One Monday back in January I spent the morning with Amy Powney, Head Designer at Mother of Pearl. Rather than meeting in a fancy restaurant or hotel in Central London, which is often the case, Powney invited me to the brand's studio based in the middle of East London's bustling creative scene. The team were in the middle of preparing for their A/W 2012 collection but were kind enough to devote their morning to talk me through the brand and transport me into the Mother of Pearl world; and I can safely confirm that that world is not a bad place to be. The team are uncompromisingly enthusiastic and passionate about what they do and it's infectious.
Whilst you may be unfamiliar with the brand now, give it a year or so and that will change. The company has actually been around for several years but it is only now that things have really come together. Teams have come and gone and the aesthetic has changed several times so it was only four seasons ago when Powney was appointed as head designer that things began to change. This fact isn't something they shy away from. In fact, Powney was pretty frank when asked about it. "People in the industry take fashion very seriously so if you've seen a brand through several different phases, people move on and lose interest. It has taken time to get people to come back and see it but I finally feel like it's at a good point and people can see that it's a good concept." It's the brand's present carnation that has helped win them a legion of fans and become on of the industry's best kept secrets. And while MOP, as the team call it, was established by Maia Norman who continues to serve as creative director, it is Amy who has managed to articulate her easy sports wear vision.
But the aesthetic goes beyond sports wear. What instantly strikes you about the clothes is the ease in which they can slip into your wardrobe alongside what you already have, whilst also managing to be statement pieces in their own right. Take the block coloured maxi skirts or simple shirts and round hemmed blazers from their summer collection for example. Whether, like me, you're a woman in your twenties trying to move away from your Topshop years and now invest in quality pieces or you're a forty year-old mother of three, there's something in there for you.
With all of the new challenges that the recession has brought, this makes sense. Women are looking for pieces that are multi-functional and will take them from the school run to an after work event and a full on work day in between. "She's always doing something," Powney said about being inspired by Maia's busy lifestyle. "She really wanted to create a casual brand. When Maia and I go out, we want to feel comfortable. I hate that feeling of clothes hugging and pulling on you so you would never see me in big heels and a tight dress. It's much sexier when you see a woman look really comfortable in her own skin and whatever she's wearing. That easiness comes with simpler silhouettes." And it's true. It's this reason that women have fallen in love with Stella McCartney and Phoebe Philo's work at Celine, for example. Their clothes encapsulates the 'for women, by women' mantra, which strangely is a lot less common today that you would expect.
It's no surprise then that Powney names celebrities like Tilda Swinton as a source of inspiration and someone who she'd like to see wearing the brand. "I truly believe that women should wear the clothes and not have the clothes wear them but equally, the clothes should reflect your personality and what you want to say" and that's exactly what Swinton does. "She is one of the few women who can wear something a lot more causal to an event but still look great," she said. "It's great when you have those girls that can where something simple and classic but still look amazing." And that's what Mother of Pearl do so well. It's not about being included in the trend round ups for Powney. Instead, she's unapologetic about maintaining the MOP voice so even if you do see the occasional big trend in one of their collections, you can sure as hell count on them being done in a very Mother of Peal way.
And it's going down well. Over the past year the brand has teamed up Show Studio on a series of collaborations, launched a hugely successful partnership with Pierre Hardy, are currently working on a pop-up shop in Harrods and their clothes are going down a treat in the new Asian economies. "I'm really proud of that because [the Asian market] just get it," she said. "They're the sort of people that wear brands like Marni and can carry off pieces that are much cooler. When they go out they don't necessarily wear some kind of bod-con dress. They're a lot cooler and that really fits our product and it's fortunate that they're having a boom over there."
That acute sense of awareness about what the market is doing and what customers want, is Powney all over. Unlike a lot of young designers she has a good head for business, something she credits Kingston university for, as well a stint working for Giles during his early days. In Amy's world, creativity and business go hand in hand. "One day I might be designing and the next day I'm working on accounts and for me it works. It enables me to really understand what the brand is, where it's going and who the customer is," and that something that is instantly apparent the moment you talk to her. Mother of Pearl was her first job after leaving university but rather than starting off in her current position, she actually began as a design assistant before moving into the business side and later heading the design team. "It was good because I really got to see what worked and what didn't work, which has helped get the brand to where it is now."
This head for business and what women want transcends through everything they do, especially their work with the art world. Each season the brand teams up with an acclaimed artist whose work will serve as the starting point of a given collection. What's most exciting about these partnerships is the accessibility. To buy an artwork of their any of their former collaborators like Keith Tyson or Jim Lambie will set you back a fair bit but through these collaborations, you can access these artists. Don't get me wrong, the pieces are more expensive than the middle range high street stores but nothing they sell would warrant losing sleep over, which is proving to be a good business move. The recession is putting pressure on brands to rethink their price points. While the big fashion houses are still there, it's contemporary brands like MOP that are getting the most traction today, especially as spending continues to shift to the middle market.
"Years ago we used to have couture on one end of the spectrum and then you had the high street. There was no middle ground - it just didn't exist. Now we have diffusion lines and designers like Alexander Wang and we also have shops like Cos, Whistles and Jaeger who are just completely bridging the gap," Powney said when asked whether contemporary brands will have longevity post-recession. "The reality today is that their quality is as good as the diffusion lines and in some cases as good as the mainlines so now it's becoming really competitive because you customers can get can such great products on the high street." But this is a challenge that the team don't shy away from. "I'm a logical person so I actually like the challenge. Sometimes when you have countless money the process can go on an on and that sometimes frustrates me," she admitted. "I like to have a goal so I can then decide the pockets of the collection where we don't think about the money and it's all about the quality. Then it's also nice having a point where you have to create the more accessible pieces too. We use the statement pieces to show what we can do because they are the visual representation of the brand and the other bits are great but in a different way."
Business aside, it's the candid moments during my stay that sums the team up best. "We have so many issues that we face from deliveries and dealing with people in different countries and different languages but when things arrive, we all get excited," she said smiling. "At the end of the day we're all a bunch of girls and we love the clothes," her assistant added. And it shows.
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