Yahoo! Big Idea Chair: Williamson's world

The fashion designer Matthew Williamson settles into the Yahoo! Big Idea Chair to talk about his love of colour and life as an independent.

On beginnings

I was born in Chorlton, Manchester in 1971. My interest in fashion started early. I remember watching my mother lay out her stuff for work the next day. Clothes, jewellery, bag, shoes, I loved the ceremony of it all. Later, when I had girlfriends - I had them in those days - I'd make them skirts and stuff. At 17, a very young 17, I left home for the degree course at Central Saint Martins. I found it tough, leaving home, living in London; I was very shy back then. I graduated in 1994 with a BA in Fashion Design and Printed Textiles. After two years of work experience with Marni, Monsoon, Georgina von Etzdorf and Zandra Rhodes, I launched my business.

On luck

In the summer of 1997, a cold call to British Vogue led to a meeting with Plum Sykes, the then fashion assistant at the magazine. Encouraged by her reaction to my ideas, I created a small womenswear collection, which resulted in a September fashion show comprising a mere 11 outfits. Jade Jagger, Helena Christensen and Kate Moss all agreed to model at this debut show.

On creative partnerships

I launched my label with my business partner (and one-time lover) Joseph Velosa, from a flat in Clerkenwell. We're a true partnership: crudely, he's the suit, I'm the creative.

On colour

I am known for my use of strong, exotic colour and glamour but in a nonchalant way. I dress more colourfully than most men, and my home is full of colour. I was lucky when I started out; everything was hard lines, male tailoring and rigidity. I was drawn to more exotic colours, looser lines. My idea was to dress women who want to be sexy without being garish. It's the polar opposite of power dressing.

On India

From an ideas perspective, India is heaven for me. The poorer the country you visit, the brighter the colours. I had my first collection produced there and it was there I learnt the techniques for the intricate embroidery that features in my work. I have two beading workshops in India today. All your senses are challenged there by the extremes of culture.

On my creative inspirations

I love everything from the 70s - it was a stylish era. I loved the work of Halston and Pierre Cardin from those days. I trained with Zandra Rhodes and I guess she influenced my lavish colour combinations and love of detail. Some designers look only at the past but I'm much more inspired by what's around me. In the initial stages of a collection, I visit galleries and libraries in London. I'm influenced by friends and colleagues. At the outset, I call in fabrics from suppliers and mills. Then I start with mood boards, patchworking ideas together to create a feel for a collection.

On independence

It's tough for designers here to survive and grow a business. Some of my peers, such as Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen, reach a certain level and get bought out by an international fashion house. Others go bankrupt. We've been in business for more than ten years without facing either of those. One thing we have done is diversify: Smythson stationery, MW candles, Coca-Cola bottle designs, customised Rover cars, wallpaper with Habitat and fragrance. Last year, I took over from Christian Lacroix as the creative director for Emilio Pucci. Continuing my label alongside that brand is hard work, but there's an obvious link between us in colour and print - this is a dream come true for me.

On advertising

I don't advertise anything apart from my perfume - I can't afford it! It costs a minimum of £500,000 per season to advertise properly. You can market a fashion business on product alone, let the clothes do the talking. Of course, if celebrities wear your clothes this helps, but there is no guarantee unless the clothes are great in the first place.

On the big idea

My big ideas are based on exoticism and bright colours, beading and embroidery. Of course, I have to design garments that function and can be worn too - so the big idea combines the art and the business side of fashion, I guess. But fashion is essentially an ephemeral thing, an art form with as its end goal, the creation and selling of a product. Trying to get serious about it and define it in narrow terms doesn't work. There should be no rules or restrictions. Definitions limit what we do.

On a big idea in fashion

I would pick Netaporter, definitely. Its founder, Natalie Massenet, realised really early on that while women all over the world want the latest designer clothes, only a tiny percentage of them live anywhere near the major fashion centres. The brilliance of that website is that Natalie acts like a magazine editor. She only goes to the cream of the shows and she buys wisely and in quantity, distilling the essence of a show into just a few key items.

On a big idea for the future in any field

Just like every designer, I live on a treadmill. I finish one collection for Pucci or for me and start the next almost immediately. My big idea is definitely to find a way to recharge the batteries, to immerse myself in myself. The problem in life is balancing it all, and I don't do anything half-heartedly.

- The Yahoo! Big Idea Chair shines a spotlight on people and companies whose creative work is truly remarkable. See for more details.


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