Jasper Conran on fashion, business and blogging

When I hobbled along the cobbles of a Fulham mews to visit Jasper Conran pre-LFW, I thought we might talk about fashion inspirations, his well-heeled clientele and how he juggles a luxury fashion business with his collections for Debenhams, Tripp luggage, Waterford crystal and Wedgwood china. Not to mention publishing his mesmerising photo-book, Jasper Conran Country. I didn’t expect to have a full-on discussion about blogs, technology and The Future of Fashion. My bad. My perception of Jasper Conran OBE was that of a multi-faceted designer who started his label at 20, became successful very quickly and went on to design a whole host of lifestyle products. I imagined a fashion luvvie absorbed in a bubble of tulle, obsessing over minute measurements and a slave to his cutting table. I also expected a Joseph Velosa-style business partner behind the curtain, pulling the strings and keeping all the plates a-spinning. How wrong I was…

Disneyrollergirl: Your website is so impressive with its wealth of pictures, engaging information and blog content. How did that happen – did the directive come from you?
Jasper Conran: We felt that our site as it existed was dull and we wanted a much more lively one. We wanted more reasons to come to the website than just seeing clothes. From an educational point of view, people were wanting to know the how we do things. What goes on? What do people do in this business? How do we work up our ideas? How do we execute them? I thought it’s a very interesting and visual business, it’s so rich, let’s put it out there. All the time the technology is going faster and faster so the possibilities are greater and greater. Which is fantastic. I think if you’ve got a website you’ve got to challenge yourself and think, ‘why would I go there, what’s the point? How interested and amused am I going to be and what am I going to get from it?’ I suppose eventually it becomes documentary, it becomes film. Where are websites going to end up? Which for us is riveting.

DRG: I guess I was surprised as so many designers’ websites are not much more than a home page and a few catwalk pictures. They’re almost an afterthought…
JC: A lot of work has gone into the site, we regard it as a piece of design in itself. We regard it as important as anything else we design. We haven’t got plans to sell on it but I suppose what it does for us is it focuses us on who we are, where we’re going, where we’ve been. We’ve just done an enormous trawl through our archive. It goes back to nearly everything I’ve ever done – theatre, fashion, all the shows I’ve ever done – some good, some not! It’s probably one of the most complete archives there is of a designer and we’re putting it all online, but it’s a very slow process. Before the internet, you had advertising. That was the only way design houses would interact with the customer, the consumer and with the world outside. Our belief is it’s fantastic to be able to do what we’re doing but it’s a much more holistic approach. We work on many different levels, many different projects and there are many different people involved. I think in a sense we’re building a living archive. If you think about the fact that you’re updating it everyday, you’re creating this incredible rich content. It’s living, it’s going to be there forever. It’s an extraordinary project really.

DRG: I know your collection is bespoke so you don’t sell online but what’s your take on designers selling directly, live from the show?
JC: Fabulous. I think that’s just wonderful. I think the internet brings the creator and the consumer so much closer together. You’re cutting out a lot of middleman. You used to be dependent on so many factors to get you to market, well that isn’t true any more. There’s a seismic shift in power happening. The thing I like is the consumer is empowered and educated far more than they ever were, they can make up their own minds without the middlemen.

Something that I don’t have a problem with per se but I do observe, is the creation of the superbrand, the super conglomerate, say LVMH. These people can buy up entire shopping streets, and all of the advertising in the magazines. These vast businesses are able to control the luxury goods business. My concern is how do smaller people ever get to develop businesses? At the end of the day, the clothing business is business. When I started, it was really quite easy to start up a little business and sell to a lot of different shops – you were very much more accepted. Now the pressure of performance per square foot is phenomenal, there’s huge financial pressure on the retailers and the designers to perform or be out. So I know how lucky I was to be able to even get a foot in the door. Now, that space would be given to Chanel or an LVMH brand because there would have been a deal made, it wouldn’t happen so readily.

DRG: Blogs have been a great help to new, emerging designers in getting the word out there…
JC: Exactly. It’s the same with the music business. Look how much great music comes straight through the internet without going through publishing companies or music companies. It’s allowed to live. It exists without the formal structure that was there and I believe that’s a good thing, it allows the public to become the editors and that is right and proper. Because the public go with what they like, rather than being told what they’re going to like. It’s wonderful that people are being discovered by the public without having to be a superbrand.

So you’re all in favour of blogs and bloggers?
JC: Absolutely. And it’s not just fashion but all sorts of lifestyle bloggers…food blogs, music blogs. Bloggers are making their own magazines, so voila, you can have your own empire. I think it’s just beginning to dawn on people that blogging is business and we are very aware here that times are changing all the time. We’re anxious to keep up with that and be informed and be able to react to it.






And finally: London Fashion Week ss11 – Day 6 highlights

The last day of LFW is menswear day. Some see this as not worth bothering with but I beg to differ. As much as I appreciate good design and admire the work of our young womenswear designers, most of them are far too polished and feminine to appeal to me as a consumer. Being all about the perfect jean and a well-cut sweater, when I look at the mens shows, I look at them with a female ‘what can I steal for myself?’ eye. Thankfully, some of the menswear designers also show womenswear (thank you J.W. Anderson), while others come up small enough for women to steal (Topman and Mr Hare). Sibling tell me that their imminent womens line for Topshop will still have the boyish flavour of the menswear, but to suit girls.

Another plus point of the mens shows is it’s a generally smaller, friendlier, less stressy affair. The Fashion East hut was like a full-on garden party by lunch time, with scorching sun, booze and a live jazz band in the midst of it all. My favourite bits:

*Sibling designer Sid’s Mr Hare cuban heel boots. Their knitwear wasn’t bad either, with its signature pop-art graphics and a new collab with art stars Tim Noble and Sue Webster. There was also a rather fine accompanying Alasdair McLellan video…

*Katie Eary’s riot of mohair stripes, animal-print, tartan and studs, all wrapped up in a live boxing match with Olympic gold medallist boxer James Degale. Bruce Weber shoot, anyone?


*J.W.Anderson’s layered, embellished, pinned-together, youth-obsessed collection

*Marc Hare’s dandyish footwear (which starts at a size five, so with the help of an insole or two I reckon I could just about pull off). SS11 is heavy on ‘replenishable skins’, including ostrich, salmonskin and eelskin

*Boyo fanzine pop-up shop. Pardon me for not being au faitwith Boyo, a fanzine created by Patrick Waugh, the very affable creative director of Pop. His vanity project resulted in a one day pop-up shop showcasing the fanzines, his T-shirt collection and some bandanas. Because, well, why on earth not?