When Stella McCartney launched her inaugural menswear collection, she didn’t do it with a catwalk or a showroom presentation. Instead, she gathered the great and the good of the showbiz world for a party at Abbey Road Studios – because of course she did.
But this wasn’t a #fashun party with canapés, cocktails, and a cooler-than-thou DJ. This was Run DMC’s Darryl McDaniels killing it with “Walk This Way”. This was Beth Ditto belting out “Standing in the Way of Control”. This was Mike D of Beastie Boys introducing “Sabotage” with a rant about the US election (“It’s interesting because the lyrics to this song that is now 20 years old, fit this current situation”). This was giant pizza boxes with Stella McCartney’s face printed on them. This was models actually eating said pizza. In short, this was no average Thursday night in north London.
Let’s rewind. Earlier that day, the lofty interior of the Abbey Road Baptist Church had been commandeered for the purpose of prepping a small army of models: tall boys with haircuts direct from the 1990s; tall girls with make-up that looked make-up-free. In the corner sat Stella McCartney, wrapped in an oversized, quilted black coat, giving interviews and submitting graciously to selfie requests.
One thing you’ll notice behind the scenes at a Stella McCartney show is how very comfortable all the female staff look. No, that isn’t code for “unpolished”. Instead, these women are the epitome of cool in flat shoes and straight-leg jeans. Think Victoria Beckham closing her show in Stan Smiths and a white shirt. Then know this, McCartney, more than anyone, pioneered this new fashion uniform.
Her spring collection for women, which sees the start of the brand’s see-now, buy-now approach, hangs neatly on rails next to the menswear. It’s a covetable range of polka-dot blouses with ruching, silk skirts printed with dogs (“It’s so funny, we have a dog for everyone – my aunt had dachshunds, so that’s a little nod of respect to her”), and pleated dresses with handpainted prints of dreamy landscapes.
During her tenure as creative director of Chloé in Paris, McCartney honed her signature style of effortless femininity offset by sharp tailoring. In 2001, she launched her eponymous fashion label in a 50/50 joint venture with Kering, offering women’s ready-to-wear that – true to her beliefs – did not use any leather, feather or fur. Over the years, the label expanded to encompass accessories, lingerie, eyewear, fragrance, kids, and an activewear collection with Adidas.
In fact, it was the Adidas venture that sparked a conversation that eventually resulted in the reason we’re here today, sitting in a church talking about her first menswear collection.
“About 11 years ago,” says McCartney, “I was launching my Adidas collaboration in New York and afterwards there was a guy in the audience who came up to me and said, ‘Are you going to do this for men? You should do menswear.’ It felt really out of the blue to me. But the minute he planted that seed it became a conversation internally for us. It was like, OK, should we do menswear? Is the world ready for us to do menswear?”
She pauses, reaching for the right analogy. “I think that when we felt that all of the other categories that we do – like sunglasses or beauty – when we felt like they were ‘leaving nursery’,then we could have another baby. So it just felt like the right time. And also, I think the idea of complementing the woman that we have at Stella, and bringing that same attitude and language and wardrobe to men, seemed really to have a validity to it.”
Looking around at the racks of clothes and tables of shoes, it seems the most obvious thing in the world. Of course Stella McCartney would do menswear. Her whole life, she’s been surrounded by iconic men. We’re metres away from Abbey Road Studios, for goodness’ sake, where her dad and the rest of The Beatles recorded most of their albums. She also happens to be married to one of the most stylish men alive, Alasdhair Willis, the creative director of Hunter, with whom she has four children.
“This collection was definitely inspired by British music and British culture,” she says. “I looked at my dad’s wardrobe, and how I felt they were expressing themselves in that period. I looked at the ’90s, rave, Britpop. Obviously, men have inspired me. Also, the [Stella] woman has inspired the [Stella] man here, I think. That relationship has been key to how we approach the collection.”
This mutual inspiration between the genders has been at the core of the McCartney aesthetic since her days studying fashion design at Central St Martins. During her spare time at university, she served an apprenticeship at Edward Sexton, the Savile Row tailor.
“I was very conscious that men’s British tailoring was a massive influence on my design,” McCartney says. “Not only visually, but mostly psychologically; what it meant, why it even existed, and how structural and architectural it was. There’s always been such a massive conversation between men and women in my womenswear, that it was like everything I’d been working on there easily translated into the menswear.”
As for the challenges involved in starting a new category, McCartney is forthright: “Oh, I mean, there’s tons. I think just building the infrastructure in our company – we’re not a huge brand, so it’s taken a lot of man-hours and a lot of manpower. And then we share the same challenges that we have in the brand in general. The menswear collection is over 48 percent sustainable – that in itself brings challenges in that you’re looking at sourcing organic cotton, or jerseys, or fleeces.
“This collection launches our 100 percent sustainable viscose, which is something we’ve been working on for two years. It took a lot of investment of time and money, and we’re really proud of that. It comes from sustainable forests in Germany and Sweden, so it’s not harmful in any way. It’s just really challenging yourself, [for example] shoes without leather, accessories without leather. I think that it’s really important.”
Indeed, ethical fashion has taken great strides since the days of its scratchy, sackcloth reputation, and McCartney has been its champion in the luxury space. “Since we launched womenswear, more and more women feel they want to be conscious in their everyday life. They want to link their consumption with responsibility, and they want to bring that into their fashion without a compromise. We’ve been part of educating them that they shouldn’t have to sacrifice anything.
“Their shoes should be cooler than a conventional pair of shoes made out of dead cows. I feel it’s really the right time to bring that into men’s wardrobes, because they do not have anyone designing in a conscious way for them.
“The first pair of vegetarian shoes that I designed and made were for Morrissey, because he asked me to make him some stylish shoes. He’s so cool from head to – and then it comes to toe, and you’re like, ‘What have you got on your feet?’ Because there was no option for him.”
But it’s important to note that this isn’t just a collection for men at Morrissey levels of activism. This is, first and foremost, clothes men want to wear. Right on cue, two male models walk to where McCartney and I are sitting. They’re demonstrating a couple of looks from the new range, as McCartney gestures and talks me through the pieces.
“There’s this idea that men would only normally wear a double-breasted, peaked-lapel jacket in the evening, or something very uptight, but here he’s wearing it open, wearing it over a more casual shirt, and with a tailored combat trouser and a sandal. My husband wore that same look to my show; he debuted it and he looked completely different in it. It’s all about this ability to be a chameleon in the clothing and allowing men to express themselves more.”
Gentlemen, walk this way.