Keeping Up With Kane
Opening his career 10 years ago with one of the most luminous (quite literally) and talked-about shows of the season, designer Christopher Kane's rapid ascent to cult status placed emerging British designers firmly onto the international fashion stage. Re-energising the British fashion landscape with a subversive storytelling yet artful aesthetic, the Scottish-born designer’s work has that instant-covetability with wickedly addictive and utterly memorable pieces - who could forget those SS06 neon elastic-bandage micro dresses or the AW11 Aqua liquid-filled evening bags? No surprises then that to date, not only has the designer won armfuls of much-lauded industry awards, been snapped up by Donna Versace for a tenure at Versus, collaborated with shoe-maestro Manolo Blahnik and make-up icon NARS, but with the backing of luxury goods group Kering in 2013 and the launch of his flagship store in 2015, has propelled his eponymous brand forward into a new global market.
Talking 10 years, tenures, trends and the future, we caught up with the designer...
Why fashion - what inspired you to become a designer?
I grew up in a very open-minded home and was always surrounded by women, being my mum and her sisters (my aunts).
Tammy and I always knew we would some day work together. We are very close and very alike. She is five years older than me and as a young teen I would idolise her. We collaborated very early on; she would help me with her art work and vice versa.
She encouraged me to follow my dream to study at Saint Martins. We moved to London together when I turned 18 to study, while she worked part time as an intern at designers like Russell Sage.
"I will always do things that challenge me and keep me on my toes when it comes to being creative."
How does the strong woman play out in your designs?
Growing up around such strong women, I have always been inspired by them, their confidence and individuality. There were so many characters/families in my hometown that I still think about today in terms of references.
I want to create clothing that seduces and empowers women, whether it be a lace dress, or a sweatshirt. I always want my product to stand out for its creativity and point of view while remaining wearable. Our customer is daring, creative and an original thinker. It's about a certain attitude rather than boundaries of age. She’s confident and playful, and really loves fashion.
Who is the Christopher Kane woman?
The Christopher Kane woman is ageless; she’s confident, independent and curious.
I want to create really beautiful clothes that women feel really special in and want to covet, whether that’s a very expensive lace dress or a sweatshirt with a motif. I think women have so many options today, so I want my product to always stand out for its creativity and point of view. There is not just one CK woman; I know women in their 70s who love my clothes and then there are also teenagers... I haven’t singled anyone out, it just so happens they appeal to many ages.
You’ve had incredible accolades and support from key industry people - what's the best advice you've been given?
Louise Wilson was pivotal to my success, she was my biggest supporter and no one can take her place. Her advice helped me along the way and it was always from the heart.
My mum used to always have the best advice, she was known for saying, "What's for you won't go past you." I'm a big believer in fate and what’s meant to be. So if things don’t work out as you planned, I always think of my mum saying this.
Having had a tenure at Versus, what did you learn and how did it help you with your own brand?
I grew up following Versace and other brands like Helmut Lang and Lacroix. I was young and literally sucked it all up like a sponge. Gianni and Donatella created clothes like no other brand, they were genius. They hooked you in with their modern vision of a new kind of woman, strong, bold and unique.
I met Donatella after my graduation and worked with her on a consultancy basis. I then went on to work on Versus. I love and admire Donatella so much. She is one of the most amazing people I will ever meet. Her strength and work ethic is inspirational. Donatella has done it all and has the best advice to give. I learned a lot from working with her. I was very lucky to see the insides of such a big house like Versace, and how it functions.
You’re celebrating 10 years of the brand - how has it evolved and what are your highlights?
I feel really proud of my archive and I’m very protective of it. For the past 10 years I have continually experimented with ideas, pushed perceptions, fabrics, technique - all of those experiences have allowed me to evolve as a designer. Fundamentally though I haven't changed, I am still curious and interested in new things and inspired by my experiences and everything around me. Ideas come and go but you know you’re on the right track when you get shivers from a fitting.
There’ve been so many great moments, but in particular was the merger with Kering. It really allowed us to take the brand forward and to the next level, and of course opening our first flagship store in London.
Where do you see the brand in 10 years to come?
I want to continue developing and building all of our categories and be recognised for each, individually. I want to continue to build on the women’s ready-to-wear offer, organically develop our growing menswear collections, expanding on increasingly important pre-collections and further develop our exciting launch into leather goods, shoes and sneakers.
E-Commerce is becoming second nature in how people shop, and the launch of our global flagship store online in June of this year, will be a great opportunity to build a closer relationship with a more global customer. It’s a very exciting time for the brand.
With so many collections to work on now, how do you find inspiration and how do you keep the creativity going?
I have a huge archive from past collections and a photo archive, so at the beginning of each season I always look through all my images.
Texture is always a good starting point for each collection and signature to the brand. Every season I like to do something that feels new and different; innovation in design, technique and craftsmanship are paramount. Whether that be through the innovative use of textiles, a cutting technique or experimental fabrics, or the use of contrasting themes that mix both the sinister and the sweet and unexpected materials, this has become signature to the brand and to how I work. I will always do things that challenge me and keep me on my toes when it comes to being creative.
With such a busy schedule, what do you do in your downtime to unwind?
I live and breathe the brand so not much downtime, but I like to see my friends of course and watch TV.
For AW16 the collection was all about making the "ordinary extraordinary" - how did this idea come about?
I have always been obsessed with recluses and the image of the outsider making their own world by hoarding things away. We wanted to emulate that for this collection; to take unlikely things and make them beautiful, looking to an outsider who has her own rules and her own style – she does what she wants and defines her own beauty.
Subverting humdrum ideas of luxury, a notion of preciousness and elegance is derived from the everyday together with the more exalted this season, making the ordinary extraordinary.
Shop from our Christopher Kane edit below.