Still from MH50: 50 Years of Design 

Margaret Howell’s 50th anniversary film is an ode to timelessness

Directed by Emily Richardson, the short traces how nature and the designer’s personal history have informed the iconic British label.

by Mahoro Seward
14 February 2020, 1:00pm

Still from MH50: 50 Years of Design 

In an industry as subject to change as fashion, lasting a half-century without compromising one’s aesthetic integrity is a feat deserving of rapturous applause. This London Fashion Week, glasses are being raised to Margaret Howell, a designer whose work -- a quietly rugged antidote to the hubbub of city life -- has proven more than capable of rowing against the tides of trend.

Ahead of its 50th anniversary runway show on Sunday, a specially commissioned film premiered last night at the brand’s Marylebone flagship. A collaboration between the eponymous designer and artist-filmmaker Emily Richardson, MH50: 50 Years of Design traces the enduring inspirations at the heart of Margaret Howell.

“We used materials from the archive as a starting point to make connections between her personal life and her designs,” Emily explains. “Drawing on images, items of clothing, objects and memory triggers delved from the archive, we identified threads of her design practice that run through time, from the early days to the present moment, encapsulating her unique approach.”

Natural imagery abounds, too. Windswept shots of wizened trees, swaying reeds and lichen-tinged pebbledash -- the same hue as an ochre cashmere knit -- serve as a background for a nostalgic exploration of how the designer’s personal history came to inform the global brand she leads today. More than just atmospheric scenery, though, it draws out the label’s pastoral sensibility. “Margaret has a very personal connection to natural colours, textures and forms that are in the landscapes where she likes to walk,” says Emily. “The idea was to make a visual narrative that communicated these ideas combined with Margaret’s voice, which made the film more personal in feel.”

We see Margaret stride through the unmistakably English vistas that inform her palette -- pebbled beaches with churning grey seas, and green and brown hills. The influence of her early life -- a memory of the feel of her father’s worn gabardine coat, for example -- on her work is also highlighted, particularly through photographic juxtaposition. “Her grandfather owned a barber’s shop and wore a jacket very similar to an early unlined linen jacket she designed,” adds Emily. “In the family album there are photographs of her and her sisters in tweed coats, Fair Isle sweaters… She has stayed true to her early influences and sought to make them contemporary, updating the classic, always finding more to do to make it work for this particular moment in time.”

As contemporary as she may be, it’s evident that Margaret designs with longevity in mind. “I think I work in the way a furniture designer or an architect would work,” she says. “I’m designing something practical -- my clothing’s got to work as a piece of clothing.” Happy 50th, Margaret, and here's to many anniversaries to come.

London Fashion Week
margaret howell