Playful, rebellious, highly creative and surprising, Christopher Kane’s catwalk shows are always a highlight of London Fashion Week. Described by the fashion world as “an artist with clothes”, he is known for his focus and interest in outsiders and in ordinary working folk, especially those of his native Scotland. In 2007, he was awarded New Designer of the Year at the British Fashion Awards and has been involved with a series of collaborations including with cashmere producer Johnstons of Elgin and make-up company Nars.
Born 35 years ago in North Lanarkshire, the youngest of five children to his engineer father and housewife mother, Kane graduated from Central Saint Martin’s College of Art & Design in 2006 and immediately launched his own label. It was a characteristically bold move.
“Once I discovered the world of fashion through TV programmes like The Clothes Show and FashionTV, I knew immediately that I was destined to be a fashion designer,” he says. “It was very clear to me. From that time onward, I prepared for going to Central St Martins. I didn’t make a conscious decision to go it alone, I just did it.”
He did, however, have the help and support of his sister Tammy, a partnership that continues to this day. Her essential role in building the brand will be one of the topics he will discuss as part of the Art Out Loud festival at Chatsworth House next Saturday, when he will appear in conversation with Sarah Mower, chief art critic of American Vogue.com.
“We have been a team from the very start,” he says of Tammy. “She encouraged me to follow my dream of studying at Central Saint Martins. We moved to London together when I turned 18 to study, while she worked part time as an intern at designers like Russell Sage.”
His sister is integral to the business, helping Kane manifest his creativity while also keeping him grounded. He says: “Tammy does everything; she is involved in every detail and step of the collection. I wouldn’t be able to do this without her.
“She tells me exactly what she thinks without hesitation. We come from a really straight-talking and honest family. I never really understood how positive a thing that was. It allows you to work faster and not ponder on things.”
In the 11 years since the launch of the label, the single most important change Kane has seen within the fashion business has been the emergence of social media, granting a wider and global audience. He says: “It has enabled me to engage directly with fans and customers and share beautiful imagery of the collections and my inspirations.”
The label merged with Kering in 2013, a move which led to the opening of the Christopher Kane store in central London. “On a personal level, there have been many important occasions over the last 11 years but I think opening our flagship store on Mount Street was one of the best,” he says. “Merging with Kering was also a very important occasion. It’s been, and is, a very exciting time for us.”
For autumn/winter 2017, Kane’s designs, shown at Tate Britain, mixed factory floor-inspired styles and fabrics with silk damask and taffeta, for an opulent yet utilitarian look, with touches of futuristic holographic intrigue.
“We wanted to express a tougher femininity this season,” he says. “I was looking at abstract shapes, hard angles and sharp jags, as well as uniforms and utility. I love the idea of the female factory worker. At the same time, we wanted to work with historical fabrics and contrast them with these tough silhouettes; heavy silk damasks and taffetas together with overalls and Velcro attachments.
“It’s about the people who made these fabrics as much as the fabrics themselves, the extreme industrial line combined with history and femininity.
“I often think of the laboratory and the lab worker in what I do, in Crocs and lab coats. And then I think about the white coats of the couture atelier, those women who are steeped in craft and work. In the end, they are not a million miles away from each other.”
Rebellion, as ever, is an important starting point. “The concept of fashion is unique to the designer and how they approach it,” he says. “My approach is to look at mixing old and new, making ugly beautiful and ordinary things extraordinary… it’s a very natural thing for me. I like rebelliousness in work, it can create a point of view.”
His Resort 2018 collection references Charles Rennie Mackintosh, whose work was introduced to Kane at high school. “I can always remember seeing bad copies of his work made into jewellery that you could buy from your High Street jewellery shop,” he says. “I suppose all the tacky merchandise put me off until later, when I started to appreciate his style when I would attend life drawing at the Glasgow Art School. I really love that building.”
Mackintosh, his wife Margaret MacDonald, her sister Frances MacDonald, and Herbert MacNair met at evening classes at the school and became known as “the Glasgow Four”. They had, says Kane, a rebellious nature that he admires.
“They came across as outsiders as they preferred to work closely with each other, and their work wasn’t really celebrated in Britain until years later when the wave of Art Nouveau took over the art and design world. They then became sort of celebrities in the art world.
“I have always been fond of the Outsider art movement and I suppose they had that feel to their work, as no one had never really seen it before.
“My Scottish history and upbringing always inspires my work, from big to small details. It doesn’t always come across so literally as tartan, but a plastic rain mac evokes the memory of my aunts. My fascination with TV as a child has been an endless source of inspiration for me.”
Christopher Kane – In Conversation with Sarah Mower takes place on September 23 at Art Out Loud 2017, which sees leading figures in the art and fashion worlds talk about their work and inspirations. The festival will be held at Chatsworth House from September 22 to 24 on the South Lawn and in Chatsworth’s historic theatre.
Other talks include: British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare; former MP and director of the V&A Tristram Hunt; sculptor Phyllida Barlow; Cornelia Parker, official artist of the 2017 General Election; fashion designer Erdem Moralioglu; Grayson Perry, in a discussion on taste (this talk has sold out).
Tickets for the talks are £13.50 for a talk or £42 for a day pass – entry to four talks) on sale now at chatsworth.org/aol