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

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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”

Pho­to­graphs AMELIA TROUBRIDGE

Dress, £2,195; bra, £345; shorts, £295, all Amanda Wake­ley

OP­PO­SITE:

Top, £595;

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

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