt” and everyone’s just like, “no!” So i think you need a great t-shirt, I think you need a great pair of jeans but see, then I just go through every part of a wardrobe because I think you need a great shoe and you need great underwear… 

It’s funny because people always say you start an outfit with a great shoe but actually I think you start an outfit with great lingerie.

AS: How do you feel about the high street?

SM: I think the high street is great for kind of presenting a broader side of fashion and I think it’s great as long as they are honest retailers – as long as they are making the clothes in the right way and educating their customers on how they do this.

AS: How do you research the materials you use as everyone knows that you don’t use real leather, do you have a person where that is their job to produce that fabric?

SM: well we have a fabrics girl and we have an accessories department so they know the drill and they’ve worked with me long enough. You go to fabric fairs and it’s really tricky. and it’s actually one of the most interesting things we do and it really is very challenging but i find that is the most exciting; i find that i like the challenge of stuff like that. 

AS: Is it strange to you and how do you deal with being highly recognisable wondering around and loads of people knowing who you are?

SM: You know it’s funny because I don’t really think many people recognise me in that I try and keep a fairly low profile and I sort of do PR but it’s fashion related pretty much and if people are interested in that then they probably know about me and not if they aren’t; And i mean i’ve sort of grown up with one of the most famous people in the world so for me i don’t think i’m that interesting! i don’t think i really see it like that. 

AS: What ambitions do you have that you’d like to do sort of right over the horizon like kind of travel more with your kids or have a home in Italy or write a book or… 

SM: All of those things! But i’m good you know, I just want to try and live in the moment and enjoy things right now.

AS: What motivates you and makes you get up and carry on and to decide not to just pack it all in?

SM: I genuinely enjoy my job so i’m motivated by that; but I also get motivated by doing things like this as well, I really enjoy meeting my customers as it really gives me something I don’t get on a daily basis and reminds me of what i’m doing – i’m very motivated about trying to make a tiny bit of change in the fashion industry —

… if i wasn’t trying, for example, to not make things out of leather I think i’d have less motivation because it just feels like you have a little bit of reason behind it other than just making a nice dress – so i’m more and more motivated by that because I find it very interesting and quite modern… I find the fashion industry quite old fashioned in that sense so I find that really interesting and I find that there is a lot more there to do in that area of the industry that people are really quite afraid of…  and that they just tend to hide under the carpet. 

I’m motivated by having a responsibility to my team and my brand and having great people around me.I then had the opportunity to ask her what she would be doing if she hadn’t become a designer… 

SM: I would love to find myself doing landscaping and garden designing — I don’t really find it very different from fashion designing because you have different colours and textures and it’s got cultural form; and the other thing is the the technological side to that…  I like the soil and the dirt and I find that they’re quite similar. 

Is there a menswear range possible?

SM: I would love to to mens, but we do a lot at the moment and we have the Olympics coming up and i personally would like to have all of these different things covered off. I’d like to make sure one range of Stella is comfortable and strong on its own before I start off on another. But there will be a moment where I will think about menswear because I love menswear, i used to work on Saville Row for 3 years so i would love to do it! 

How did your adidas collaboration come about and why?

SM: I’ve never been into the “designer sneaker” because to me I always thought sneakers were designed better by sports companies, so I wanted to do sneakers and we did them through a collaboration. The next season we did sports in the performance side because I found it really interesting – and I always felt that women’s sportswear was very much an after-thought, that men always got the really cool stuff and the good colours and we only had “my little pony pink” and you know it never looked good. I always got embarrassed if I ever got caught on my way to the gym by someone I knew and i just really wanted to challenge that.

I also found that women sort of work out in anything other than sportswear like in a free t-shirt and the guys would be there in their sportswear and I just couldn’t understand it, so I get really excited about trying to educate women on what they can work out in and I just don’t think you should have to sacrifice style in sport. 

What made you add a fragrance to your collection and L.I.L.Y. in particular?

SM: I found a flower that I love and chose Lily of the Valley because I find it really unfashionable. It’s sort of a flower that has disappeared in the world of fragrance. I love that its a seasonal flower and it’s amazing how it only comes out once a year and then it’s gone and I think there’s something really precious about that and I love that the smell is really fleeting because you smell it and then it goes and it’s really hard to capture. 

I wanted to try and channel that emotion and I wanted it kind of feminine and girly but not too feminine and too girly so against that I combatted the feminism with truffles and moss which to me were a lot more sensual.

How has the work with Adidas and the Olympic collection influenced your main line?

SM: I think the reason I do sportswear is because I really love it and it’s really a part of my designs and the ethos of the brand so I always tend to have little touches of sportswear in my collections which are both feminine and masculine. I don’t think it’s because of any of the sports collaborations; I think it’s because I just like it and the way it sort gives a kind of edge to the collection and sort of takes it down from being too fancy on the runway. Sportswear for me is just a great way of bringing down a collection.

Do you have any advice for aspiring designers?

SM:My advice would be to work hard as there is no way to avoid it, and also to be committed and be true to yourself – 

Don’t try and be cool if aren’t cool and don’t try and do something that doesn’t come naturally to you just try and be yourself and people will respond. 

Spending an evening with Stella was inspiring, she is so down-to-earth and such an engaging speaker… I could have sat there listening to her for ages I just didn’t want the interview to end! The evening itself was lovely and LILY smells beautiful – if you haven’t gotten your hands on it yet, do so (yes, Valentine’s Day is next week so it’s perfect)!

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