christopher kane's first ever interview with i-D, taken from the wild women do issue, 2007
Anna Wintour loves him, Naomi wears him and Donatella sees him as a kindred spirit. We look back to his interview and first ever shoot in The Wild Women Do Issue, 2007 - introducing him and his sister Tammy, as the brightest, tightest, shortest and...
Dress by Christopher Kane. Shoes by Terry de Havilland.
Back then he was "coming atcha faster than a furious LA freeway," and today? He's there - it's all about Christopher Kane.
Christopher Kane is a name burning a citrus hole through the world of fashion right now. If you don't know the name, if you ain't seen his dresses, then get ready to witness the latest British boy about to go global with his too tight, too short, too much clobber. Christopher's vision is one so sexual, taut and tight, since inception, this size queen has single handedly sparked controversy with his 00 models, won the annual Lancôme colour award and launched a capsule range for Topshop. These days, names like Anna Wintour, Donatella Versace and Naomi Campbell now litter his conversation - a conversation that runs full blast on fiery Scottish cylinders. He's coming atcha faster than a furious LA freeway, not bad for a designer who showed for the first time during the last London Fashion Week. His star isn't so much on the ascendant, it's being blasted straight into giddy stratospheres - and quite rightly so.
His dresses elevate women into icons; make gay boys weep tears of joy and straight boys giddy with a sharp rush of blood to the (cough) head. It's not all froufrou frills and fancy frocks though; Christopher is a savvy and canny businessman who realises a base rule when it comes to making a hefty buck… SEX SELLS. In the here and now, we are sat on Christopher's not so sexy sofa, in the not so glamorous enclave of Dalston, East London, where he lives with sister/best friend/business partner Tammy Kane. The carpets are damp from last weeks flooding and the Kane heating is on full blast in an attempt to dry out the whole soggy mess. Popping to the corner shop to buy some chocolate digestives, you have to dodge prostitutes grinding up on the corner bollards, avoid the temptation of buying reduced Master P dolls from the market and hold your nose as you hurry past the stall selling 'MEAT'. Thinking about it, I guess this is where his brilliant axe-like dresses attack from… they are so fierce and freakin' fabulous they could make a whore moan, for moremore- more. Christopher keeps it gutter, and grabs for the stars, difference being, when he grabs, he reaches.
During showtime we don't sleep properly, because there is always so much to do. but more or less, we do everything together. Tammy is my sister, and my best pal. -Christopher Kane
A small town boy with big ideas, Christopher was born 26.07.1982 in Newarthill, Motherwell just outside of Glasgow, and family life was provincial in the greatest way. Ma and Pa brought their sugar Kane's up on a council estate where Christopher loved, hanging out with the other kids, being naughty, having fun… then Dad's business took off and the money came rolling in, just like Eva Peron. They soon upped sticks in favour of a more suburban way of life. The youngest of five kids, ("There's Sandra - she's a trained matron nurse - Jim and Robert - they are engineers - Tammy - who's involved in this - and me!"), Christopher would kill spare time by hanging out with his Mum and his Aunties, as his brothers and sisters had long since left home. "I used to go to school, come in, have a whole big dinner - like nice potatoes and steak - and sit and watch TV… I used to be quite fat actually; I think my mum was my feeder. Then I'd just watch TV - Bewitched, Different Strokes that kinda stuff. I was the baby so my Mum used to spoil me. She'd buy me magazines from the shops. I loved visuals. But mostly I'd just watch TV and pig out."
It was around this time Christopher insisted on a strict diet of Vogue Magazine washed down with a side order of The Face. YUM! "Sometimes she'd come back from the shop with a copy I already had and I'd be like 'Mum you just bought me that!' I'd go nuts." His world was soon turned upside down, cherry coke style, when SKY TV was installed in the family home. This was when Christopher first encountered Fashion TV hosted by Jenny Baker, and right there and then his thoughts went from local, to global. "At half ten every Saturday I used to get up and record it, and catalogue all these series - tape after tape, after tape. Jenny used to interview Lagerfeld and Gianni Versace. I saw my first Versace show on it, and I especially remember Kate Moss in the chainmail wedding dress. It was simply divine. It also opened my eyes up to designers like Mugler, Lacroix and Lang."
His Aunty Sandra was a self proclaimed scaredy cat whose husband, Uncle Jim used to work nights, so Chris and his mum used to pop down Sandra's most evenings to keep her company. "She used to say 'I couldn't sleep last night because I dreamt the devil was trying to drag me out of bed', we were like 'are you being serious Auntie Sandra?' She was like... 'Ay'". The domino effect meant - like Ronnie and Reggie Kray - Christopher and Tammy relied on each other to ward off any potentially bad outside influences and grew impossibly close to their Mum and their Aunties. Tammy and Christopher communicate with an unspoken understanding, (last Christmas they bought each other the same presents), but unlike The Kray twins the only violence in the Kane household comes when the duo kick seven shades out of a piece of stretchy lace, or pierce some lycra with a brass ring. Christopher's school time was strictly Billy Elliott with Art teacher, Miss Keenan (now Mrs Broughan), being his very own equivalent to Julie Walter's Mrs Wilkinson - a woman who nurtured and inspired him at an early and pivotal stage. "At that time she was the one to look up to, she was so cool. She went to art school and was really beautiful, quite goth and severe…"
Encouraging Christopher to experiment with fashion as his medium, his first foray into drew direct inspiration from Patrik Suskind's book Perfume. "I read it and really loved it, so I made this massive corset structure with a beating heart which you had to pump! Then in my 6th year I made a boy's latex vest covered in broken glass with a dragon embroidered on it, inspired by Madame Butterfly (laughs)." But it wasn't all laughing matter; his clothes were well received, and Mrs Keenan encouraged him to pursue his dreams and chase the bright lights of London town, and Central St Martins was the key to making this happen. "I applied for the foundation straight after my 18th birthday. The first time I came to London was for my interview. I was led into a room, they turned the camera on and a scary woman with glasses started quizzing me about the Madame Butterfly latex vest. They were probably like 'he's definitely gay…' but I got in!" After that he moved down with Tammy, with nowhere to stay, so they crashed in a scummy bed-sit. As soon as they arrived, they wanted to go back home. But it was St Martins, the people, the opportunities and a certain Louise Wilson who focussed Christopher's talent. As he attests, "Louise encouraged me to experiment. I did this project based around this really nice jacket. It was really conceptual, which Louise loves, from there on she liked me." After this Christopher completed a successful internship at London's most luxurious independent design label - the house of Giles. "It was great, I learned a lot there, especially about the business side."
Before his experience at Giles, fashion reality for Christopher was a rather grey place, all struggles and scrimping, but during his internship at Giles he learned about models, styling and luxury; he had entered a different world, one in which he belonged. Christopher started to realise exactly what it took to translate an idea into a profitable business - Giles had pattern cutters, a secretary, a PR, a stylist. To this day, Christopher still uses his time spent there to lord it up over his big sis at any given opportunity, "I'm always like, Giles didn't do that Tammy, Giles used to do it like this!" During his MA, Louise entered Christopher for the Lancôme competition, and the week before Christopher had bought up a batch of lace, which he found down the market. Flicking through some magazines, he drew reference from an unexpected source - a recent ad campaign for Nicole Farhi. "It was this beautiful dress, all you could see was the shoulder, really thick brocade. I started drawing these really uneven drawings of lace dresses, which were all decoupage and drawn upon. I showed Louise and she was like 'bloody brilliant, I can't wait to see one when you make it up.' I was like shit, how am I gonna make it?'" A couple of weeks later Nicolas Ghesquière for Balenciaga showed his amazing lace collection, which caused ripples of doubt within Christopher of his latest designs. "I went to Louise and I said to her, 'Louise, I can't do it.' She said to me, 'you did it at the same time, just do it differently.' So I did it short."
He won the Lancôme competition and made a friend and an invaluable acquaintance in journalist Sarah Mower. It was Sarah to thank for introducing Christopher and Tammy to the original fashion family dynasty, Versace and its amazing figurehead, the beautiful, the talented, the fabulous, the icon - Donatella Versace. An experience Christopher glows and gushes about. "Donatella is amazing, she is so kind and funny." A couple of days prior to this interview, Naomi Campbell, (yup, y'all heard correct), popped round to his house in Dalston with her dog Dolce to pick up a dress and jacket (in all black, exclusive to Corso Como, Milan) and Christopher couldn't believe how lovely she was or how her body looked - "Naomi was AMAZING!" Someone who didn't have the privilege of popping down to their hood was Anna Wintour who, again via Sarah Mower, asked for a meeting with the Kane's during her London Fashion Week jaunt. When they were leaving Anna's hotel room, Tammy picked up Christopher's jacket and spilled his money everywhere, a split second later and Anna was on her hands and knees picking up the money! "I was like (takes sharp intake of breath and clenches chest). She is sooo nice. Then we went to New York for the CFDA Awards (Council of Fashion Designers of America) last November. She said 'Oh Tammy, do you remember me?' (laughs) I was like 'of course she remembers you'. The speech she gave that evening was really heart wrenching, so beautiful. We were sitting there with tears in our eyes. We've managed to meet some great people through Anna."
And so his entry into the world he once dreamed of is complete. He delivered with his debut show, and then some. It was literally breathtaking; Christopher Kane rocked it big style. The press and public are still buzzing about every single piece, which encompassed all of the following; A-List, stunning, weird, wonderful, Versace, Dalston banjee, Azzedine Alaia, Herve Leger, femme fatale, tits, arse, legs, skin, sex... The Kane's did it short, then shorter, then shorter still, raising the barometer to knicker skimming, obscene proportions. His women are aggressive with confidence, warriors for the year 3K, they stand hand on jutting hip and holler, "Hello… I'm HERE!"
Christopher's mother came to the show during Fashion Week and couldn't believe the size and grandness of it all, she loved the pre-show champagne and was as proud as a proud mother could be of both Christopher and Tammy. But now, with all this attention, the pressure is on for the follow up. During even the most maddening chaos, at least this amazing brother and sister combo will always have the very tightest support network. "During showtime we don't sleep properly, because there is always so much to do. But more or less, we do everything together. Tammy is my sister, and my best pal."
When the final person was seated at Christopher Kane's show back in September and the lights went up on the neon and lace suck 'em in dresses, two people watched from backstage with bated breath. Brother and sister and partners in crime, Tammy and Christopher Kane are fashion's newest and bestest pairing, a dynasty in the making. The show, as we now know, went off like a glitter bomb at a Beyoncé gig. After seeing her mum (proud of her newly famous offspring), Tammy steeled against the inevitable post-show clear up. Going backstage, however, it was spotless. "That was when I realised things had changed," she says. "We don't have to do everything now." The Kanes have arrived. Fast-forward three months and the razzle-dazzle of London fashion week is a dim and distant memory. Tammy Kane sits in the Dalston studio she shares with her brother, about to embark on her first ever interview, clad all in simple jeans and vest and looking cute as a button. Any notion of a glamorous dynasty is done away with a wave of a hand - "it's a Dalston dynasty, if anything," she jests. There's no doubt this is a family affair, though. As much a part of Christopher Kane the label as Christopher, Tammy is a muse, a fit model, an accountant, a studio manager, a designer, a sister.
But she is nothing without him, either. These two are inseparable and it's always been that way. Growing up just outside of the Glasgow - "where there was one train an hour and only up till midnight" Tammy remembers. "We'd get home from school and Mum would have our sweeties. We'd do our homework; watch the soaps and then draw. We ruined my mum's carpets."
It was a pink rubber dress from Versace, Christopher bought it for me for my Leavers' Dance. He was 11. Chris was always loaded. He was the youngest and got fly backhanders from everyone and saved it all up along with his pocket money. -Tammy Kane
Not that it was all sweet domestic scenes. As soon as she was old enough, Tammy was "riding in cars with boys, hanging about in Glasgow every chance I could". Thus, her foray into fashion began. Tammy discovered clothes in boutique Inchina, at the age of 14. "There were these great tight jeans called Mozart that I used to buy," she says. "They were always mystified that I was in there because I was so young." That didn't stop her honing her love for tight and short. A big fan of Helen Storey and early Versace, her first designer acquisition came aged 16, courtesy of Christopher. "It was a pink rubber dress from Versace," she says. "He bought it for me for my Leavers' Dance - like a prom in Scotland. He was 11. Chris was always loaded. He was the youngest and got fly backhanders from everyone and saved it all up along with his pocket money. I on the other hand spent everything I got."
Tammy's love for the finer things in life hasn't dimmed - particularly when it comes to shoes. Getting a name for herself in fashion circles for her impressive footwear, she can reel off her favourites like a pro. "I love the Chanel styles for Spring/Summer, I bought the Miu Miu sheepskin boots, they're dead nice…" she says. "We're so poor at the moment but I always seem to find money for a pair of shoes. I made my boyfriend buy me the Balenciaga rocking horse shoes but woke up in the morning realising it wasn't fair for him to spend £700 on a pair of shoes for me, so we took them back. It did help that they were two sizes too small."
As well as keeping Tammy in shoes, her boyfriend makes sure Tammy and Christopher are fed and watered. Shunning favourite snack Ginger Nuts for Digestives "because there's no trans fats," the siblings live on tea and biscuits during the day. Mr Tammy arrives home at night and cooks for them. "Christopher pretends he eats the least but he eats the most. We call him the pan licker," laughs Tammy. Working in computers, rather than fashion, Tammy's "geek" shows just how down to earth the Kanes are. Tammy blushes talking about the likes of Anna Wintour loving the label and working with Prada casting agent, Russell Marsh on the show - "we felt like such frauds, bossing around all these important people," she confesses. The way they work speaks volumes too. Their workroom is bare - except for a few pictures of their last collection. "We don't do that," Tammy says. "Our ideas could come from someone back home 15 years ago. Like Jan Devin - she used to wear all these crazy things, and looked a mess. But you can take something from that." There are still comparisons to be drawn with their mother's carpets back in Glasgow - it's just that now Tammy and Christopher work with Swarovski crystals, not crayons. They even call work 'play'. "I do all the email in the morning so we can play all afternoon," says Tammy. "Sometimes we don't stop till midnight, it's so much fun." The teamwork can't be understated - these two do almost everything when it comes to the clothes, from designing each piece to putting the rings on the lace dresses, they have only recently recruited a studio manager. Despite her own huge talents, Tammy wouldn't ever dream of designing without Christopher. "I wouldn't feel comfortable," she says. "It sounds cheesy but we make beautiful things together."
As well as a crucial design partner, there's Tammy's other role - a mixture of fit model and muse. She has the kind of skinny minny body that most women would kill for - and that directly corresponds to the tighter-than-tight silhouette of Christopher Kane. "I don't like to think that I am the muse," she says "but I am aware that I'm a big part of the brand. I always wear Christopher Kane at things like the CFDA Awards." The impact of Tammy as the Christopher girl can't be underestimated. Pictures of her in the dresses got Tammy in places that she would only have dreamed of when growing up - like Gianni Versace's private apartments. A fan of Christopher Kane after witnessing his graduate collection (the star of the St Martins MA), Donatella Versace summoned this young prince who openly references the Versace signature style. So nervous at meeting his heroine, young Christopher dropped his drawings all over the floor. "He thought it was a disaster," says Tammy, "but she loved it. She got to see his work in its entirety and noticed it was all on the same girl - me." Cue a visit to Versace's private apartments - for dinner with Donatella and guests like fashion legend Michael Roberts - and a story she'll be telling her fashion-savvy grandchildren. "I had to go to the loo which was in Gianni's private quarters," says Tammy. "First, the toilet wouldn't stop flushing. Then I tried to get out and the door wouldn't open. I was there for ten minutes pushing and pulling it. I thought that they would have to get a locksmith to remove this beautiful antique door and Gianni's ghost was gonna come and get me." Toilet hauntings aside, the Versace and the Kane dynasties get along like a fashion house on fire, Christopher even consulting for the label.
That's not to say this is Versace mark two. In response to the press's obsession with their Versace-type shapes and bright colours, Tammy turns to the next collection. "This was just an example of what we can do," says Tammy. "It felt great at the time but we're going to move on. Next time, it's going to be all grunge." And with a smirk and a glint in the eye, Tammy Kane gives nothing away - just like the queen of a dynasty that she is.
Text Ben Reardon and Lauren Cochrane
Photography Emma Summerton
Fashion Director Edward Enninful
Hair Ben Skervin at Blunt using Bumble and Bumble
Make-up Mathias van Hooff at MFA using MAC Cosmetics
Set design Gillian O'Brien at Blunt
Photographic assistance Marese McGrane and Nick Kelly
Styling assistance Caroline Newell, Alistair McCallum and Santi Rodriguez
Set design assistance Katherine Mantle
Production Sarah Clements MFA Production
Model: Lily Donaldson at Select London
Special thanks to Michelle Anderson at Select London and Jennifer Ramey at IMG NY
[The Wild Women Do Issue, No. 274, March 2007]