Stella McCartney has been at the helm of the brand named after her for the past 14 years now. Embedding British humour and driven by creativity, the house of Stella McCartney has built an amazing heritage. The brand moves forward with a desire to create timeless designs and challenging the traditional methods used to create clothes by committing to sustainability. Stella is in Paris to present her new SS16 collection for the brand and shares a moment few days before the catwalk show to sit down and talk about why sustainability is the key to future fashion.
Editor/ Inhae Yeo
You first started to design clothes from a very early age. Did you know that you would become a fashion designer? Do you remember that moment?
Oh gosh, it feels like so long ago. I wanted to be a fashion designer at such an early stage so the answer to that question is probably a bit vague now. I definitely knew very young that I was interested in fashion because it was where I was drawn to from an early age. I was determined and focused that that’s what I was going to do. I could close my eyes and visualize what I wanted to achieve. Coming from a creative family it was obvious to me to work in the creative field but from an early age I honed it down to fashion.
Fashion back then and now have changed a lot?
I don’t think fashion changed that much. Probably the industry more than the work. I think fashion changes less than most industries. That’s why I think it’s more interesting to do what I do which is developing, sourcing and manufacturing new ways and not working with leather for example. I find this to be very forward thinking because designing a beautiful cashmere sweater is something that has been done before but this is different.
Yeah let’s talk about sustainable fashion. Let’s go straight into that.
I’m skipping all your questions and jumping straight into it! (smiles) We can start with the nice soft stuff for the readers.
No, that’s fine. Now that you’ve mentioned it let’s go straight into it. So have the customers’ perception changed now and are they okay not to find leather and fur in the collection when they walk in the store?
They seemed to be alright with it, yes. Our numbers reflect healthy growth so we’re heading in the right direction. We’re not on decline so I guess this reflects how the consumers who come to the store are open minded in that sense and also challenging the industry a little bit with what we do. I think that the women who come to me for any reasons first and foremost is for my product, my fashion, the desirability, quality and timelessness but I have a mindful client who are reflecting the times we live in and she requires more perhaps questioning and a little more responsible. It’s good to see that there are people like that I just don't know how much products are out there that caters for that in fashion.
Do you think customers need to be educated to really understand what you’re doing with this organic cotton, the biodegradable soles, I mean when are you going to put those soles in mature compost (as labeled in Stella McCartney’s shoe products)?
Exactly, it does require education but we are a little hesitant in ramming it down in our customers’ throats so we want you to encounter a Stella McCartney product and not immediately be hit by a swing tag that tells you that the yarn is part of a project in Patagonia. This is something we question and challenge internally because information is important but providing a desirable object comes first. Sustainability is engrained in everything we do. We realize that people are more educated in life. They are aware of where their food is coming from, what car they are driving and fashion industry is responsible for issues in the climate as any industry would.
Exactly, it’s more about being part of your DNA and not your brand being a ‘sustainable fashion brand’. It’s more about your lifestyle.
It’s about finding that balance. Everything about our house is finding the balance. I’m a working mother and many people in our office are working parents. Finding a personal balance and external balance is important. Everything we do is about the masculine and the feminine and finding that gentle meeting point.
What interests me the most is the procedure and efforts done and made in the house of Stella McCartney. It’s a real effort and not a one off or joining a campaign sort of a thing. You’re probably doing lots of research to find these yarns and resource. How do you materialize the outcome, do you have a dedicated team for that?
Yes absolutely we have people who are dedicated and we know it’s what we do. It’s built in our calendar and timeline. It all comes and starts in a genuine and honest place and hence becomes the foundation of what you’re building on. When we work in our PR & Marketing, stores, product, events, it’s all in there. It’s really part of what we are and we do what everyone else does in fashion and then add this. I have a show in a couple of days and I’m here in Paris working on my collection but our team would have already started on the next collection and I’m sourcing perhaps slightly ahead of time with a longer term commitment with people to develop the materials. For me this is very interesting and valid in this day and age.
What is your principle and chore value that drives you to do this? What are you doing this for?
I think it just started from my youth. Growing up on an organic from, being from a vegetarian family, all of this set the scene. And then I went on to become a young working adult so for me to be hypocritical when I don’t eat animals for the ethical reasons (I grew up with that) and to abandon that for a pair of shoes or handbags, for me felt quite untrue to my principles. I wasn’t going to belittle it and dismiss it for fashion. I didn’t find the reasons to do. I clearly don’t make my life terribly easy for myself and I enjoy the challenge doing something more than just the creative side. The creative side is what I love and find incredibly inspiring and fulfilling but I’d like to have an additional grit to that which makes it more worthwhile.
What you’re doing does come across as something very genuine. You’re not trying to be an activist for the sake of it but you are doing something that’s important to you. Going back to the fashion perspective, let’s talk about your recent hit, the star and stella’s superheroes collection. It’s simple things really but when you decided you were going to do stars you’re called the Stella Star and now you’ve got the superheroes?
It’s a handy name, Stella. If you wanted to make headlines out of it you could if you want to. Part of my upbringing is the balance and juxtaposition of Savile Row tailoring and the timeless New York women mixed with Rock and Roll vintage stage costumes. Growing up with these opposing elements around me visually has naturally come to my work. The foundations of everything we do are based on quality and things that will really last your lifetime and passed down to your children and grandchildren or your loved ones. Creating this timelessness and then sprinkled into that I’d like to have a little bit of fun. It is a love or hate element that always becomes the risk but we’re willing to take that risk and have fun because it’s rare in fashion. It can take itself a little bit too seriously.
The ‘Star’ shoes were sold out. Will they come back?
Yes, they will be carried over because we felt for our ladies and we don’t want to be too elitist. It’s just great when things sell out and there’s a waiting list. We are all about trying to open up a little more accessibility to luxury fashion. Those were not inexpensive but we wanted to carry over so people can get them and have them.
Let’s talk about social media. I think it’s so important how it’s affecting the speed of everything being communicated. How is it affecting you and your brand?
It certainly has a place. We’re a funny fashion house in that sense because we’re in between and not neither old nor new. We’re quite a young house for the fashion industry, which is not like other industry for example in the music industry we’d be considered as older. In our industry there are great heritages so we’re fairly young. For us social media is part of our house and we’re lucky that we’ve touched and grown with that. We’ve been around and it’s relevant. It’s a way to express who we are to people that don’t necessarily know about us but then to those who know us as well. We embrace it for the house.
You grew up in America and in the UK but your brand is British and London based. What does being British mean to you?
I think we’re quite sort of rare, the Brits. We’re an interesting sort of creature, if you’d like. We’re reverend and the humour that you talked about in my collection and a little fearlessness that we have as a house is probably the British side. But the American side is what embraces anything new and doesn’t judge. ‘Hey common we can do this’ I’ve got that side. But the British side is probably the melting pot of many different things and there are so many different people in London now and the house is based there. You can attract great talents because people are happy to come and live and work in London. That’s a good thing. But I think in London there’s a great street culture and people reflect who they are and not afraid or pigeon holed to express themselves in whatever they wear especially if where you’re living it’s like an everyday fashion show. So we have that in London. We’re home of the punk rock that’s quite a lot for London.
And the countryside? As much as you enjoy the urban landscape do you visit the countryside often as well?
Yes, I grew up in the southeast of England so it’s important to me. I’m a country girl at heart but a city girl as well. And it is everything without one I can really function, so I need the two. It’s important for me to get out and it’s the times where I can switch off my brains. Creatively, it’s very important for me to see the seasons change. Snowdrops for example will inspire fragrance for me and seeing the leaves change inspires the colour palette. I need to see nature in my work.
You’re going to Seoul. Are you looking forward to that?
Yes, I really am. I haven’t been to Korea so I’m really interested in coming actually.
Great timing because not just the popup shop at Boon the Shop but your mother Linda McCartney’s retrospective exhibition is on.
I know! We kind of planned it so that we could catch the exhibition. She would’ve been really touched to have had that.
Was she a big influence to you?
Yes, massively. I think most people’s parents are a big influence on you. You know I was lucky that it was positive. You’re absorbing it like a sponge as a kid and it forms very much of who you are. My parents have been massively influential to me. (in case anyone needs further explanation, Stella is the second child of Paul McCartney).
You’ll meet the real customers at Boon the Shop as well.
I really like that actually. It’s something from young that I started. To have the opportunity to travel and do trunk shows has been important to me from early on. I think for a lot of designers it was the taste of death. But I always love it. I think it’s really interesting to have contact with the women that I work for it’s really valuable to me. I really value the information and I’m taking away information that will hopefully make what I’m doing better.
Exactly, because you’re dressing the real women there.
I make clothes for women to wear and when I started that was an absolute rarity. Weirdly now people are coming around to it now.
What was it rare?
It was just more weird and wonderful when you are designing the ‘unwearable’. There is this sort of fantasy in fashion that I appreciate and understand but as a woman I just don’t want to wear it. For me it falls short of the goal. The main thing is for women to feel great and good about themselves when they’re wearing my clothes. That’s all I want to do – I want to bring the best out of them.
Do you think fashion has to change all the time and evolve? What is your focus on designing for the next collection?
You have to evolve and move forward as a house. We do and we have to. The creative gene in me is always pushing myself forward. I’m not interested in going backwards but I think you have to not only do that on a design and creative level but you also have to do it on a manufacturing and sourcing level as well. So for me it’s the whole machine that has to move forward in a way that will benefit us. True that it’s a slow machine so you have to do it right and in a mindful way that hopefully will go long term. Our business is about long term.
What is essential for you in making change? We talked about different challenges and that’s really interesting. What about making change?
I think it starts with the desire to do so. To make change, you have to have that really in you. You have to have that fire in you that want to challenge and change. I think that’s the starting point and then you have to execute. You have to be mindful and formed then start by gathering information globally and look beyond what you’re doing as you can’t isolate yourself. We as a house link forces with a lot of different things. We work with many charities and many causes and we have done that for a very long time. For us fashion has to be accessible and not something you can’t wear and say that can only have the handbag or the perfume to buy into us. So in order to have that change we’re quite open minded and we want to learn about many things we don’t isolate ourselves in the fashion industry.
Challenge and change will make you glamorous.
Hopefully it makes us more contemporary and a bit more modern. I think there’s something old fashioned about the mindset of sort of saying we do fashion shows but actually we only sell handbags. And not questioning the convention of a handbag and how it’s made and what it’s made out of. We’re just challenging the design and for me there’s more to it. So to change I think you have to challenge and think beyond more than just the same old thing.
When is the quietest time for you and what do you look forward to doing?
The quietest time is probably like 3 hours into sleep for about 4 minutes. (smiles) I also love riding the horse or when I have my little daughter behind me on her pony.
Oh, they ride as well?
Yes, they’re starting to. We’ve rescued these little ponies they’re called the wild horses and they’re sold in auctions and become horse meat. So we got some and we have these funky wild ponies. The children ride the ponies who are mid trained but a bit fierce so they normally end up on the floor, my kids. The quietest time for me is probably being in the country riding where my daughter’s going ‘ah’ and be knocked off.
Written by Inhae Yeo
Photo provided by Stella McCartney
This article has been featured on <Boon the Shop> magazine's SS 2015 issue.