Prim, proper, and very pretty is the Temperley London woman in a nutshell – or so you’d (incorrectly) assume. While many associate the label with the demure Kate and Pippa Middleton duo, its whimsical creations have also been spotted on everyone from eccentric personalities such as Daisy Lowe and Florence Welch to A-listers like Sarah Jessica Parker. And rightly so.
“Because we do eveningwear, the dangerous thing is to fall into it and be worn in a very formal way, but we don’t want to be seen as being ‘too lady’. The Temperley woman still needs to be a little rock ‘n’ roll, have a bit of a rebel soul about her,” says the quintessentially British woman at its helm, Alice Temperley. “That’s why we want to be a bit more raw and do stuff with motorbikes – in my head, that’s how I like it worn. You should feel feminine and sassy, and have fun in it.”
The designer was in town last week for the opening of her new store (which incidentally comes complete with a massive, glitzy disco ball hanging amidst fresh flowers and dusky-pink seating) at The Dubai Mall, where Savoir Flair joined her for an exclusive chat. Read on as Temperley discusses her new book, why you can’t go wrong with a tuxedo jacket, and what’s next for her Somerset-esque empire.
In contrast to the recent ‘Instagramification’ of fashion, you’ve remained true to your design ethos. What are your thoughts on this trend?
I think it’s about telling the brand, not trying to say you’re something else, but to bring it to life through moving images. So we just did a shoot with Ellen Von Unwerth with two girls, and it was nice to show another side. They’re a bit more flirty and playful, more kind of upbeat. They’re wearing all these sequinned dresses, but wearing them as we imagine wearing them – rather than too formally – so it’s just really important to get the muses and the mood across more so than ever before.
With the evolution of the fashion cycle, there’s a lot more pressure on designers now to churn out more and more collections per year. What do you think is the solution here?
There are four seasons a year, but there really should be only two, and the same amount of deliveries. So the thought for New York Fashion Week and London Fashion Week is to move the show seasons to the pre-collections, so showing in June and October/November with our pre-collections. That would be great because then you can spread the deliveries and, around showtime, there could just be an event that is more customer-focused event because the stuff is just about to come into store.
That would prevent buyers from traveling four times, saving on all those flights and expenses. And then your show becomes more a customer-centric experience, sort of like when Dior flew everybody to the desert. Rather than a formulaic show, it should be about a brand telling its own story and engaging the customer, rather than the lots of people who just come for fashion shows. Naturally, everybody will have a different opinion, but I do think that the formula needs to break.
How have you, as a brand, kept up?
I’ve done four seasons a year as we sell to department stores. They expect you to have four collections a year. But then there were other business models like Azzedine Alaïa, who would just do collections and deliver them when he felt like it – but he had always done that. When you’re a smaller brand, you have to catch buyers when they’re in town. Could you get them to allocate all their budget in those two seasons? They would probably want newness, but the collections don’t need to be as big.
But some people will start showing their pre-collections, some people will carry on showing their catwalk collections, and I wish somebody would just say, ‘I think this is a much better way of doing it.’ And everybody kind of makes a change. But what’s going to happen is just like the big houses show all over the world – they’re amazing shows – some designers are going to start switching the schedules and it’s going to get more confusing.
Recession, baby, divorce – the perfect storm.
You once deviated from the traditional catwalk shows for four consecutive seasons from 2009 to 2011, presenting your collections via multimedia installations instead. What was the thought process there?
I had a baby in 2008 and then went to New York, where we did a presentation rather than a catwalk show because an editor once said to me, “People should think about doing more presentations where you can see and feel the full brand. It would be nice to do something different.” But, actually, when you don’t do a show, other people’s perception is that a brand must be in trouble. And actually having a room full of clothes, it wasn’t being brought to life at all, so it was just a bit flat. Even though I shot lots of muses and did this thing for charity – I put them on canvas, embroidered them, and made lots of money for charity by selling them – it was just too complicated.
It needed to be a simple presentation or a runway show. And then I had a young child, recession hit, and nobody knew who was going to buy what in America. So I moved back to showing in London again because I was one of two or three hundred designers in New York. Lots of Americans were dropping European brands, things were unsteady, and then I got divorced and stayed in England. It was a difficult time. Recession, baby, divorce – the perfect storm.
How do you plan on staying relevant in the 21st century?
I would like to make the shows more intimate just because it is an intimate brand; it’s not like shouting out loud like a big Topshop-y space and it’s not salon-like, but it’s somewhere where it needs to be much more about getting up close. You don’t need so many people there. But it does need to be more of an experience. Ideally, I’d like to do it in the countryside.
What do you consider to be three wardrobe staples outside of the brand?
Fitted black tux jackets, white shirts, red lipstick. My style can be summed up as timeless classics. You could put a tuxedo jacket over anything, a white shirt always freshens something up, and so does a lip because you can put a bit of color there for instant glamour. You can wear a white shirt or a tuxedo over a big dress or something little, and you can tie up a white shirt – they’re the most versatile pieces. It looks done, but also undone, at the same time.
You’ve been described as the “English Ralph Lauren”. Do you think that’s a fair analogy?
No, not necessarily, but I do believe that we can extend into all sorts of other product categories, which will be the next stage of growth for the brand. And so if you can see, this [The Dubai Mall outlet] does not look like a Ralph Lauren store at all, but the lifestyle of the English countryside reflects how he’s trying to sell this perfect American life. But we could be the English version of that, not necessarily with the brand or the products, but with an English lifestyle story. You can hopefully imagine a Temperley woman, where she lives, and what her apartment looks and smells like.
What can you tell us about your new book, English Myths & Legends? Who would you like to see reading it?
I think people who love textiles and patterns, and someone who wants to be more educated on what goes into clothing of this nature because it’s not just buying something and hammering it up on a sewing machine. It’s a lot more about concept ideas, how you put collections together, storyboarding, how we put our patterns on things, and how we instruct the beading factories.
That’s why there are five chapters that delve into the British DNA, the country element and its spirit, and escapism of where we want to be wearing these clothes. It’s just important that people see that sense of romance in them and the fact that it’s not just making clothes for the sake of it. There was a real passion behind that story – and the book makes it quite tactile. And hopefully then, when people have a piece of the brand, they’ll really appreciate what goes into it.
Of your five standalone stores, two are in this region. Can you comment on the importance of the Middle Eastern woman to the brand?
They [Arab women] love decadence, dressing up, and celebrating the female form, so our cut works very well because while we’re not overtly sexy, we’re super feminine. We pick up on the waist, we often do sleeves and cover-ups, which so many designers don’t and that’s the most peculiar thing. And we cut for a waist that drops straight off from the hip.
I also know that Middle Eastern women obviously come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, but it is also a very flattering silhouette to grade up. We’re seeing shorter things and daywear selling more now than before, but I think the buy here is still much more evening-focused because that’s what they’ve come to know the brand as. But I think it’s the people’s love of dressing up as to why they buy more of the evening side of the collection.
I’d like to see the whole Temperley lifestyle stepped up.
Temperley London is one of the few brands are is still privately owned. Any plans to join a major conglomerate in the future?
We’re currently owned by myself and my key investors, so the brand is still privately owned, but we are in the process of talking to a really exciting partner, so there will be another stage of Temperley London – we’re basically like a massive bottle that is just about to explode! I’ve had a bit of time off recently to really think about what’s next, and what I love is the idea of a homeware line.
I can sit here and actually see it from those two windows. I can see what the rest of it could look like – the wallpaper, the props, and all the other bits and pieces. You can design and think of everything, but you just need a plan to get it all the way through in all the retail stores. It’s super exciting, but that’s where it needs to go. I’d like to see the whole Temperley lifestyle stepped up.