"i don't like narcissism. i think it's a curse..." christopher kane
Make it personal, keep it private. Christopher Kane is London’s star designer and the mystery that keeps enticing.
It's the first hot day of the year and a woman is strutting around the Shoreditch House swimming pool to an audience of oiled-up men, jam-packed on the deck chairs. "What do these people do for a living?" Christopher Kane laughs, eyes rolling with a hint of envy. He's allowed himself one hour out of the studio, and the blue cashmere jumper he's wearing serves as proof of a schedule so demanding he literally didn't notice summer had arrived. It's a circumstance of being one of the world's most revered designers with a business part-owned by Kering since 2013, and a Mount Street store to his name. "When the shop opened, I was like, 'Shut the front door!' It was weird," Kane admits. But for all the exposure, he still doesn't feel famous. In fact, in a fashion industry where designers post selfies to social media and pose for magazine covers, Kane's disinterest in the spotlight seems almost rebellious. "I've never been that person. I don't like narcissism. I think it's a curse," he says. "I think today it's all about being a bit mysterious again."
It's been nearly ten years since Kane graduated from Central Saint Martins. What followed is the stuff of fashion saga - his work for Versace, the steady stream of praised eponymous shows, the Kering sale - yet the now 32-year-old designer has managed to remain one of the world's most private star designers. We know he's from Newarthill in Scotland, shares his business with sister Tammy, and employs 52 people at what's become his megabrand. But that's pretty much it. "That whole thing of being a designer," he pauses. "I just want it to be about the work. I don't want people to know where I'm going on holiday, because you go on holiday to relax. Not to take selfies." True to his word, the Christopher Kane public profile is kept as professional as his brand is commercially bulletproof. But what about designers such as Balmain's Olivier Rousteing, who are putting their lives online to open the doors to new global audiences? "I think Olivier is really quite special and in fact there's someone who does do it well. And it's become this world of him, and he's become a brand. But do I want that? No. Am I interested in that? No. Do I have time to do it? No."
For someone who likes his privacy, Kane has had an unusually public year. After his beloved teacher and friend, Professor Louise Wilson OBE, passed away suddenly in May 2014, he partly based his spring/summer 15 collection on her. In February 2015, the night before he was set to honour Wilson at Saint Paul's Cathedral, his mother Christine died following sudden illness, causing Kane to miss the memorial. "You grow up," he admits, pensively. "It does make you bolder and stronger. They were part of me growing up and they made me what I am today. Without my mum, I wouldn't have designed those dresses with those life drawings," he says, referring to his autumn/winter 15 collection, which showed just days after her death. "She made me, and that's so nice. And Louise made me." As a product of the last decade in fashion, the spirit of which he's been so integral to, Kane is the embodiment of the neo-feminist waves, which are currently flowing through the industry and its outside world.
"I've always been very lucky to be surrounded by very powerful, amazing women. My mum, Louise Wilson, Donatella, Sarah Mower, Anna Wintour. So I've grown up with all these amazing characters, who've helped to shape my career." Mention 2016 and he's quick to give it up for Hillary Clinton. "That would be phenomenal!" Ask him about the media's taste for female-oriented ageism and he's resolute. "Strong women are always perceived as being bitches or egomaniacs. If it was me, it would be like, 'Oh he's so strong and powerful. He's a great guy.' And when is that gonna stop? You get better with age. You do," he insists, noting he's never practised the youth obsession of his industry. "I wouldn't close anyone out. I would never want to do that. Old women can wear mini skirts. The world is not going to fall apart. Good for her!" And when, a couple of years ago, Kane discovered he had an unexpected fan in Cher, he was over the moon.
"Cher wore this chiffon biker jacket. She got it in Maxfield. We sent her the Frankenstein T-shirt. It's Cher! She can have anything she wants," he says. "The mystery. That's what I love about Cher. She's doing silly comments, but she's still untouchable. Reserved." It's a quality he likens to another occasional customer, Britney Spears, who perhaps hasn't always been first on every designer's celebrity dream list, but has a deserved supporter in Kane, who is after all the king of subversion. "She's an icon. She will forever be, in some people's eyes, tacky, but I think she's our legacy. Britney is Britney. It's like Madonna and Cher. These people are proper, these people are stars." Kane's outlook belongs to a generation of London designers, who always put pride in praising the cultural phenomena of their time, even if they weren't considered high-brow. With his fierce understanding of business, it's an approach he's been able to turn into something commercially viable in a cutthroat industry that hasn't been as easy to deal with for many of his fellow designer prodigies in London.
"Knowing that there are so many talented designers out there, who don't have a voice... It's hard, isn't it? When I started ten years ago, we didn't have all these massive collections. We only had two collections to do, whereas young designers today are expected to have this, this, this, this, this, and that's not how it works. I gradually got into doing resort collections and pre-fall, but it was still my choice. It was still a natural progression. Now people just expect everything: bags, shoes—it's a lot of pressure," Kane says. He admits selling half of his company to Kering provided a freedom that allowed him to return to the part of the job that all young designers wish they could focus on in the midst of building businesses, dealing with finances and the constant necessity to be commercial. "It's so much better when you don't need to do everything and you can focus on being creative. Before we were drawing up jeans, T-shirts, blah, blah, blah, but now we have people to do that. It's good," he smiles.
Photography Alasdair McLellan
Text Anders Christian Madsen
Styling Francesca Burns
Hair Duffy at Streeters London for Vidal Sassoon
Make-up Frank B at The Wall Group
Photography assistance Lex Kembery, James Robjant, Matthew Healy
Styling assistance Saranne Woodcroft
Make-up assistance Megumi Onishi
Hair assistance Ryan Mitchell
Executive producer (not on set) Lucy Johnson
Producer Leone Ioannou at Pony Projects
Production assistance Oscar Correcher, Louis Fernandez
Location manager Chris Geair
Retouching Output Ltd
Model Anna Ewers at Storm
Anna wears dress Christopher Kane.