Exclusive: Celebrating Diversity in Rome with London Designer Sadie Clayton

"I’m a fusion of races, spaces, places."

[W]omen! Strength! Power! Diversity! These are fashion’s cultural cornerstones right now and while we might be more used to seeing them play out on the catwalks of the four predominant fashion capitals, they were put at the forefront of AltaRoma – Rome’s biannual fashion week – this weekend in a collaboration between British designer Sadie Clayton, the Department for International Trade, Italy, and the British Government’s Fashion Is Great campaign.

“For me, I was engaged as soon as diversity was mentioned. I’m a fusion of races, spaces, places,” enthuses Clayton, sitting in the verdant and walled garden of the British Embassy, the sun shining down, a little chill still in the air. “Where I’m from in Yorkshire, it’s a very white, middle-class area and there weren’t many people looking like me as children. I used to scrub my freckles off and straighten my hair and then when I turned 13, I thought I’m already different, so let’s embrace it.”

Clayton, whose name you might have heard and whose work you might have seen – though all the dots may not necessarily have yet joined together for she is still an emerging brand – launched her eponymous brand in 2015, having graduated from Kingston University two years prior to that. Her collections have been seen in London, Berlin, Art Basel Miami and Singapore Design Week and she’s exhibited as part of the Nick Waplington/Alexander McQueen: Working Process exhibition at Tate Britain. By her own admission, she’s only a fashion designer because the clothes she produces fit the body. “If it didn’t fit the body, then I’d be an artist,” she points out – such is her cross-pollination of art, fashion and technology, copper being a key MO of her designs.

SS16 Sadie Clayton

“I feel so privileged to be here,” she beams from behind shapely shades, crossing her blue-tight-clad legs. The “here” in question is a special showcase outside of the schedule of catwalk shows, presentations and installations of new and established Italian talent that runs the rest of the week; the first time – so it’s billed – that a fashion show in Italy has shown a collection entirely dedicated to diversity as a theme. And firmly backing it is the UK government’s GREAT campaign, launched to promote talent globally. And right now, with Brexit looming, there couldn’t be more of a need for it.

AW17 Sadie Clayton

“I hate to talk about it [Brexit] as it really frustrates me,” relays Clayton, her thoughts echoing us all. “At the same time, I feel everyone is so against it, that it’s actually going to bring us together. Look at us, here in Rome! The Italians are so supportive of me and we have to fight against it and maybe because we’re all going to work together as a unit it won’t affect anything, we’ll come together and be a solid tribe.” Here’s hoping. Clayton is nothing if not passionate. At 27, she speaks with an assured confidence and feist to match the red of her painted lips and correlating earrings.

The clothes she designs, meanwhile, seek a salvation among the aggravations of life. “My whole design process is very holistic: my keywords are headspace, time, energy – especially living in London when it’s hard to live in your headspace,” she explains. “There’s so much going on – rent, work, friends, there’s always something on your brain.” And, so she translates this idea through a sculptural aesthetic that sees sleeves a solid structured feature, layers, too, a way to balance this sense of emotion and mood, because: “They’re constantly up and down, I’m trying to depict a strength”, she says.

Because it is hard being a young designer, especially a young designer in London. “I’m not your average designer, I’m not a commercial designer, so it’s nice to know that these pockets of the world are intrigued by me,” she says. This is in fact her second time at AltaRoma, having been involved with Artisanal Intelligence programme in 2016. “I’m a fusion; fashion, art, technology, that’s my spin.” To this end she notes she can’t be put into the same brackets of the typical London designer – which makes it all the more exciting for her. “I don’t want to design T-shirts!”

 

Sadie Clayton;Jill Morris

That’s something she certainly isn’t doing, the autumn/winter 2018 collection, Reimagined Perception, wandering a copper colour palette of rust through to nude, on to navy and grey, for high-waisted trousers, sheer and in corduroy; her signature bombers and silhouettes of sculptural and architectural convention. “I cater towards diverse women; my whole Sadie Clayton community, albeit small, is very diverse.” Something that may soon change. “I’m so ambitious, I’m not going to stop until it [all] happens,” she asserts.

And so it was that later that day, the sun now down, the stage now set, that sixteen models of accompanying diversity – be that age, ethnicity, size – presented the new Sadie Clayton collection at the Rome residence of Jill Morris HM Ambassador to Italy. “I have so many ideas for things in the pipeline and hope this time next year we can be having this same conversation and be like ‘You remember when we were sat in Rome in the ambassador’s garden.” Save the date, Sadie.