Saturday, April 26, 2014

A Fashion Revolution: An Interview with Stella McCartney

Stella McCartney (PA Photos)
Stella McCartney is today as much a household name as her famous father, Beatle Paul. As the director of her eponymous Stella McCartney label, a global fashion brand whose annual profits are estimated to be around $7-million, the 42-year old fashion designer has attracted her own international following since starting her own business in 2001. Her fans – and they include A-listers like Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Moss to everyday consumers who shop her stand-alone boutiques and websites – love her because no matter what it is she does, from women’s and children’s clothing to eco-friendly sunglasses and athletica for Adidas, McCartney comes across as straight-forward and honest, a woman designer proudly designing for other women, their real shapes and lives. Like her father and her late mother, the vegetarian activist and photographer Linda (nee Eastman), McCartney is also a keen environmentalist who has managed to create a 21st century luxury fashion brand without using leather or fur in any of her designs. 
She is not disposable fashion. She is fashion with a cause, winning three British Fashion Awards, an OBE and the honour of designing her nation’s Team GB Olympics uniforms in 2012. Besides edgy, sexy, uncomplicated design, what gives McCartney an edge is her commitment to sustainable fashion which, as she describes it on her site,, is a trend as important as recycling: “It’s really the job of fashion designers now to turn things on their head in a different way, and not just try to turn a dress on its head every season. Try and ask questions about how you make that dress, where you make that dress, what materials you’re using. I think that’s far more interesting, actually.” When not helping to lead a fashion revolution, McCartney is a busy mother of four young children and wife to Alasdhair Willis, the recently appointed creative director of British brand Hunter. She is also the devoted daughter of you-know-who, actively supporting Sir Paul in her fashion, like wearing a t-shirt of her own making emblazoned with the words, About Fucking Time, at Sir Paul’s induction ceremony into the Rock and Roll Hall of fame in 1999. They remain close. When Sir Paul married Nancy Shevell in 2012, the bride wore a dress custom-made by her new daughter-in-law. Father and daughter have worked together only once, for the making of a ballet. McCartney describes what that was like, and more, in the following interview.
dk: I enjoyed the retrospective given your late mother's photographs which I saw last summer at the Kunst Haus in Vienna and which is now in Montpellier, France, until May 4. She passed away in 1998, when you were 27. What influence did she have on you?

sm: My mum was a huge influence. She had a true fearlessness in the way she held herself – a strong woman, in her own delicate way – being in a rock band, becoming a famous photographer, but never wearing lots of make-up, nor taking fashion that seriously. She had a very natural confidence and amazing taste. To me, it’s the most modern way to be a woman – a very real kind of femininity.

Paul & Stella McCartney

dk: And now, your dad. You collaborated with him on the ballet Ocean's Kingdom which New York City Ballet debuted in 2011. He did the original score; you created the costumes. It was the first time you worked together. What was that like?
sm: It was really a collaborative process, even more so than the ones I have previously done. Working with my Dad was more talking to him about the vision for the characters and what they symbolize. There is a definitely clear storyline. I would never have missed the chance to work with my Dad and of course as in any family, you always have a parent-child relationship no matter how old you get.
dk: The New York City Ballet project was also your first time designing costumes for dancers. What were the challenges?
Stella McCartney working on Ocean's Kingdom

sm: The costumes are all about movement and the weight of the garment. Working with these incredible dancers, I treated them like athletes. The athletic thing comes pretty natural for me through my work with Adidas and the Olympics. With Peter it was all about working on aesthetics like elongating legs, revealing extreme movements and emphasizing technique while also telling a story. Telling a story through costumes has been an incredibly complex process and I’ve really let the music lead me on this.
dk: Your sister, Mary McCartney, has also worked with ballet dancers; her backstage images of the Royal Ballet dancers slouching in their dressing rooms, putting on make-up and horsing around, are interspersed with images of you, your brother James, and a bevy of pop world celebrities including Sgt Pepper’s cover designer Sir Peter Blake in her 2010 photography book, From Where I Stand. Do you share a similar fascination with ballet dancers? How different are they from the models you work with in fashion?

sm: Ballet dancers are more like athletes because of the whole performance movement thing so that’s more of a comparison for me. It’s very different than models on a runway, as when you design a collection for selling that are shown on models there is a different ultimate purpose. Designing costumes for a ballet there is a different technicality that comes into play and it’s all about what the dancer would look like leaping in the air and that the headpiece won’t fall off mid-pirouette.

Spring/Summer 2011
dk: You have said in other interviews you are most proud of the fact that your clothes are designed with real women in mind. While not theatrical like the ballet costumes, they also embody a spirit of freedom of movement, I think.

sm: There is a lot of movement and energy in the collection with graphic details, mixed prints, the contrast of a laid back attitude and a feminine edge.

dk: Speaking of a feminine edge, as a mom of four, you must experience huge demands on your time. How do you juggle the familial with the demands of running a global fashion business?

sm: With the help of a really amazing team at home and at work!

dk: Did your kids’ line evolve from a desire to stay rooted to your own young family's needs?

sm: I think what we really tried to achieve with this collection is to design really beautiful pieces, but at the same time not afraid to mix and match or wear it in a more realistic way. And when you look at the kids in it; it’s the way you would dress your kid, rather than to portray some kind of false world that doesn’t really exist with children’s clothing. Our biggest challenge was trying to tick all of the boxes. We really wanted to make it modern from creating the right design for the right age group, to having unisex styles, to being available online immediately and to the price point. It really made the most sense for us right now to do it this way.

– Deirdre Kelly is a journalist, author and internationally recognized dance critic. She has written for Dance Magazine in New York and the Dance Gazettein London (official magazine of the Royal Academy of Dance) and is a contributor to the International Dictionary of Ballet (St. James Press). She was the award-winning dance critic for Canada's The Globe and Mail and is currently the newspaper's Style reporter. She is the author of the national best-seller, Paris Times Eight (Greystone Books/Douglas & McIntyre), a Paris-inspired memoir with a chapter featuring Rudolph Nureyev. Deirdre's second book, Ballerina: Sex, Scandal and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection, has just been published (Greystone Books). Married with two children, she lives in Toronto.

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