Amanda Wakeley creates designs for the world’s most stylish women, including Angelina Jolie and the Duchess of Cambridge. She talks to Stephanie Smith about seasonal muses and everyday glamour.
The epitome of chic for Amanda Wakeley right now is a pair of beautiful nappa leather joggers teamed with a cashmere sweater and great trainers. “I think you should dress for you,” she says.
For more than 25 years, Wakeley has been the go-to designer for royalty – Princess Diana wore her; the Duchess of Cambridge now follows suit – and a galaxy of red carpet celebrities, far too many to mention, but Angelina Jolie, Beyoncé and Helen Mirren are in there, if we care to name-drop.
Wakeley herself does not care to name-drop. “Obviously, it’s always incredibly flattering when a celebrity or a royal choose to endorse the brand by wearing it, but I really feel that my mission is to reach out and make every woman feel the best version of themself.”
She seems not to be overly impressed with a recent calculation that Theresa May wears Amanda Wakeley for 34 per cent of her public engagements. “I could not possibly comment,” she says.
Nevertheless, seeing someone pictured in a Wakeley gown or outfit is special, she concedes. “It gives the whole team a great sense of pride. That’s the lovely thing, really, whether it’s the pattern cutter or the product developer. They all work so hard on these garments – pieces, actually, I hate the word garments.”
Wakeley has been travelling across the UK presenting her trunk show to VIP customers – and she has found that they vary, according to location. “The Leeds woman is different from the Manchester woman, even though it’s only an hour away,” she says. “I think they have slightly different lifestyles. I think the Leeds woman is less dressed up than the Manchester woman.”
That said, there is an Amanda Wakeley woman. Or should that be superwoman? “She’s multi-talented and multi-tasking,” says Wakeley. “She’s super busy, so we’re trying to do the hard work and the thinking for her. We’re having these conversations about where she’s wearing it and what she’s putting it with. I’m a huge believer in versatility. It’s so important. We need our clothes to work harder.”
Since we last spoke, five years ago, there has been a strategic move to develop a broader lifestyle offering. “We are dressing people for every occasion of your life, whether it’s the school run or lunch with girlfriends or going out to dinner or a cosy weekend,” she says.
“I think we have all got a lot more casual in the way we approach life, and our clothes take us further. We dress in the morning for the day and the evening.”
Born in 1962, the daughter of Sir John Wakeley, a prominent surgeon, and Lady June Wakeley, a physiotherapist, Wakeley grew up in Cheshire and was educated at Cheltenham Ladies’ College.
She founded her brand in 1990, gaining the patronage of Princess Diana, but struggled to hold on to her own name after her divorce from Australian property developer Neil Gillon, who controlled the shares and sold the business in 2000. The company passed from hand to hand until in 2009 when, with the help of Hugh Morrison, her romantic and business partner, she got back her name and brand.
As a designer, Wakeley describes herself as self-taught, and says she follows her gut instinct, although having a glamorous mother and two glamorous, well-travelled grandmothers undoubtedly influenced her. “Every season we sort of create a mythical muse which informs a lot of our design decisions,” she says. “So this season, for example, our woman has an Asian mother and a French father and is exploring her Asian roots, but with a very Parisian head.”
Fabrics are key, and this season brings felted wool laser cut with holes to add sexiness; a mohair jacquard; a giant oversized check with stripes placed to work in balance and harmony with the shape; and a striking multi-layer geometric print. Most fabrics are made in Italy, with silks from the Far East.
Like her grandmothers before her, Wakeley loves to travel, and this too informs her collections. “It brings the absolute need for versatility, packing a small carry-on for a weekend or a few days,” she says. “And your eyes are always open, processing visual information.”
Favourite places include France, India, and now Shanghai, which she visited in May. “Not what I expected and really, really loved it,” she says. “I think what’s happening in China at the moment is so exciting.”
The current trend for “see now, buy now”, rather than presenting only clothes that cannot be bought until the following season, is “an endless debate”, she says. “A lot of people have said that they are doing it and then not really followed through, but I think there really always does have to be in a collection an element of ‘see now, buy now’.”
Recently, there have been exciting new developments for the Amanda Wakeley brand, including a new bag range under the monogram name, selling at entry price level, expanding to small leather goods, and plans for sunglasses, watches, jewellery and a home fragrance.
Sure, she dresses royalty and superstars, but now everyone can have a little piece of the Amanda Wakeley magic.
Amanda Wakeley is available at Harvey Nichols Leeds and at www.amandawakeley.com.