20 years in print

Meet the northerner with a knack for an eye-catching print. Matthew Williamson’s gowns are worn by stars from Poppy Delevingne to Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge. Now, the master of red carpet dressing has designs on your home
September 12, 2016   |    Grace Cook

Q. What inspires you?
A. ‘My constant source of inspiration is nature. The translucent, delicate patterns on butterflies have become an important reference for me.

‘Jade Jagger gave me some butterflies she painted back in 1997, which started my fascination with them. I still have them hanging in my lounge.

‘I’m drawn to exotic, sun-drenched places, too. Whether you’re in Bali or Costa Rica – the hotter the country, the more expressive the people are with colour.’

Q. How has the industry changed over the past 20 years?
A. ‘We’re touching on a seismic shift, because we were always reliant on the press and buyers, but after 20 years it was a precarious position to be in. So we decided to flip things and take back control. Two years ago, we stopped showing at London Fashion Week and started doing things in a new way that recognised the impact of social media.’

Q. Your business is solely online now – is that right?
A. ‘Yes, my website is my world. I wanted to put everything on there to reflect this 360° lifestyle. You’ll still see the stationery in stores all over the world, but if you want my clothes you have to come to my site.

‘I now know who my woman is and it helps me to design: I know what she ordered, when she ordered it, how much she spent and what she ordered it for. One of my best customers is a lady in her eighties, who lives in the Bahamas.’

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Q. How important is your relationship with your customer?
A. ‘Lots of them email me. I don’t see myself in the ivory tower: I’m one of them; they’re one of me. I learn from them.

‘I’ve just been to a customer’s wedding in Aberdeen and she told me all the things she thought were right and wrong with the clothes – it was like a life lesson. It’s nice that they approach me and we have this personal dialogue.

‘I’m doing a talk at the Victoria & Albert Museum in November and I have bought 40 tickets for my best customers. I’m going to take them all out for dinner afterwards.’

Q. Why did you develop MW Home?
A. ‘I’ve always said if someone buys one of my dresses, then she probably has a lovely home as well!

‘Even as a child, I was fascinated by interiors. It’s been an instinctive journey – I knew my prints would translate well to lifestyle products.

‘The collection feels like a very natural extension of the clothes. It’s exciting – we’ve created ceramic items, candles and a colouring book about fashion to sit alongside the furniture. It’s taken two years to get to this point, but we now have our wallpaper in 50 more countries than we had our fashion!

‘I don’t think people are buying my wallpaper necessarily because they know the brand name – they’re buying it because they are enjoying the pattern and the product, which is lovely.’

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Q. What are your thoughts on upcycling?
A. ‘I’m not interested in glamour. If my work ever has that look, it’s often courtesy of really basic materials – a glitzy dress, for example, is probably made from little pieces of tin.

‘I guess that’s a form of upcycling – trying to make something rich out of something that is poor. For my February collection, I’m using archive fabric I’ve stored for years and never used, as it didn’t quite fit at the time – it’s a beautiful gold brocade. ‘It will be limited edition, but it’s a nice way of using old things and bringing them back to life.’

Q. What would you say has been the highlight of your career?
A. ‘My fondest memory is when Prince performed at my London Fashion Week show in 2007. I didn’t believe it would happen, so I was as shocked as the next person when he actually turned up!’

The Matthew Williamson Garden, at Blakes Hotel is open from 14 September
Matthew Williamson’s Fashion, Print and Colouring Book, published by Laurence King at £15.95, is out now (laurenceking.com).

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