Designer to the stars Scott Henshall returns to his roots to be the face of York Fashion Week. He talks to Stephanie Smith about his new collections, living the dream and having no regrets.
As king of the red carpet, Scott Henshall has dressed a galaxy of supermodels, celebrities and singing stars. We’re talking Kate Moss, Kylie Minogue, Naomi Campbell, Jodie Kidd, Erin O’Connor, Sophie Anderton, Charlotte Church, Lady Victoria Hervey and Samantha Mumba, who in 2004 wore his diamond cobweb creation, worth £5m and instantly declared The World’s Most Expensive Dress.
Scott Henshall understands the power of fashion, and it was in York, shopping as a small boy with his mother, that he first felt its charm and excitement. “I fell in love with Liberty, Laura Ashley, Mulberry Hall… Later on I got to work with all of those stores I fell in love with.”
Now 43, he lives in Knightsbridge, but Scott is a Yorkshire lad, make no mistake, born at Fulford Hospital in York. “My mum and dad actually met working at the NatWest bank on Coney Street,” he tells me over a late lunch at The Ivy. Currently, he is back home a lot, staying with mum and dad, Mavis and Nigel, at Dalton Piercy, as he prepares for York Fashion Week in March. Scott is the face of this year’s festival and will be making what he describes as his comeback there, with a catwalk show at York Mansion House and “An Evening with Scott Henshall” at The Ivy St Helen’s Square (in conversation there yet again with yours truly at a special fashion supper).
“I had a very charmed childhood,” he says. “I had a very loving family, which is now, when I look back, I think the greatest thing that any child can be given, and you don’t realise until you are aware of what people don’t have.”
He and his younger brother, Stuart, were not spoiled, he points out. “We were brought up properly, to say please and thank you and have manners, but I realise I was very privileged that my parents gave me everything they could afford to, in sending me to a private school, taking us on holiday, going round art galleries, being involved with us, engaging. We’d go to restaurants, have experiences, which opened up my eyes from a young age to be like, ‘ooh, what’s this?’”
Scott attended Scorton Grammar School in Richmond until it closed, then the Assumption School in Richmond, where he was head boy. He was diligent and hard-working, he says, adding: “I was very popular, top in my class all the time. I was obsessed by Madonna at an early age, so everyone probably knew I was gay.
“I would draw pictures of my mum in outfits. I’d always be creative and I think it’s very important, for parents who have kids who are creative like that, to bring it out in them.”
Aged 12, Scott passed GCSE Art with a grade A and then Graphic Design and Fashion A-levels, also with As, at 14. He has nine Blue Peter badges, and was constantly entering competitions, winning holidays and day trips, even designing a new lolly for Lyons Maid. “To me – and I still feel like this - it’s all about winning,” he says. He felt the same excitement in 2002 when his tiny black cobweb dress was worn by Jodie Kidd for the first Spider-Man premiere. “It was on the front cover of every single newspaper the next day,” he says. “It kind of changed my life. It was like winning a competition.” For the Spider-Man 2 premiere in 2004, he was asked to create the Samantha Mumba £5m dress, and his status as Catwalk King was sealed.
Scott’s rise had been rapid and impressive. Graduating from the University of Northumbria in 1997 with a first class degree, his final collection, Made in England, saw him collaborate with some of the greatest British brands including Hunter, John Smedley, Liberty, Wedgwood and Burberry. “I tapped into something, the zeitgeist, the Cool Britannia,” he says. In 1998 he was the youngest-ever fashion designer to show at London Fashion Week, and in 2000 was appointed the youngest-ever creative director of Mulberry, credited with bringing the brand into the 21st century, ensuring it was snapped on the arms of Anna Friel, Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz.
His own mainline collections have been stocked across the world. There were 17 Revisitation by Scott Henshall stores in Japan. Over the years, there have been many more collaborations, including with Marvel, Audi, Nokia, Sony, Liberty, Halcyon Days, Cath Kidston, Gossard and others. He pioneered high fashion diffusion to the high street, with Scotts by Scott Henshall stocked by Littlewoods and then New Look.
“When people say, what’s the magic thing that happened, I just worked bloody hard and had a lot of luck on my side,” he says. Talent, too, of course. “You can’t think about wanting to be famous. You have got to be passionate about it 100 per cent. You’ve got to be driven, you’ve got to go through the pain, you’ve just got to create it. If you overthink something or if you want it too much, you never can get it.”
In 2006, Scott became a TV star when he took part in I’m A Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!, a memorable edition that included David Gest, Myleene Klass, Jason Donovan and winner Matt Willis. “I’d entered the world of celebrity and I guess I was the token gay person and yes, I don’t even recognise myself at all there,” he says, adding: “It’s editing, editing editing.
“I don’t regret doing it. It helped pay my mum and dad back some of the money that they had paid for me, and also going to Australia. I’d always rather regret doing something than regret not doing it.”
Not that he has any regrets. “No, never, because I think if you take one part away, you take everything away,” he says. “The only thing is, when I first started out, maybe enjoying it more or being able to be more in the present. I was a northern boy who went to London and was living the life that nobody could ever dream of, and pitfalls do come with that, but pitfalls come with anything and everything.”
It makes perfect sense for him to showcase now in York, he says. “I love it, and I don’t think you have to show in London now, with social media and everything else. I’ve often said you can get just as much attention doing a dress for the red carpet, being clever with who you are dressing, going to certain events.”
At his Mansion House show, Scott will launch Valour, his new men’s sportswear collection, featuring the motto: “Be courageous in all you do.” This has led to collaborations with brands including Clock Face Beauty, Cooper King Distillery, G Clarkes Barbers and a candle with The Little Yorkshire Candle Company. “The thing I always love, as much as coming up with the clothes, is creating the brand identity, a brand name that can stretch across other products,” he says.
He will also launch his new label Cash, a play on Clothes and his initials (Alistair Scott Henshall), featuring leisurewear, underwear and sneakers, also launching online on BrandLab Fashion. There will be 12 dresses, too. “And also my good girlfriend, Lady Victoria Hervey, is going to be showcasing her range of swimwear.”
So look out, York, because Scott and friends are set to paint the town fabulous. He’s home. As he says: “It’s been lovely that everything I’ve done has kind of come back to being where I was from.”
An Evening with Scott Henshall at the Ivy St Helen’s Square York, with three-course dinner, goodie bag, and talk with Stephanie Smith, is on Monday, March 25, 6.30-8.30pm, tickets £42.51, see www.yorkfashionweek.co.uk. The fashion show at the Mansion House with Valour Cooper King Distillery starts at 7pm on March 26.
York Fashion Week runs March 25-31, with workshops, shows and more, featuring John Lewis, LK Bennett, Rose & Flo, York Castle Museum, Louis Vuitton and a showing of the film McQueen. See www.yorkfashionweek.co.uk
There’s more Yorkshire fashion & beauty news, buys and tips here