What Amanda did next
SHE DRESSES STRONG WOMEN FROM ANGELINA JOLIE TO THERESA MAY, AND HER LATEST RANGE IS INSPIRED BY A DANCER. HERE, AMANDA WAKELEY TELLS LAURA CRAIK WHAT MADE HER TAKE HER NEXT BOLD STEP
She’s been in fashion for 26 years, but her new collection is Amanda Wakeley’s best yet...
Everyone knows that London Fashion Week is a frenetic circus of catwalk shows and blackedout car trips. More than that though, it is a series of tiny windows into each designer’s mind. Often, in the melee of everything else, these individual narratives get lost in the mix. Style commentators desperately search out the hot new name – and presumably, Amanda Wakeley, with her 26 years in the business, wasn’t on the lookout list for this season.
But inside her modern slice of
Mayfair retail space, with an intimate presentation shown on a mannequin army whose diaphanous dresses billowed in front of a simple fan, something thrilling happened. It was honesty. The clothes, like wispy clouds against a spring sky, were sublime. Her story – even better.
WAKELEY IS A REMINDER THAT IN FASHION, AS IN LIFE, YOUTH ISN’T THE ONLY DRIVER.
The quiet blend of power and fragility within her new collection – wide, black ribbons cutting across breezy gowns – reflects the strands of her personal story, and render age a useless barometer of cool. She may have started out as a bias-cut obsessed, red-carpet designer, this collection, though, breathed the spirit of Alber Elbaz’s early Lanvin creations; light and complex and, for all the romance, resolutely kind to the female physique. “I’ve built this company – I now need to be the guardian of it,” says the 54-year-old designer.
Wakeley doesn’t like to dwell on the past, but it’s clear she’s a fighter; a strong woman who refuses to let setbacks dent her fierce resilience. Besides, why look backwards when you can look forwards? After so many years – not all of them plain sailing (in 2000 she lost the right to use her own name after her ex-husband sold his majority stake in the business; it took nine years to regain full control of the company, which she finally did with the help of
her current partner, businessman Hugh Morrison) – she has really earned the right to do things her way.
Other creatives, Wakeley says, inspired the collection. Perhaps though, these women, included among them the ballerina Kate Byrne, are facets of Wakeley herself? Of all of us even – a dancer the perfect metaphor for the pain and glory we all endure.
The clothes possess this same dichotomy: her voluminous black trousers saying something different to the Grecian-inspired numbers; the Marni-ish crumpled chambray shirt-dresses another conversation from the heavy ball-skirts.
THE COLLECTION IS, IN A SENSE, A MODERN WOMAN’S MIND EXPRESSED IN FASHION BRILLIANCE.
As always, Wakeley is dressed nonchalantly in a black ensemble of wide trousers, roll-neck sweater and shearling biker jacket – all, aside from the limited edition Stan Smith trainers, from her own collection. A fail-safe working uniform, she says. And one that refuses to slot neatly into any age category.
“In a way, I dress a bit younger now than I did 20 years ago. But age doesn’t define us any more. We dress a lot of young women all the way through to older women – I hope that’s a strength. It’s about style and an approach to dressing rather than being about an age.”
Her personal approach to ageing is pragmatic, not to mention refreshingly honest in an industry not best known for being entirely comfortable with the process. “Being post-50 has been very liberating,” she says, looking far younger than her 54 years. “I feel so much happier in my skin. It’s not perfect, but my arms are never going to look any better than this, so… tough. If you don’t like a few wrinkles on my arms, that’s your issue. I work hard to stay in shape because I believe ‘fit body, fit mind’. And I’m not averse to some Botox, you know – I want to look good for my age. I always think, in Britain, we’re particularly embarrassed about owning up to trying to look good. Why can’t we be proud of looking the best we can, as long as it remains sensible and non obsessive?”
Wakeley says she has always been enthralled by the human form, which is possibly why this new collection is her most body-conscious yet. “Both my grandfather and father were surgeons; my grandfather wrote books on anatomy and I was fascinated by them. The way a body is formed is an amazing thing. Also, I’ve broken myself so many times I’ve become much more aware of my body and how it’s made up,” she says. Wakeley’s love of skiing and water skiing has seen her break a few limbs, not that this has dampened her enthusiasm for exercise. “I love being fit and strong. I love doing ballet, but also love getting on my bike, walking my dog and being out in the fresh air.”
The image of her peddling hard under the winter trees isn’t one I had expected considering her associations of grandeur. Wakeley did, after all, dress the late Princess of Wales, as well as being a go-to for the likes of Angelina Jolie,
Kate Winslet, and more recently the Duchess of Cambridge – but today she sits somewhere very real. So real in fact, she’s eschewed the impossible beauty of fashion models for her advertising campaigns, preferring to tell the stories of modern female role models – Ella Woodward, the tech-guru Kathryn Parsons and now Kate Byrne, doing real, everyday things. Presumably, this is to reinforce the new honesty that runs through her brave reinvention. Because it took guts, after so many big, showy catwalk events, those welldocumented business catastrophes, not to mention an evening wear typecast set like stone, to come back and do it with such deliberate reinvention. Rare would be the occasion for which you couldn’t now turn to Wakeley’s denim jumpsuit say, and think “this is perfect”. And while the embellished jeans, at £995, are something to save for, the simple shirt, at £245, is more attainable.
“We’ve evolved from being a dress business and an occasion business into a full lifestyle offering,” she notes. “I’m a big believer in always having signature capsule wardrobes available, but updating them.” In addition to day wear and bridal wear, she also recently launched The Monogram Collection, a mid-priced handbag range. Prices start at £95 and rise to £365 for an Elba leather backpack. She talks excitedly about the monogram she designed. “It’s a teardrop that’s like a little talisman,” she says, noting also that the quality of the leather is superb. “I don’t want to just slap my name on anything,” she adds. “Literally, the first part of any agreement is ‘full creative control’.”
CONTROL IS IMPORTANT TO ANY DESIGNER,
but even more so to one who has lost it, then wrestled it back. It is not surprising strong women gravitate towards her designs. Theresa May wore Amanda Wakeley to take office last year, a neat choice for a woman who has something new to say to a weary audience. “I love the fact she’s still in her leopard-print shoes,” says Wakeley. “She enjoys her clothes, and then gets on with the job.” May has already made headlines in Wakeley’s new-season leather trousers.
Is there one thing, I ask, for which prominent women turn to her again and again? “It’s an inner confidence that, hopefully, wearing Wakeley gives you – knowing you feel a bit taller and a bit sexier, but without screaming ‘look at me’,” she says. “It’s about being the best version of herself.” Is there anyone left whom she would love to dress? “There always will be,” she laughs. “That’s part of the thrill. It’s always a real buzz when Angelina Jolie chooses to wear Wakeley on the red carpet, but I also love spending time in the store and dressing real women,” she confirms. “You can so quickly get seduced by trying to please the fashion world, but then forget your customer. Seeing a woman transformed from going into the changing room is a lovely feeling. Also, I’m passionate about fit, and I want to see how the clothes work on different types of bodies.”
As someone with a social life as hectic as her working life (her friends include artist Tracey Emin and interior designer Kelly Hoppen), she’s well-placed to advise on what to wear when you’re time-pressed but have a big night out. She’d sling on “a tuxsuit – so much easier than a dress”. Her shopping list for spring? “Well, that would be from our collection – our denim pants and our white shirts in a cotton and linen voile.” Does she wear any other designers? “God, very few. Frame jeans. They have nailed it.” Her favourite high-street stores? “It’s hard when you see something from your collection knocked off by a high-street store,” she laments. “It’s slightly gutting.” That would be none, then.
More, perhaps, than being about a well-cut jacket or a modish take on a shirt-dress, Wakeley’s clothes are about a modern state of mind. “There’s so much choice out there, and there are no rules any longer,” she says. “There’s no ‘don’t wear velvet after Christmas’, and bonkers stuff like that. But rules do make it easier, in a way, and a lack of rules makes it harder. That’s why I’m passionate about women finding out who they are, sartorially and stylistically.” Like Stella Mccartney or
Victoria Beckham, she is her own best advertisement for her brand – an innovator, an adaptor and above all, a survivor.
“You can so quickly get SEDUCED by trying to please the fashion world, but then FORGET your customer”
Dress, £2,195; bra, £345; shorts, £295, all Amanda Wakeley
trousers, £595, both Amanda Wakeley.
Jewellery, shoes, Amanda’s own
Wakeley, with ballerina
Kate Byrne, left, who helped inspire her new collection
FROM TOP: Amanda Wakeley catwalk show, 2006; A/W 16 campaign featuring Kathryn Parsons
Jacket, £595; T-shirt, £95; trousers, £595, all Amanda Wakeley
FROM LEFT: Angelina Jolie; Kate Middleton and Theresa May all wearing Wakeley’s designs
Dress, £995; bra and shorts, as before, all Amanda Wakeley