By his own admission, Julien Macdonald has never been a designer set on pushing boundaries. 'I've made my name by dressing celebrities and that's fine,' he said recently. 'Glamour is always in fashion' he added, and there definitely has to be some truth in that. To say that he's doing well is quite the understatement. What he doesn't have in sales numbers for his mainline, he definitely has with his collections for Debenhams (his line with them is their most successful designer collaboration) and his recent foray into reality TV on Britain and Ireland's Next Top Model have ensured that he has found a place in all of our living rooms as well as our wardrobes.
Because of his focus on all things celebrity, he was never a designer that followed. That's not because I don't respect what he does - I really do - but rather, his penchant for all things glamour and IT girl isn't something that I'm particularly drawn to. That said, recently I was lucky enough to join Shop Style on the Fashion Fringe roadshow where Collin McDowell spoke to the designer at the University of Brighton where he studied and I was totally won over. Not only is he incredibly charming, he is also incredibly outgoing (a characteristic, which Macdonald himself noted isn't very common amongst designers) and completely honest and unfiltered.
What was interesting about the talk was that a lot of us left realising just how little we knew about his incredible past.
When he was a child he wanted to be a singer:
'I loved the show-off nature of showbiz,' he said. 'I loved to dance. I was the only boy in my dance class.'
On his background:
'I didn't come from a fashion background. My mother worked in a light bulb factor and my father worked in a washing machine factory,' he said. 'My father played for QPR in his young days so I was far from the token son.'
On choosing to go to study fashion at the University of Brighton:
'I really wanted to move to London and Brighton was like my step to London,' he said. 'I was really sacred about leaving home but was so happy to meet people with the same interests. I was a loner and really outsider before and was teased.'
On working with McQueen:
'I designed the knitted pieces for Alexander McQueen's first collection. Isabella Blow brought us together. It was during my sandwich year at university and he paid me in clothes.'
On studying at the Royal College of Arts:
'That was my ticket to London,' he said. 'The MA at the Royal College is the best fashion course in the world. It was there that I really developed my style.'
On working on a project for Karl Lagerfeld as part of his RCA course:
'The task was to designer a capsule collection for his brand,' he explained. 'I got Phillip Treacy to do the hats and Manolo Blahnik to do the heels and turned up wearing McQueen.' Andre Leon Talley who joined Lagerfeld in judging the competition reportedly said 'this is not Lagerfeld, this is Chanel Haute Couture' when announcing that Macdonald had won. The prize was the opportunity to go and work for Lagerfeld in Paris. When he was offered a job at the end of it he said no and asked for Karl to wait from him to finish the MA course as he was worried about having to pay the scholarship back. Instead of going back, Lagerfeld talked to the Royal College and convinced them to allow him to work at Chanel as his final year project.
On his graduating show:
'The show was styled by Isabella Blow and Suzy Menkes reviewed it.'
On returning to Chanel after graduating from the Royal College:
'Over those years I became Karl's protegee. I designed the knitted tweeds for the brand that they still use today and was one of the 15 in Karl's inner circle,' he said. 'I spend two years watching and learning everything from Karl.'
On leaving Chanel to start his own brand:
'After two years at Chanel I had made enough money so I was ready to leave.' He continued: 'Karl was supportive. The knitted tweeds I created for Chanel were a huge seller and continue to sell today. They really kept the factories ticking over so they helped me when I started my own label...They owed me.'
On his approach to his own brand in the early days:
'It was never about the money. It was always about the next show.'
On his signature style:
'I made my name by dressing celebrities and that's fine...glamour is always in fashion.'
On people criticising him for not being avant garde:
'I never liked crazy avant garde things,' he said. 'My clothes have always been camp and over the top...and sold all over the world.'
On banning critical journalists:
'I told journalists that if they don't like, don't come and I was very happy to do so,' he said laughing.
On being offered the job at Givenchy:
'When Bernard Arnault came knocking on the door I thought he was offering me the job at Pucci...but he had spoken to Karl who had recommended me,' he said. 'I was worried. I had never done tailoring and was inexperienced. I was a knitwear designer not a fashion designer.' He continued: 'The team hated me. I was another British designer working there [after John Galliano and Alexander McQueen] and didn't speak a word of French.'
On his first task at Givenchy:
'They told me to design a pre-fall collection. I went and sat in my office and I sat around the whole day trying to figure out what a pre-fall collection was.'
On the design approach of the Givenchy atelier:
'They had a really bourgeois way of thinking. Everything had a corset and I didn't think that that was the way women wanted to dress.'
On the critics:
'People hated me,' he admitted. 'Mr Arnault didn't care because the company was finally making money.'
On being unhappy at Givenchy:
'I wasn't happy there...the last year there I cried myself to sleep every night. I was going crazy. I was always on my own and became more insular...I didn't care about the money anymore. I had paid for my parent house and their bills so I didn't have to do it anymore. I just wanted to to go home. They asked me to stay and offered more money but I said no. I had been ticking the days of my calendar.'
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