Fashion designers often dabble in interior design by launching homeware collections, with varying degrees of success. But what about the other way around? Can interior designers turn their sartorial style into a business asset?
Jenna Fletcher is the founder of Oswalde, a UK-based interior design service and online shop specialising in furniture from the 1960s and 1970s, particularly Italian plastics. She has honed her look to match her business’s pop aesthetic by collecting 1990s Comme des Garçons and vintage Japanese pieces to wear with an array of sportswear in primary colours. The effect, she says, is “a lot of clean silhouettes, a bit wacky”. Dressing up for client meetings is always “strategised and considered” — and an important part of her sales technique.
“My style gets me places,” says Fletcher. “What people are paying for is my overarching sense of taste, and that bleeds into the way I dress. If someone is investing in my look and my eye, then how I look is a part of that.”
Fletcher, who has just finished working on the interiors of a new Story mfg boutique in Brighton, will open her first shop in east London later this year. She is speaking to me via video call, for which she has chosen to wear a chunky black hoodie with a crayon-green baseball cap featuring the logo of a Los Angeles table-tennis club. It is an ensemble with a graphic, slightly cartoonish quality that matches her bouncy enthusiasm for Joe Colombo Boby trolleys and Rodolfo Bonetto fibreglass chairs.
She stresses that her favoured genderless look has practical advantages: sturdy Bottega Veneta Tire boots worn on site visits, for example, and Kiko Kostadinov menswear “chopped in with vintage T-shirts from America”. “My whole thing — the Oswalde personality — is all about the unexpected.”
Others go further. Designer and FT interiors columnist Luke Edward Hall has turned his Bright-Young-Thing-on-acid fashion instinct into a knitwear collection and online shop called Chateau Orlando, which falls somewhere between English eccentricity and wearable art project.
Hall has expertise: he studied menswear fashion at Central Saint Martins college in London before moving into art and design, and has previously designed a capsule clothing collection for Gant.
But while statement clothes can get you noticed, they risk being a distraction. Anthony Kooperman, director and co-founder of the ultra-classical interiors business Albion Nord, takes a more restrained approach to sartorial signalling than Fletcher. “It’s more about the reference to craftsmanship,” he says.
Kooperman describes himself and his three co-founders as “young traditionalists” — they have worked on big, expensive London residential developments such as Chelsea Barracks, and specialise in kitting out homes with a mixture of antiques and contemporary furnishings, with expensive, deliberately low-key looks. He kits himself out in exactly the same way.
Kooperman tends to favour a highly repeatable look of plain dark clothes, handmade boots from Red Wing and glasses by Cubitts. “If a client is savvy enough, they will recognise the odd brand on me, which sends a strong message about our approach,” he says. “It transcends the interiors.”
He has opted for a never-changing uniform that allows his interiors work to take centre stage — he says he would never dream of wearing enormous patterns or bright colours to client meetings. Rather, he wants to reflect a “clean — as in inoffensive” aesthetic, though he believes that on rare occasions his tendency to shun adornment for client meetings has led him to lose business by somehow misjudging the mood. That, he says, is OK by him: “We don’t want to be disrupters.”
A minimalist style such as Kooperman’s saves time, but maximalists find liberation in sartorial repetition too. Paris-based interior designer Laura Gonzalez, whose eponymous agency specialises in lavish, colliding patterns and textures, selects her working wardrobe from a studied collection of vintage silk kimonos “for night, for day, for breakfast — they are easy to put in luggage, mix with jeans. I wear them all the time.”
But then, like most interior designers, Gonzalez, who has worked on the riotous interiors of Cartier boutiques in Paris, Madrid and New York and the Relais Christine hotel in Saint-Germain, Paris, is absolutely sure of her instincts: “I have the skill of mixing and I have the confidence to do it,” she says, breezily. “I find what I love and I don’t change my mind.”
Gonzalez also favours the wild prints of La DoubleJ — “full of joy!” — and as the owner of a Loewe Elephant bag, is not afraid of novelty. She invests time in shopping for seasonal trends at Liberty in London, while vintage items come from flea markets: “When you are used to digging for furniture, you can also find clothes — it’s the same way of looking.” Gonzalez does, though, concede that she often dials down the exuberant patterns for a first business meeting. “I try to be safe,” she says. “But it doesn’t last.”
Fletcher, Kooperman and Gonzalez have chosen very different professional looks. But all three say that, in their working lives, creative professionals are given a certain licence to dress however they like. The normal workwear rules do not apply, and that is liberating. “You are admired for it,” says Kooperman.
Then again, the expectations are onerous. They must dress well and with flair — day after working day.
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