Industrious Stella McCartney

Conversation

STELLA McCARTNEY IS A COOL, TALENTED, REMARKABLY PHILOSOPHICAL, TOTALLY UNPRETENTIOUS AND VERY CUTE FASHION DESIGNER. SHE MAKES GREAT CLOTHES FOR WOMEN, CHILDREN AND NOW ATHLETES. SHE’S FUNNY, HAS GREAT ENERGY AND LIVES LIFE RIGHT. GLENN O’BRIEN MANAGED TO GET SOME QUALITY PHONE TIME WITH HER VERY, VERY EARLY ONE MORNING IN JANUARY. SHE WAS PINNING A JACKET IN LONDON, WHILE HE WAS GULPING COFFEE IN NEW YORK.

Stella McCartney by Mary McCartney

Stella McCartney by Mary McCartney

Stella McCartney: Wakey, wakey!

Glenn O’Brien: Oh, my God! Hi Stella!

SMC: Oh-ho, ho-ho. I had no idea I was going to wake you up! I was just passed the telephone by an overly eager gentleman.

GOB: Oh, he must be the one that said we could only do this at dawn. Actually, I am awake. I get up around this time anyway to get the kid off to school. And maybe this way it will be dreamlike. You must be crazy busy because you have shows in a matter of days.

SMC: I’m pretty crazy. I’ve just figured out that what I need is four of me . . .

GOB: I don’t know how you do all these seasons and half-seasons and then take on a ballet, an Olympics . . .

SMC: I know. But do you know what? One of the best things is when you feel confident enough to say no. . . . It’s one of the most liberating things in the world. I say no all the time too.

GOB: Maybe I don’t say no enough. My whole life I’ve thought, “I’ll never work again,” and then a week later I’m way too busy.

SMC: Isn’t it the best feeling when you actually say, “Thank you, but no thank you?”

GOB: Yes. There are several people I plan to say that to soon. Thanks for encouraging me. 7 a.m.? No, thank you!

SMC: You do sound sleepy. Actually, you sound a little like Garfield . . .

GOB: I am awake, but next to your incredible energy I might sound a bit slow. My wife kept me up late watching three episodes of Downton Abbey.

SMC: Oh, my God. Everyone’s fascinated with that over there.

GOB: Oh, it’s really a big cult show in New York. We’re all fantasizing about being earls, footmen, anarchist chauffeurs and dowager countesses.

SMC: It was really big here too. I found it fairly comical. But maybe the Americans see the humor in it as well.

GOB: Oh, yeah. We’re all quoting Maggie Smith lines. Are you in the middle of getting the fall show ready?

SMC: I’m in the middle of getting ready for two shows. I’m in a fitting now for my London show, and at the same time I’m doing the Paris show a couple of weeks after. I’m doing a show every month, it seems, this year. It is absolutely crazy.

GOB: I loved going to Paris, but doing the whole circuit is a killer. I remember saying, “Bye, Daddy will see you in a month.” The schedule must drive you crazy. Resort, pre-fall . . .

SMC: It’s definitely relentless, and I haven’t done this many shows this quickly before, because normally we have a gap between the autumn show and the winter show. We have a month where we’re focusing only on the show, and that’s for Paris. We’re celebrating London Fashion Week this year, so we have a whole other show in there. It’s crazy because you try to keep them apart, but it’s difficult because your head is in one mode. You still try to create some kind of separation between the collections, but it is quite tricky.

GOB: Your collections never seem to be theme-oriented. With a lot of designers, it’s about pirates, or the military, or the casbah or whatever. But you don’t do gimmicks, so your shows always seem to be personal
and evolutionary.

SMC: Yeah, they definitely evolve. If I had to skip from Pirates of the Caribbean to Tutankhamen, I would be in a lunatic asylum. I’m trying to keep it seamless. But still, you’ve got to keep some element of surprise. I don’t anticipate doing this next year. Ha-ha. But then again, you never know. This year, I . . . oh, sorry, I’m just looking at a jacket as I speak. I’m doing the British team for the Olympic Games, that’s something I’ve been working on for a couple of years now. It’s funny, when New Year happened, I was like, “Oh, it’s going to be 2012 . . .” I really thought that I’d already done 2012.

GOB: How do you prepare for the Olympics? Do you have to go watch all those crazy sports that nobody knows what they are, like synchronized swimming and modern pentathlon?

SMC: Yeah. I watched a bit, and I met with a lot of athletes. It’s very interesting. I’m working with Adidas, so it’s their technology and their expertise, and then the collaboration comes in when I try to bring a fresh eye to it. I ask totally different questions than they would tend to do. Because they do a lot of teams and a lot of athletes. So, I guess it’s my coming in and saying, “Okay, how come the women get the same outfit as the men on the cycling? Surely you need a dart here, or surely you need to anticipate the fact that one of them is a guy and one of them is a woman.” You learn a helluva lot. There are so many requirements. It’s incredible.

GOB: I’m amazed by textile technology now. There was a story on The New York Times sports page this week about how some poor skier was almost disqualified because apparently she was wearing performance enhancing underwear. In the end, they decided it was legal but that the amount of plastic in it could be dangerous because the skin can’t breathe. It used to be steroids or blood doping . . . but now it’s underwear.

SMC: Exactly. Oh, my God!

GOB: Imagine, her underwear made her too fast.

Stella McCartney QuotationSMC: I’ve had issues with gymnastics. It’s really interesting, because you start designing things, and they’ll say, “No, you can’t put a flesh color on it because it’s too sexy and they’ll get marked down if they look too sexy” or “If there isn’t symmetry then they could get marked down for looking off balance.” It’s like, “What?!” There’s so much information that you have to absorb. It’s a whole other world. I love the sport collaboration that I do with Adidas, because it’s just such high performance. There’s so much high technology that it is just a totally different job description.

GOB: Are you sporty?

SMC: [laughs] Are you sporty?

GOB: Sportif?

SMC: Haha! It depends on your definition. In this context, I’m not that sporty, but I am sportier than the average potato chip.

GOB: Are you an athlete? A jock?

SMC: We don’t do jocks in England.

GOB: Americans do jocks.

SMC: I’m not a slob. I don’t sit around. I exercise, if that’s what you mean. Yeah, I’m pretty sporty. I keep active. I have four kids. You have one kid?

GOB: I have an eleven-year-old, and he’s a sports guy. Skiing, soccer, horses. I’m trying to teach him not to take a full swing with a putter.

SMC: Yeah. My eldest boy is six, and he’s a complete jock. He loves it. He LOVES it.

GOB: Speaking of jocks, I saw Ocean’s Kingdom.

SMC: Oh, wow. You went to it?

GOB: Yeah. Ballet is not my usual scene, but I really loved the costumes you designed, and I loved your dad’s music; it was wonderful.

SMC: Oh, thank you. That’s great. I’ll tell Dad. That’s really nice. So, that was a whole other project.

GOB: It seemed to me like the underwater thing leaked into your spring collection. Was that a pun? There were those beautiful waves on the skirt hems. Lots of blue and white.

Paul McCartney's Ocean's Kingdom---Photo by Paul KolnikSMC: I can see how it could have been interpreted that way, but it didn’t come from the ballet, actually. I tend to design in a quite linear way. I’m quite masculine most of the time in my tailoring lines, and I’ve been trying to explore the more curvaceous side to the woman. I like to balance opposites in a collection. So, I was trying to bring the curve a little more into that language of masculine. They definitely did come out looking wavy, for sure. And then they were quite sporty; they were molded and constructed in a scuba-like way, which gave it a watery feeling.

Photo by Paul Kolnik

GOB: I was also reading lingerie into it. It was really sexy.

SMC: Yes, definitely. You’re right on that. There’s definitely a bit of lingerie expression. I do lingerie, and I . . .

GOB: I know. My wife’s drawers are full of your underwear.

SMC: Ah, I love her.

GOB: That sounds funny, “My wife’s drawers are full of your underwear . . .”

SMC: We have a great following, actually . . . I’m brain-dead, by the way . . . I’ve been up since five o’clock . . . when women discover my lingerie, they do tend to love it. Your wife has good taste, clearly, in both men and lingerie.

GOB: Well, she wears a lot of your other stuff. She’s got a bunch of your jackets, because she thinks you’re a great tailor.

SMC: Oh, cool! Then I’d better concentrate more on this jacket that I’m supposed to be fitting while we’re talking.

GOB: I loved those big sleeves on the jackets last fall. Big and almost Asian.

SMC: But it’s like you say, I tend to do one continuous kind of language, really to evolve it and push it. There’s always a play on a wider, more masculine sleeve. It’s always taking the boyfriend’s or your dad’s or your husband’s jacket and chucking it over. That’s always a starting point for us.

GOB: Wasn’t your first job on Savile Row?

SMC: Yeah, I trained at Savile Row while I was at Saint Martins. I went there naively thinking that I would learn how to really concentrate on pattern cutting and on the make of garments. I got there, and of course they do all that, but I think that I fell more into the creative side of it. What I took away from Saint Martins was pushing myself creatively, and I have to say that I didn’t really connect with the actual make and construction side of the course as well as I thought I would. So, I went and did Savile Row in the evenings and committed myself to really learning about men’s tailoring. I grew up with that bespoke English tradition, and I just couldn’t find it anywhere at the time. Nineties tailoring was much softer. There was a whole different language out there, and it really wasn’t my kind of thing, so I had to find a way of mastering how to do the kind of tailoring that I was really attracted to, which was much more British and more menswear.

GOB: Having done the Olympics and come up through Savile Row, do you ever think about doing men’s too?

Stella McCartney QuotationSMC: I definitely have. The first time anyone ever asked, “Will you do menswear?” was at my very first Adidas launch in New York. A journalist said, “Oh, I wish you’d do menswear, because there are so many things in there that I’d love to wear.” The two things are connected, I guess. And maybe one day I will do that. It’s just finding the time. I’m very aware of the pace at which one can move, and the pace at which a brand can grow in a healthy way. I’m definitely in it for the long haul. I believe very much in staying power, and I think you have to build all the foundations before you start building a skyscraper. So, I’d like to do menswear. It’s not my comfort zone, but that’s okay—I’m up for a challenge. But it’s something I would like to do at the right time.

GOB: I loved the clothes you made for the bad boys in the ballet . . .

SMC: Oh, my God, they were my favorites.

GOB: All those wild colors. I thought, if I were younger, I’d wear that. Maybe I’d wear it anyway.

SMC: Yeah! The Terra Punks . . . that’s what they were called . . . the baddies . . . they really worked. For me, they were an area of real success in the ballet. That was such an interesting project to do. It wasn’t very far off from the Olympics thing, in that it was working with great athletes, and with so many requirements.

GOB: Were you one of those kids who was drawing dresses when you were eight years old?

SMC: Yeah. Isn’t that weird? I sometimes forget that I was, but I was. People remind me of it. “I can remember when you drew this dress . . .” Oh, my God, really? I was one of those? Yeah. I was.

GOB: It seems almost genetic with designers, especially the ones who have important careers. It’s always, “Oh, yeah, I just started drawing dresses when I was five.” And a lot of times it’s boys too. Stephen Sprouse was like that.

SMC: Yeah. I don’t think it matters what gender you are. People ask, “When did you think I want to be a fashion designer?” I always think it was much later than it actually was. I know I made my first thing at twelve, but then occasionally I come across a box of crap, and I’m like, “Oh, my God. That’s me drawing at eight or nine.” So yeah, I was. I don’t like to admit it too much, but I was.

GOB: Do you have any up-and-coming designers in your family?

SMC: I think I might have created one little fashion designer. My third-born is so kooky, and he’s very visual. He doesn’t miss a trick. He had a couple of ear infections when he was younger, so I think his eyes have done extra overtime for him. He’s just turned four. I keep saying to him, “Will you come work with Mummy when you’re bigger?” I’m starting to brainwash him now, so he can step in when I’m too old.

Stella McCartney Kids, 212 872 2857GOB: My son is an artist, and he’s always asking my friends if they want to see his drawings. Actually, he’s trying to make a sale. By the way, my son loves your clothes too.

SMC: [laughs] Your wife’s underwear, and your kid too?

GOB: He has these really bright aquamarine corduroy pants you made.

SMC: Oh, I know exactly the ones you mean, because they’re really great. I can’t believe it.

GOB: Our friend Ricky Clifton, who’s sort of a decorator to the art world, loves wild colors, and Oscar says, “These are my Ricky pants.”

SMC: My son who will be the fashion designer in the family was sitting down today in a slightly forest green color. They’re really nice, those trousers. That’s so cute! Most men aren’t aware of what brands their kids are wearing, or their wives. Have you done your research, or are you always like this?

GOB: I’m the mailroom at our house. I greet the FedEx guy, the UPS guy, I open the packages. I suppose you’re asked all the time about how you run your business with ethical consciousness. But sometimes I wonder, if we all went vegan, would chickens survive as a species, or cows? Wouldn’t they just be unemployed?

SMC: They probably would! But dogs are still alive, and cats are still alive . . .

GOB: But they have jobs. They bark at the door, they catch the mice.

SMC: I hear you. But cows were around before we started eating them in such a massive way.

GOB: Yeah, but they were something different. We made them into mutants.

SMC: But then we’re mutations too, aren’t we? I think they probably would still muck around. Probably not so many, and that’s a very good thing. Less cows would help environmentally.

GOB: That’s for sure.

SMC: I find the whole land mass situation interesting, and how much water it takes to raise these animals, and how inefficient it is. I think they’ll still be around. But I think it wouldn’t be a bad thing if there were less of them.

GOB: Okay, Stella. Do people with red hair have special powers?

SMC: Absolutely. You can sleep with a blonde, and you can sleep with a brunette, but you don’t get much sleep with a redhead.

GOB: Thanks for taking the time during pre-show craziness.

SMC: No problem. But if this jacket’s crap, I will blame you.

The Bergdorf Goodman Conversations are conducted and edited by Glenn O’Brien. BG

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