Christopher Kane: "It's ridiculous how much they expect"
Ten years ago, four hours or so after his graduation, Christopher and his sister Tammy set to launch the Christopher Kane brand. Fashion was much different back then - Christopher remembers it simpler. Graduates studied in libraries, designers took their time. And after a much praised debut that caught the eye of Donatella Versace and would lead him to design for Versus shortly after, Christopher was allowed to take what he describes as "baby steps" to success. Over the past decade, Christopher Kane has picked up many awards as his mainline has also spawned a multitude of new categories: menswear, handbags and shoes, resort and pre-fall collections, without compromising on anything, from the quality to the character of his designs. Last year, with the support of the Kering group, he opened his first flagship store in London's Mayfair - an e-commerce website, currently in the making, promises to follow soon.
We're here on the 10th anniversary of Christopher Kane the brand, and I thought we could look back to see how it all started. You've often said that making mistakes is the best way to learn, what would your advice be for new fashion graduates today?
I was much younger back then, and the landscape, the industry, was very different. Today it's so much faster. Back then it was much easier to start up because you were only doing two collections, you weren't necessarily doing pre-fall and resort, because they were such a new thing at that point. And now all of a sudden they're fundamental to grow any business. But I think I was very lucky, I was surrounded by the right people at the right time, although I had to work really hard, and it was a lot to do with having talent... I think there's a misconception that doing this is easy when it's really not easy at all, it's a very hard industry to break and a very hard industry to work in, there's so much competition. But for me, I went to [Central] St Martins which is the most competitive college in the world, so.
It's interesting that you say it used to be easier to start a brand before, most people would believe the opposite.
I think that's a total lie. Today there's a lot of pressure for designers to start, and then when they do start, there's so much stuff that people want, there's so much demand on them. But I came at a point when I could take baby steps, you know? It's true that today you can create your own model, you can do it your own way. Although the fact is, you still want to create a business, and it's great to be successful, so there are things you need to follow. When I started there were just these two collections. In between those, a short holiday? But now, you do not stop thinking about work.
And social media come as a double-edged sword - while it allows for instant exposure and praise, it could also be quite misleading. Because our attention span is shorter too, and we all get bored much faster...
It's weird because as soon as I've done a collection people are asking me about the next one. I'm not a robot, I'm not a machine, I'm a human being. It's ridiculous how much they expect. People are spoiled now, there's just so much information at your fingertips, your phone, your computer, magazines, and so on. Whereas I remember going back to the library in college, and that's where I'd do my research! Does anyone even go to libraries anymore? Do they look at books? Now you can just google. But I believe that it's always nice to have books to look at, not just look at your Instagram feed because - that's other people's stuff, and you should make your own.
At the same time though, there's this kind of democratisation that the internet allows which isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Yes and I totally get that. Like when the bloggers came up and that was such a big issue for everyone to talk about. But I'm totally up for it, I think it's actually a really tough job. What I don't like is when they have a negative point of view when it comes to fashion. Because unless you've been there and done that, how would you possibly know? When there are bloggers like Susie Lau or Bryan Boy, who have fun but are never negative about it, they love what they're doing and can't believe the industry they work in, they're so happy. But others are just like, nah, nah, nah, that was terrible, that was shit... I'd like them to try it themselves and see how hard this is before they judge. Of course everyone in this industry is entailed to their opinion but they should have respect for one another too. Because, you may not like it now but things can grow on you. Then two weeks or four months later when you see it in the shop, you might love it then. It takes time occasionally for things to process, to resonate. Sometimes things grow on you, like a work of art. And it's not all about posting them on your Instagram.
Still, you seem to have adapted quite easily...
You think so? I think we're pretty old-fashion here [laughs]. Compared to other brands I think we were one of the last who got on Instagram. But nowadays there is this curiosity to see the insides of a company, or a designer. Still, I'm never going to post a picture like, look: this is my boyfriend! This is me in the bathroom! For me, the mystery should still be there. When I was at college I loved to wonder about Cristobal Balenciaga or Yves Saint Laurent, and the mystery that always surrounds them.
I'm not a robot, I'm not a machine, I'm a human being. It's ridiculous how much they expect
The very best fashion is often considered to be a reflection of the time - something which your collections are always believed to be. There's a lace and gaffer tape Christopher Kane dress at the Fashion Museum in Bath that was chosen to represent 2013 in their Dress of the Year collection, as a case in point.
We're really lucky that we get asked to do these things. There's the exhibition at The Met, Manus x Machina, that's open now, we've got a few pieces in it. It's all about technology, handmade technology and the contrast between the two. But I also think that clothes are not museum pieces - they're nice to look at sometimes but they're mostly great to be worn.
What about your brand evolution - from the girl in the body-con bandage dress for S/S '07, to the faded beauty of the hoarder in A/W '16, a certain gradual growth can be traced.
Yeah, it's an evolution for sure. But I still love that girl in the body-con dress as well, because she's young, she's bright, she's sexy, she's cool... and then the hoarder, she's really cool but she's not for everyone, she's quite eccentric. But that bandage girl can still own a piece of it and that hoarder may still want a piece of that body-con. We try to be inclusive, we try to bring in everyone, and some seasons we may lose someone, because they don't get it, it may be too far ahead, but then we also bring more people in and maybe get more customers. You can't always please everyone.
As most people do these days: we all got used to these new rhythms.
Yes, but that's me in particular. Other designers are good at doing the same thing over and over, like Azzedine Alaia. His work is so beautiful, he's such a craftsman, it's amazing - but I couldn't do it. I mean, you never know, maybe I'll slow down as I grow older. But for now, people also love coming to our shows because it's always a surprise. And when I go at fashion shows, I like that too, the anticipation.
Because of that loss of mystery that you were talking about before. We are all so informed now, that many new collections become, if not quite predictable, at least worth a guess before the show season has even begun.
Yeah, and also why would you put clothes there that have been seen before? Fashion is all about moving forward, that's how I create - by being really creative. Don't think about people being able to share it, think about reaching the height of creativity. Someone said the other day, 'I think ideas have run out'. I'm like, what? How would you know? Why don't you just get off your phone and think for a little bit? No but really, I think collections should be ever-changing.
But then there's also things that we always do. We always use lace and florals. For me florals are just so phallic and so erotic. That's why we did Lovers' Lace because for me, a penis and a vagina look like the reproductive system of flowers. And that's ok because its nature, and it's beautiful. But people were quite shocked by that and I always marvel at these reactions. I'm always about pushing myself.
The turnover of fashion is so fast now that quite a few talented designers have been unable to keep up. Some say we might be reaching the point where a revolution will be necessary to avoid collapse. Do you believe that will happen?
You know, when Raf left Dior I was so sad because I used to love going to the shows and Raf is just one of the most talented designers ever. And for a while, everyone was talking about how things may change. I mean, when you think about how he was in such a hard position, and he's a really strong guy, but he just couldn't do it anymore. So as a smaller brand, you realise that we're quite happy with being quite small. And we're lucky that Kering are very supportive on this, that they're all about being creative, pushing boundaries and standing out. And without them my flagship store would have never been possible.
But see, if what happened with Raf got people to start talking about this issue, designers already had been talking about it for five or six years at least. I don't know if the system will change, although everyone seems to think so. I think that you need to be loyal to your designers, I'll always love Raf like I'll always love Miuccia. And I'll respect everyone else, even though I may not like what they do, but I'll always be respectful. Because it's a hard job. And fashion itself, that always changes. It's like... evolution. We may have four arms one day. Will people question that?
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