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The Exclusive Interview: Stella McCartney

We met with designer Stella McCartney, back in 2010, as she launched her first kids' collection at Gap




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CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR new collection for GapKids. How would you describe the signature looks?

What we’ve tried to do is create a capsule collection: one for boys, one for girls and one for newborns. I find that when I shop for my children – Miller, four, Bailey, three and Beckett, 20 months – I’m quite particular about what I buy; there’s no one brand that gives me everything I want, and certainly not what the children want, although I am lucky that they are still too young to have minds of their own just yet. The collection isn’t one overall language, it’s more of a conversation if you like. It has very tasteful, chic and beautiful colours of neutral, blush and berry tones, as well as some familiar silhouettes from my womenswear collection.

You’ve said in the past that you had a vision for the way you want to dress a woman because you are a woman. Does being a mother help when designing a collection for children?

I really wasn’t that interested in designing a range of children’s clothes before I became a mother, so I think it definitely helps when you understand a child’s wardrobe. I had always bought lots of beautiful gifts and always loved beautiful children’s clothes, but it’s always been one thing for one person rather than an entire wardrobe. When we started to plan the range, I was like, “OK, we need a great jumper, a great shirt, a great dress-up pair of pants and a casual pair of pants, a cool T-shirt that you can just chuck in the washing machine that gets dirty and gets better with age.” I would say the signature of the range is that it is about finding a balance in the wardrobe, to give a child everything they need. I don’t want someone to have to go somewhere else to get their kids’ clothes. They should be able to find a great pair of sneakers with us, a great pair of cashmere leggings at a really affordable price and maybe even sneak in a beautiful little party dress with pretty embroidery all over it.

Have your children had any influence on the collection?

It’s funny because Miller drew a couple of the monsters for the T-shirt design, so I got him involved with all that. There is only me and one other girl in the company who worked on the project creatively. She’s got two little kids as well, so her son did a drawing too. I said, “You can have one drawing from your kid and
I’ll have one from mine”.

So, there was no hint of competitive parenting?

On the contrary. I also asked my son if he would like a superhero design on the clothes, which he did, and of course I was influenced by that, but I was also very aware that this range goes up to age 12, which is beyond the ages of my kids. It was very interesting to think that from around the age of four or five children don’t want to wear what their parents want them to; they want to choose their own clothes. We tried to be very aware of that and this is when we decided to take signature Stella McCartney styles and shrink some down to child sizes. It’s about taking, for example, a leopard-print knit that we’ve just done for the adult collection and making it for kids. When you buy a designer range for children, you expect to get the same choice of clothing that you get from the big people’s clothes. It is absolutely big made small.

And what about the yellow-hooded fisherman’s anorak. Is that something that you will be having in womenswear too?

Actually, it’s something that I’ve done many times before; I had something very similar in my first ever Stella McCartney winter collection.

Who are your favourite children’s designers?

I like to mix up my children’s clothes. I do a lot of vintage-looking clothes, a complete mix. I hope that in this little collection there is a good mix of different languages, too.

Talking of vintage, are there any outfits that you remember fondly from your childhood? 

Yeah, I did look through old family pictures for little bits and bobs of the collection, so it really is a very personal collection. Plus, I have got a good reason to do childrenswear now that I have kids and I have great memories of being a kid. I grew up in the country, so those kinds of things affected the collection. It’s made to be worn, it’s made to be lived in.

Did you have a strong sense of fashion as a child?

Not when I was really young, but when you are a bit older you start picking your own clothes and that is something that we were trying to be aware of. We were trying to create pieces thinking a ten-year-old is going to wear this and they are going to want to look cool. And with the things a three-year-old is going to wear, you want them to look cute. So there are a few things to consider when you’re working on a wide age group.

Was it more challenging than womenswear?

I wouldn’t say it’s more challenging, just very different; it’s a completely different mindset. It was a valuable learning curve and that’s why I wanted to do it. That’s why I love my job. One day, I can create a perfume bottle and the next I can be working on a kids’ anorak. It’s very eclectic and exciting. For me, the main thing was to introduce a very high quality of fabrics, like silk and cashmere, that we possibly haven’t seen before at GapKids. It was very important to me to introduce a more luxurious level of materials. We’ve got quite a lot of organic and recycled fabrics in the collection, too. I also wanted to try and clean the palette by using soft, muted colours.

There are some great pieces in the collection. I liked the little raincoat with ‘I love you’, which was inspired by an outfit that your mother bought you.

Yeah, when I was young I had a little dress that was similar to that.

And what about the little Sgt Pepper jacket?

It wasn’t at all supposed to be Sgt Pepper, it just turned out that way

It’s also a bit Michael Jackson?

That’s funny, because I looked at it the other day and I thought, “Oh God, people might think this is Michael Jackson,” but we’d been working on the collection for months before he died. So it’s got absolutely no connection to him or Sgt Pepper. I think journalists will always pick these stories up because it sounds better, but it has absolutely nothing to do with either.

Which other labels do you admire?

I tend not to zone in on one label; I like one-off pieces rather than mainstream. And then I do vintage shopping and I am a fan of the Fruit Of The Loom’s pack-of-three T-shirts that you can buy in supermarkets in the States. I want to create items that you could put on your child every day and wash them and wash them and they’ll just get better with age. Then there are the more high-end pieces – like the little military jacket – that are special pieces that you really love, but they are not clothes that your child is going to wear every single day.

As a mother with two sons, do you think there is less choice out there for boys?

My daughter Bailey’s wardrobe is definitely bigger than my sons’ wardrobes. It is sometimes hard to find a balance for boys: it’s all either too sporty or too perfect. When you look at the French children’s brands for boys, they are just too twee and uptight for my taste so we’ve tried to find that balance. I actually found doing the boys’ stuff a little bit easier because of that balance. I’m really happy with the boys’ collection and hopefully boys everywhere will agree.

If you had to choose one perfect item for each of your children, what would it be?

I couldn’t actually. I really love the little leopard knit in cashmere for boys and girls, and I love the superhero stuff. We have this whole superhero thing where it’s black and white and you can colour it in yourself. I think the boys’ range is pretty unisex. I would happily put the boys’ plaid shirt on my daughter – all the blues in the palette I would put on my daughter.

So your daughter isn’t one of those pink girls?

Well, of course she loves pink. One of her first words was pink, which I find fascinating, but she is not like girly-girly, because she has brothers.

How do you balance the whole working-mother scenario? I have a healthy balance. My priority is always with family and I have a really good team to support me.

You are famous for your anti-fur campaigning, so are there eco and ethical elements within the range?

Yeah, we have quite a large percentage of materials that are organic, such as the organic jeans, and there are some recycled materials – for example, the anoraks are made from recycled fabrics. It’s not 100 per cent eco, but there is a balance within the range.

Does being environmentally aware make it more challenging?

It’s definitely more challenging and much more rewarding at the same time. I love the challenge; to me, that is the most exciting part, questioning the materials that I use, where they’re sourced and the effect it has on the planet on a long-term basis. That is something I love doing and as a company we are extremely conscious of it. I would say that, more than being environmentalists, we are just responsible for the way that we do business. We are not perfect, and a large percentage of what we use is conventionally made – as it is with other brands – but I do think it is something that keeps us modern. As far as I’m concerned, as a fashion designer, it’s my job to think differently and to try to challenge the way things are made. I don’t think the fashion industry does that enough.

Do you think being a parent has heightened your convictions?

Yeah, I remember when Miller was born I was really aware that I didn’t want to be in the city with him. My first instinct was to be in the country, to get fresh air and get away from cars and people. It’s a very animalistic moment in your life and I was very conscious of that feeling when I was designing the range for newborns. I wanted to use the purest fabrics and very simple and minimal and clean basic pieces.

How would you describe the range for Baby Gap?

The range is cute but very basic. It is how I’d want to dress my baby, so again it’s very personal, whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing. But I don’t think you want to overdo it. With children, you want to focus on their beauty and not on what they’re wearing. And when it comes to a newborn, that is even more important. As it is a winter collection, we also focused on that aspect – there’s a brilliant all-in-one bundler snowsuit with a front zipper and faux-fur lining in the range. It is so important to protect babies from the elements. I never really found anything that I really loved in that department, so I tried to tackle that problem with the newborn range.

Does it make you broody doing all the cute little sizes?

I don’t know. It doesn’t really make me broody. Beckett is still only one and so he’s still a baby really. The word broody is quite heavy, but I am always in a love affair with babies.

So what next for Stella?

I would love to do childrenswear under my own name one day, I have always said that, regardless of whether I did this collaboration or not. But let’s just see how this goes. If it is a disaster, maybe the world will be telling me not to do childrenswear.

And will we be seeing Madonna’s children wearing Stella McCartney for GapKids?

Mmm, will you be seeing Madonna’s children in my clothes? I don’t know. You’ll have to ask Madonna that one.

Stella McCartney Kids won Best Eco Fashion 2013 and the Best Designer Boys' Fashion Awards, was Highly Commended in the Best UK Fashion category 2013 and Shortlisted in the 2013 Designer of the Year category and the Best Footwear category

Don't miss... The Junior Meets hub of exclusive interviews, inside scoop interviews and quirky Q&As, with exciting interviewees including: Tommy Hilfiger, Sir Paul Smith, Stella McCartney and lots of other influential fashion designers, authors and illustrators including Quentin Blake and Jeff Kinney, great business minds including Lord Alan Sugar and, everyone's favourite fashionable frog, Kermit


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