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On the launch of the new Spring/Summer 2016 range at Harvey Nichols in Manchester, Editorial Coordinator Daniel James Parry met up with sophisticated British fashion designer to the stars, Amanda Wakeley, to discuss the new range, her celebrity clientele, her Royal contributions and her charity, Fashion Targets Breast Cancer.
The Foxley Docket: Everybody starts somewhere – what was your first job?
Amanda Wakeley: My first job was, during the school holidays, I worked in a really chic menswear boutique in Chester called Citygate.
TFD: What attracted you to the fashion industry?
AW: I always loved how clothes looked, how they were put together and how they made me feel, so I had a passion for beautiful materials and beautiful cutting and how that could mold or change or sculpt a woman’s body - or a man’s body - and just how good can make you feel.
TFD: How did you begin your journey into the world of fashion?
AW: I always say it started when I was really young, because I instinctively made clothes - I’d delve into the dressing up box and chop things up and put them back together or go vintage shopping, which in those days, was second hand shopping, and buy pieces that interested me and change them or remake them.
TFD: Why did you decide to become a fashion designer?
AW: I just realised how much I loved it and how I wanted to share that feeling, how empowering it is and how it can change how somebody feels. I think as a woman, I want other women to feel the best version of themselves that they can.
TFD: What’s your favourite part of being a fashion designer?
AW: I think the privilege of doing what I’m passionate about, and working with an amazing team, working with beautiful fabrics, working with very clever creators who create beautiful fabrics for us, because often we develop our own fabrics. I love that journey, and then all the way through to days like today. You can see women transformed and see them relax, and think “I feel great about that.”
TFD: What inspires the pieces you create? Are you inspired by any other fashion designers?
AW: As a designer, you’re always aware of what everyone else is doing - the internet makes that very easy. But I would say I’m inspired by life and life’s journey and lifestyle, it’s really trying to dress my woman for life’s journey and her lifestyle.
TFD: How would you describe your style?
AW: I would say understated - ‘understated chic.’
TFD: What does ‘fashion’ mean to you?
AW: It means so, so many things. It can mean whatever you want it to mean. I think moreso than ever before with brands doing such a diverse mix, I think the most important thing is that you stay true to your brand. Integrity is really important to me, so our customer knows that she can always come to us, she can always trust us, but that we’re going to take her on the journey too, and hopefully we always inspire her.
TFD: How did the brand, Amanda Wakeley, begin?
AW: I moved back from America, and I realised that I couldn’t find the clothes easily available in England that I loved in America, and I was being stopped in boutiques and asked where I’d got my black suede duster coat from or whatever it was, and I just felt there must be a gap in the market so I stepped into that.
TFD: At what point did you realise you’d made it, your ‘Eureka!’ moment, as it were?
AW: I think it happened at various times along the journey from when the Late Princess of Wales wore Amanda Wakeley, to when she resigned from public life wearing Amanda Wakeley, and it was credited in the press. I had no idea how it happened, and then when different actresses or celebrities wear Amanda Wakeley on the red carpet, that’s always a big endorsement.
TFD: Your pieces have dressed the biggest names in the industry, including Natalie Dormer, Helen Mirren and Kirsten Dunst to name three – one piece that stood out to me was the Embroidered Ribbon Gown worn by Natalie at the Irish Film Television Awards. With her in mind, can you tell us a bit about this particular piece and how it was created? How did the collaboration come about?
AW: So, that was one of the runway pieces. I particularly in this show wanted to show the breadth of the collection that I do, going all the way - white shirts, daywear, cashmere - then I did half a dozen silver dresses to celebrate the silver anniversary. That was the penultimate dress in the show and it was very much drawing from the architect Santiago Calatrava and his suspension bridges - really really beautiful - and then that was the ribbon onto this see-through mesh then with the chain; you should have a look at that piece, it’s a really beautiful piece up close; you can see how it moves. All of these celebrities or actresses have stylists - the stylist will take a selection and do a fitting with their client. When these guys are on doing press junkets for a new movie or whatever, they need so many different outfits for every day of the week. If you have a specific very, very high profile client, then you find yourself working over and above to facilitate this - but often, they’re very happy to wear a piece fresh off the runway, as Natalie was with that dress.
Game of Thrones star Natalie Dormer in the Amanda Wakeley Embroidered Ribbon Gown at the Irish Film and TV Awards 2016
TFD: Your work has been known to be a favourite of British Royalty, including Diana, Princess of Wales. How did this come about and what sort of pieces did you create for her? What was it like working with probably the most prestigious client in the country at the time?
AW: That was very different - that was a completely different era - in fact, I was introduced to her by the then Deputy Editor of Vogue, who was taking her under her wing stylistically and introducing her to different designers who she felt would work well with. It was about helping Diana find her own style because that was the era when you didn’t have the benefit of a stylist saying “Here you go, you should be wearing this, this, this and this - if you want to be very cool, you should wear a bit of this, if you want to be very classic, you should wear a bit of that or if you want to be paid by someone then you’ll have to wear that, that, that and that” - it was way before all of that, so this was about her evolving her own style with someone who she could really trust. It was amazing, it was a real privilege - she had a great sense of humour. I spent enough time with her, she was very appreciative and had fantastic manners. It was good to work with her.
TFD: In 2010, you received an OBE from The Prince of Wales at Buckingham Palace for your services to the fashion industry – as a fashion designer, how did it feel to have your labour and hard work merited and rewarded with such an honour?
AW: It felt great. You work hard because you’re passionate about what you do, but to receive an OBE is a huge honour. It was lovely to go to the palace with my partner and my parents, they were chuffed to bits. It was really lovely.
TFD: This OBE was also for your role as the funding co-chair of Fashion Targets Breast Cancer. Can you tell us a bit about this charity? How did it begin and why is it so important to you?
AW: This is our 20th year, and it was founded in the States by Ralph Lauren. He lost a great friend to breast cancer. He promised himself he was going to raise awareness and raise funds, so he created this campaign. Breakthrough at the time was the parent charity - the British parent charity which is now Breast Cancer Now - it’s all been renamed and merged with another breast cancer charity. Breakthrough then licensed Fashion Target Breast Cancer from America and together with my co-chair Caryn Franklin MBE, who was a fashion editor and fashion presenter, the campaign has raised over 14 million pounds to date, which is wonderful. We have our own dedicated research centre in Chelsea for breast cancer research, which is an amazing feat, so now it’s onto a newer era, really. We’ve done more with the campaign than the Americans have, in fact. What’s lovely about it is that we’ve embraced all areas of the fashion industry, from the high street - Marks and Spencers have been incredibly supportive - all the way through to global designers.
TFD: Your brand has been awarded several designs, including three British Fashion awards for Glamour and Natwest Everywoman Ambassador Award, but in your opinion, what’s been the real achievement in your career?
AW: I think that’s still happening - I think if you slow down and start patting yourself on the back, you’re missing the point. I think as a creative, you’re driven to constantly push your boundaries - you’re always inspired by new fabrics and new developments. Because we’re constantly working on a very tight critical path, you’re constantly push push push. It’s fantastic, you’ve no time to sit back and appreciate what you’ve done, it’s always what you can do next - that’s healthy, I think.
TFD: What drives your work ethic?
AW: I think I have a very strong work ethic anyhow - I love what I do, I’m really lucky to be passionate about what I do, and I just want my woman to be the best, and the next best - to always be at the top of the game.
TFD: What’s it like working for yourself?
AW: I’m a very driven person anyhow, so because my name is above the door actually drives me harder because you want it to be right. It’s a representation of yourself.
TFD: What are your thoughts on eco fashion?
I think it’s wonderful. I’m passionate about ethical sourcing, and it’s not the heart of my brand to have eco fashion, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have huge respect for it.
TFD: What are your thoughts on the current British fashion scene?
AW: I think it’s really exciting - REALLY exciting! - to see so many - I think the market is craving diversity. Mega brands will always be fantastic and amazing and mega, but I think the customer is also looking for individual, less mass produced products. I find that really exciting and refreshing, and I think the creativity that comes out of London is phenomenal. I’m really proud of that - I’m really proud to have a London based brand. It’s an inspiring city, and I think as Brits, we really are a phenomenally creative bunch, whether it’s fashion or music or art or graphics or film.
TFD: Can you tell us a bit about the Spring Summer 2016 collection exhibited here today?
AW: It’s loosely inspired by the architect Santiago Calatrava and his beautiful iconic suspension bridges. You saw lots of beautiful skinny straps and a lot of surface interest in the fabrics, the beautifully cut textures and with elements of ribbon detailing that comes through again and again and again, which anchors the pieces. Playing with fabrics, playing with fabric combinations - it’s intuitive what feels right. Once you’ve built your moodboard and you extend your work into silhouettes, you’re constantly viewing fabric collections and seeing what’s coming through, then it’s a sort of evolution. I love contrast of texture, so whether it’s cashmere and chiffon, or suede with silk.
TFD: What advice would you give to aspiring fashion designers?
AW: Get as much experience in the industry as you can. We’ve got amazing colleges and universities in Britain, but then get out into industry and really explore. Learn as much as possible.
TFD: What are your plans for the future?
AW: In September, we’re launching a lower priced handbag collection and that will be available online at House of Fraser, Harvey Nichols online, and also Home Shopping network, QVC.
TFD: Anything you’d like to add?
AW: It’s been a fun journey to have evolved the collection so much over the last few years to be a full lifestyle offering, so it’s not just - I was known for red carpet and evening dresses - and now to branch out to a summer evening gowns on a balcony with a glass of champagne appropriate attire, but I think it’s quite nice to inspire your customer and to think about the way she’s wearing something too, and the clothes should inspire that too. You could see by the way the printed silk moved.
TFD: I noticed a number of the handbags displayed were named ‘Eastwood, Redford, Jackson’ etc - where did these names come from and can you tell us a bit about them?
AW: Originally, it started out with this beautiful lock, and it sort of almost looked like a double ended bullet - so I named the bag collection originally, ‘The Bullet Collection’, and it just felt wrong. All of these names are famous Hollywood gunslingers - you have Eastwood for Clint, then the Redford (for Robert) and the Jackson for Samuel L Jackson. Oh, Hollywood legends - I love legends! It takes you on a journey in your mind, and I think that’s quite cool. They’re great names too, and it’s very important to me that the name matched the look of the bag. Very powerful, cool and confident.
TFD: Any plans for a menswear range?
AW: We do men’s cashmere! It’s just a couple of styles and it’s under the ‘Wakeley’ label, not Amanda Wakeley. Just because of the success of the women’s cashmere, it just felt that, ‘wouldn’t it be nice if you could buy a cashmere for your husband/boyfriend/lover?’ Or if he’s coming shopping with you - there was a husband shopping with his wife this afternoon. I went to see what she was trying on, and there he was with the cashmere sweater on!
Find out more about Amanda Wakeley at: