It's a beautiful and sunny October day, perfect for a stroll in a park and daydreaming - a sort of story you leave for a romantic novel because the sunlit documentary of my life has no time for that. I've already spent a few hours running around London and am now taking a little break outside a row of very English-looking houses, marvelling at a gold-plated Lexus parked across the street and checking my emails.
Finally it's time for my appointment with Alexander Lewis, the half-Brazilian-half-American Chicago-born London fashion designer. I ring the bell and, as a door opens, practically fall down to my knees as I see Ryo, the sweetest Shiba Inu with more Instagram followers than me. The quiet and content dog comes to introduce himself alongside smiling Sima, Lewis' publicist who invited me to his studio-slash-apartment located in the heart of Knightsbridge, just a short walk from V&A.
Whether it's the dog, the smiles or the delicately shimmering clothes that I can see as soon as I walk in, I love the vibe straight away. Things get even better when Alexander appears - handsome, warm, relaxed - exactly how I remember him from our first encounter in September. Back then I saw his Spring/Summer presentation inspired by glass sculptures and light and created in partnership with Swarovski as a part of Swarovski Collective, a scheme launched in 1999 to support most talented, hand-picked up-and-coming fashion designers.
I loved it then, even more so I loved the man who designed the clothes: the intellectual, softly spoken business graduate who has a lot of respect for fashion in its core. I think it was the last bit, the need to know everything about the industry and its part in order to understand the present that truly attracted me to Lewis in the first place - there's hardly anything more captivating than a man who speaks the language of fashion with great care and knowledge about the craft.
His CV is beyond impressive - British school, LA university, work experience at Decades alongside Cameron Silver, an assistant to Vogue contributing editor Andre Leon Talley, a personal shopper at Harrods and a pattern cutter at Saville Row are the steps Alexander Lewis took before establishing his own womenswear brand in 2012.
He designs clothes inspired by women and created for women - a fusion of colours, attitude, emotions, out of trend timelessness, wit and impeccable tailoring. Combine it with that infectious charm of his and you can't help but feel the love thing happening...
The next day my main concern was about paying invoices, finishing the pricing and getting orders - this never changes. I also wanted to make sure that all appointments were lined up for Paris Fashion Week and with the buyers who were coming to London. There is no honeymoon period afterwards because my main concern is selling the collection.
But even on the day I was not detached, but very pragmatic about how it all was - just like any other day where there's a task in hand that we all have to do and execute.
What makes a successful collection?
I think for me a successful collection is the one I feel proud of, something I still enjoy a month after completing it. What makes it successful for the industry and the public? We are still trying to figure that out. It's a learning process - to hone, adjust, find the formula...
You are always very particular about the way you reveal your designs. Until this season you mainly focused on pre-collections and look books, not main season presentations. What influenced your decision to host a show as a part of the fashion week?
Two things, really. It was the time to do something new as we haven't done a presentation before. As the brand grew, so did the need to service both the press and the buyers as well as the private clients by offering them another way to experience the brand. Also when applying for the Swarovski Fashion Award I became committed to doing a presentation.
Talking of Swarovski and working with crystals, something you haven't done before - how did you approach this part of the project?
The Swarovski element was good because the collaboration with Flavie Audi was about her work with glass, but we weren't interested in making miniature versions of her sculptures by, say, turning them into buttons. The Swarovski award offered an opportunity to include the material of crystal that had the same properties, but without being a direct reference of what Flavie does.
Even before I began working with Swarovski I've already conceived elements of the collection, designed style and knew how I want to use the crystal, so it was about the idea and how I wanted to do it and then having a conversation with Swarovski to see what was possible.
For instance, the dress with crystal chains... In my mind I wanted the crystals to follow the style lines of the dress, but didn't know that the company made the chains of crystals, so the stones didn't have to be individually sewn like we did with another design from the collection. It was a great way to implement the crystals in a way that didn't make it feel like a "bling'y embellishment" or costume'y.
Another example is the crystal fabric we used to a jacket and a mini-skirt. Again it was also something Swarovski did - and it served my collection very well.
Lets talk a bit more about the inspiration behind your Spring/Summer collection...
I worked with Flavie Audi, an artist who makes glass sculptures. Just like with any artists interventions I usually like to invite them to look at my previous designs - in this case it was Resort 2016 - and find something within that particular collection they react to and connect with. And to intervene with my process of creating a collection by giving me parameters within which to work: it can be colours, or shapes or a particular theme.
In this instance we discussed the link between water, fluidity and Yemaya, the Goddess of the Sea. It may not look like it is related to Flavie's work at all, but her sculptures have that fluidity and do look like frozen water. And there's also a lot of blue in her art. So the four themes were the colour blue and its variations, refraction and reflection of light, fluidity and a nebular or cluster formations.
The print used for the clothes was created by wrapping a piece of paper around one of the sculptures, rubbing it to transfer the texture of the art work and then recreate the pattern on fabric. I also reflected her technique of depth layering by creating multiple layers in some of my pieces.
Beside having the four themes from the artist, it was also about my own response to and my perception of her work, so the collection has elements that have nothing to do with what she asked me to focus on, but simply to show my reaction to her art.
How important is it for you to collaborate with creative people and artists?
I think it is about adding an extra challenge and achieving new levels of creativity through collaborations. The idea of working with artists, and female artists in particular, comes form my personal love of art - I really enjoy it, collect it, and I have friends who are artists, so it is a part of my life on a daily basis. A creative collaboration like this also sets a nice parallel to fashion where people always to try find ways to connect with art.
Do you believe that fashion can be a form of art?
It's interesting because I don't consider myself to be an artist, but I recently met Amy Revier, a designer who has a clothing line, but sees herself more as an artists. She used to be a sculptor and now produces limited edition collection of about 50 pieces, each of them being unique. She weaves the cloth herself and each garment is then stitched entirely by hand.
Amy perceives her work as art produced through clothing whereas I produce fashion through clothing, so for me there's a difference between an artist and a fashion designer, but there's an area where they can meet and have a conversation. But I don't think they could blend completely.
Can fashion be a part of a museum exhibition alongside art?
I'd say do... For instance, you can see an exhibition at the MET or V&A and it will be a clothing exhibition like, say, the Savage Beauty. There would be elements in those clothing made by interns, and designers and in an atelier that took hours and hours to create by, for example, painstakingly massaging each petal of chiffon by hand for half an hour per piece... This could be art. I also think that Haute Couture, the highest level of fashion, is probably as close it gets to art... But that's just a personal opinion.
Achieving this level of craftsmanship requires a skill... Do you believe that one has to be formally trained to become a designer? And what was your journey like?
I think that training today is very different than it used to be. All the elements of my career before I got to launch my own brand were the moments of my fashion education, from the time I worked at Decades in LA and a personal shopper at Harrods to the years when I went to train at Saville Row.
I chose to go to Norton & Sons because it was the best option. Back in the 1950s or 1960s I would have gone to Paris and worked in an atelier with Cardin, Dior or Balmain, one of the couturiers. Nowadays they have the petit mains, so you can work at a Dior studio, but the job is not what it would have been fifty years ago... Saville Row was the closest I could get to the level of that training.
It was really important for me to be able to cut a pattern myself and know how it fits around the body from seeing a sketch on a piece of paper to actually having the garment in 3D and be able to say "I want a sleeve to fit like this" during a fitting and show how it can be achieved. This is why training is important.
Andre Leon Talley was one of the people who made you realise the importance of knowing the ins and outs of fashion history and craft. Did he know about your decision to become a fashion designer?
He didn't know - somebody else told him and he was very supportive in the beginning. He was the reason why I came back to London and trained at Saville Row. He and Lisa Love, the West Coast editor of Vogue, were the people who advised me not to go to a fashion school, but get technical training, in London, as a pattern cutter. We kept in touch for a while...
I think what I took away from Andre was the importance of the history of fashion and understanding the history of a garment, silhouette and the history of brands because it is important to know the references since right now there's nothing new. Being aware of those similarities for me is like learning a language, for example learning Latin as a precursor to the Roman languages whatever they might be.
And the other thing I really took away from his was the important of consuming information because he's like an encyclopaedia - and not just fashion, but film, cultures. It's like an insatiable hunger to have the information, consume it, so that one day you can give something back.
What are your other interests apart from fashion and art?
(laughs) Well, I love food, though I know it sounds like a weird interest. We all here are into food, nutrition, healthy and unhealthy. I love to travel, experiencing foreign cultures and embracing them. I also love languages and etymology of languages. And I am interested in finance and business, including the history of businesses.
There are also periods of history I am fascinated by, though there are others I have no interest in (smiles).
What's your favourite fashion era in history? I remember Galliano saying how much he loved the 1930s...
Oh, yes, totally, the bias dress! I think the era I find most inspiring and the one I look at the most is the 1970s and it is quite common for fashion designers to feel connected with the decade. I don't think it's the fashion as such because, for me, the silhouette was simple and nothing exactly revolutionary - a lot of spaghetti straps and clean lines. On the other hand there was the energy, the spirit and how the clothes were worn - and this is what draws me to that period.
I used to really love the 1920s as well. There are a lot of similarities between the fashion in the 1920s and 1970s when it comes to the silhouette. I also love period drama - Howards End, The Grey Gardens, Merchant Ivory films, which are amazing and the costumes are incredible in all of them.
Have you ever wanted to live in a different time period?
I'd love to live in the 70s... And I'd also love to live in 1910-1920, it would be an amazing time to live in certain places like London or New York. I think the 1700s would be quite something, too, especially in Paris. For me, each era has its own specific location that makes it very special.
With all the influences from the past and present who is your heroine, the woman you design for?
I'd say she is eclectic, young-spirited, young at heart no matter what her actual age is. She is somebody who is innately positive about life, interested in being happy. I often reference my mother, my sister and my grandmothers in my work - they are the best examples.
Do you think that being surrounded by stylish and incredibly beautiful women from a very young age had an influence on your decision to become a designer and work in the industry?
I would not say that working in fashion was necessarily encouraged, but my family was very open to letting me be what I wanted to be, following my own choice.
You've mentioned your grandmother before as a woman of impeccable taste... What's she like?
It's funny that when I talk about my grandmother in interviews I actually think of both of my grandmothers. And I do talk about them quite a lot. One is 86 and the other one is 89, and the have their own way of choosing and wearing the clothes. They are very different in appearance. One is still very put together, she always wears red lipstick and sunglasses. And the other one is very relaxed about the way she presents herself, but does know how to do it.
It is more about care all these women take of themselves, their desire to show the best version of themselves and I think they would do that regardless of whether they were considered pretty or not - they would still do that. So it is about personality, pride and care for me. It's not about being a classic beauty.
So it's more about harmony in a person rather than beauty that inspires you?
I think it's a nice way to put it. As a designer I want positive energy. If a woman looks after herself and feels great about shelf, if she goes out of her way to get that pair of shoes because she's got this coat and everything goes with her bag... and then she styles her hair in a certain way to feel great. This is the essence of a woman - her attitude.
Are there any fashion faux pas a woman can make? Anything that would hurt your eye?
Oh, maybe the rights with open-toe shoes... I don't mind it when a woman wears them, there's even a whole style around it, but sometimes the toe can scrunch up and look baggy or the seam is visible in a peep-toe...
And I strongly dislike what I call "pancake shoes", those very cheap-looking ballerina shoes with very flat soles that look like nothing. I think it's better to leave the house in your bedroom slippers rather than put those on. Seeing girls walking in these shoes really hurts me... Shoes need to have a structure, even ballerinas.
What about trends?
I do look at them. I don't try to incorporate them or feel that if there's a trend I need to jump on that bandwagon. My collections are never trend-based or lead, but if there's a trend within a collection it would be because I look at the same things and visit same galleries as other fashion designers, so it happens naturally.
I do think that trends are important from a brand point of view because if you hit a trend and do it at the right time, it can be very lucrative and put you on a map. Also when I research I don't look at specific trends, but countries where, I feel, trends can be born before they'd reach the West. I don't go to the shops much and prefer to browse style.com instead.
Christobal Balenciaga, Christian Dior, Nicolas Ghesquiere... I also think that people who were really amazing at what they did were Madame Gres, Don Loper, James Galanos, Arnold Scaasi - fashion has forgotten about them a little bit. And I really admire Karl Lagerfeld regardless of what he sends down the runway... He is a force to be reckoned with. I find it incredible what he's done for fashion and the brands he's worked with. He is phenomenal. He is from a different planet.
I remember he said that some of his designs are conceived in his dreams...
I used to design based on my dreams, too. When I was 15... It hasn't happened since then but I sued to have these elaborate dreams influenced by Galliano's work. He is another designer I admire.
And Alexander McQueen?
McQueen, too. I think I have an assimilation with him because of the whole Saville Row thing. And I actually cut him a suit when I was working there.
Just my name... Nothing too... ridiculous.
If you weren't a fashion designer what would you be?
A criminology specialist for FBI.
Ever thought of pursuing this idea?
I thought that, should I decide to do something really crazy for myself, then on my 50th birthday I'd go back to university and get a new degree in behavioural analysis. I don't know if I'd actually want to do it as a job, but I'd enjoy the learning process.
5 THINGS ABOUT ALEXANDER LEWIS
Favourite quote or motto... It's something my mother said to me... "You shouldn't spend too much time looking for a person you want to be, but just do it and make it happen."
Last book you read... The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. And before that it was Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan.
When do you feel the happiest? When I am dancing...
Most treasured possession you'd never want to part with... Ryo, my dog.
Tell me one thing nobody knows about you... When I was younger living in San Francisco, I worked in a circus as a junior ring leader, the costume, act - the whole thing.
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