Katie Eary doesn’t follow trends. She sets them. Since her graduate collection was snapped up in its entirety by British Vogue – for a cover shoot modelled by none other than Kate Moss – the blonde bombshell with a penchant for leopard print has been at the vanguard of the changing face of British fashion.
Katie first started out as a menswear designer, but added a womenswear line in 2011, picking up more fans along the way from every corner of the industry. She counts Kanye West as a good friend and an early supporter, her designs have been worn by everyone from Rihanna to A$AP Mob, and during January’s London Collections: Men she joined forces with Savile Row tailor Richard Anderson.
The Stevenage-born designer has a firm grip on reality and the darker side of life. Her designs (think streetwear with a couture edge) are never predictable and that’s the way she likes it. Love or hate her collections, Katie doesn’t care, as long as you feel something. She puts it more bluntly: “I’d rather die than create something that doesn’t make a mark.” And with both her menswear and womenswear collections going from strength to strength, it looks like she’ll be alive and kicking for a lot longer yet.
HUNGER: YOU STARTED OUT SOLELY AS A MENSWEAR DESIGNER. WHY DID YOU GO FOR MENSWEAR INITIALLY?
Katie Eary: It was quite a quick, easy decision. I was doing a course in contour design at university and I hated it, so when I was offered a place in fashion design, I opted for the men’s course, knowing there would be less people doing it. When I started in 2003, menswear was one of those courses that no one wanted to do, and it was often referred to as boring or too hard. I relish a challenge, so I thought, “Yeah, go on then.”
WHAT DO YOU GET FROM DESIGNING FOR MEN THAT YOU DON’T GET FROM DESIGNING FOR WOMEN?
I love the menswear industry, full stop. It has a no-bullshit vibe, which is very different to womenswear.
LONDON HAS BEEN CALLED THE WORLD CAPITAL OF MENSWEAR. WHAT DO YOU THINK MAKES US STAND OUT?
We’re not afraid to be bold, and it’s always been that way. But now in London Collections: Men, we have a proper platform to showcase our talent with the whole world watching. And we have such a rich history when it comes to fashion, culture and art, so there are so many movements to draw inspiration from.
IT WAS PREDICTED THAT MENSWEAR WILL OVERTAKE WOMENSWEAR IN SALES BY 2016.
Fashion has become one for the masses. It used to be for the rich and famous, but now more than ever, everyone takes an interest. There are more and more men’s lifestyle and fashion magazines and blogs. Men are paying attention, and feel that it’s just as important to look and feel good. Plus why should women have all the fun?
DO YOU THINK YOU HAVE CONTRIBUTED A LOT TO THIS MENSWEAR REVOLUTION?
For quite some time it was like banging my head against a brick wall, feeling like I wasn’t being taken seriously. I started six years ago when there was no London Collections: Men. London was forced into action by all the attention the [menswear] designers were getting – we were making so much noise! So if anything, I think I definitely contributed to the changes in London. I’ve always stayed true to my vision.
STREETWEAR AND TRACK SUITS ARE NOW AS MUCH OF A FASHION STATEMENT AS A TAILORED SUIT. HAS FASHION BECOME MORE OPEN-MINDED?
The fashion industry has always been interested in the story, but now the masses are interested in it too. So when people are buying into a particular track suit, I think they feel like they’re really buying into the designer’s insight, which is worth so much more. It’s the ideas and stories that keep it all ticking over.
WHAT ELEMENTS DO YOU CONSISTENTLY TRY AND KEEP IN BOTH YOUR MEN’S AND WOMEN’S COLLECTIONS? AND IS IT IMPORTANT TO HAVE A SIGNATURE?
When doing men’s and women’s wear, I try to think of them as a couple, like a super powerful sexy woman who goes out with younger, scruffy but beautiful boys. I like to have some sort of story that links the collections together, and sometimes that’s been extremely dark, but for me the uglier the research the more beautiful the clothes. I think a signature comes naturally to any designer. If you have to try, it won’t work. Most designers cannot escape their own signature – trust me, I’ve tried! About four years ago I really tried to change because I didn’t think I’d ever sell a single piece of clothing if I kept on designing the way I did. But no matter how I tried, I couldn’t escape myself.
YOUR CLOTHES OFTEN HAVE A “LOVE IT OR HATE IT” QUALITY. WHY IS A STRONG REACTION BETTER THAN INDIFFERENCE?
I was gutted that the YBA movement occurred when I was in school. I remember thinking, “Shit, how am I going to make my stamp in art now?” I very quickly had to go back to the drawing board. Seeing that Saatchi exhibition changed my life! Whether you loved it or hated it, it made you feel something. And that’s something that I’ve carried with me forever.
HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO TAKE RISKS IN FASHION?
Touching on the last question, I think it’s better to have a reaction than nothing at all. Every season is a gamble. You’re always wondering if it will sell. If you don’t sell, you can’t do another show. And I wish I took more risks in life in general; recently I’ve come over all sensible. I have no idea where that came from! My new year’s resolution is to take more risks in my personal life.
HAVE YOU EVER TAKEN A RISK THAT HASN’T PAID OFF?
No, not yet. I took a few risks when I started though. I got a credit card hoping that the first show would pay it off, which it didn’t. At the time I was like, “What the fuck have I done?” But had I not done that six years ago, I wouldn’t be here now.
YOU’VE PREVIOUSLY BEEN INSPIRED BY SOME DARKER SUBJECT MATTER – RENTS BOYS, ADDICTS AND HORROR MOVIES – WHY ARE YOU DRAWN TO THE DARKER SIDE OF THINGS? DOES IT MAKE YOU MORE CREATIVE?
Reality is ugly. It’s something that’s been close to my heart my whole life. I have been worrying about everything for as long as I can remember. Fashion can sometimes come across so blasé in terms of “reality”, and I’ve always been one to keep it real, I guess. I’m not sure if it makes me more creative; it’s just something that’s close to the bone. I’m not privileged, so reality is always at your front door. My background has been an advantage – when you have nothing, you have nothing to lose.
YOU’VE SAID BEFORE THAT YOUR THREE BROTHERS INSPIRE YOU. DO THEY EVER GIVE YOU DESIGN ADVICE?
[Laughs] The only advice I take from them is after the show. They tell me what they liked, and what they didn’t. The younger generation is the future. I think it’s really important to pay attention to what they want or your brand will become a dinosaur.
WHOSE OPINION DO YOU VALUE THE MOST?
YOUR COLLECTIONS ARE OFTEN INSPIRED BY MUSIC. WHO ARE YOU CURRENTLY LISTENING TO?
I’m really in touch with my bohemian side at the moment. I love Melody’s Echo Chamber, Tamaryn and, occasionally, the Cocteau Twins.
WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY INSPIRED BY?
Japan. I’d say that more forward-thinking designers get stocked in the Asian market first.
WHAT’S THE PLAN FOR THE FUTURE?
I want to run Cavalli!