British designer Katie Eary has a successful menswear brand, a womenswear collaboration with UK high street brand River Island due out in the next few weeks and has just showcased her latest menswear collection as part of London Collections Men. Simply put, Eary’s career has gone from strength to strength since she launched her own self titled label Katie Eary in 2010… The lady is unstoppable. Life+Times caught up with the talented young designer whose resume includes creating custom pieces for Kate Moss for Vogue magazine shot by Mario Testino, aiding Kanye West with his debut fashion line as well as creating her own successful brand to discuss her Autumn/Winter 2014 Menswear Collection, fashion politics, and future plans.
Life+Times: In a short space of time you have already achieved a lot in the fashion world. For those who don’t know, how did you get your start?
Katie Eary: I emailed Nicola Formichetti right after I graduated from the RCA [Royal College of Art]. I emailed him some of my work. All my favorite editorials were by him so to have my clothes featured within it would have been amazing. He emailed me back straight away and wanted to know what my plans for fashion week were and from that point the ball started rolling.
L+T: So what was the inspiration behind the current Autumn/ Winter 2014 Katie Eary menswear collection?
KE: The inspiration behind this collection was looking back on the Seditionaries, the ’70s, the Sex Pistols and that particular movement. I feel like, politically, at the moment there’s a lot of unrest and there was a lot of that… a lot of angst and anti-establishment in the ’70s. I just wanted to revisit it because I felt like now is the right time. It feels right to do that at the moment.
L+T: Do you feel like you have experienced any of this angst or anti-establishment yourself? Such as sexism in the fashion industry? You are one of the few female designers doing menswear?
KE: I feel like there are a lot of women who are in a position of power that hate women and that annoys me a hell of a lot. I guess you can’t help it. I can’t control that, so I have to just get on with it. If you’re a straight guy you’ll have your own prejudices just like a gay guy. I think everyone struggles with their own issues. Hopefully it evens out, but who knows.
L+T: What are your key/favorite looks in this current collection?
KE: My favorite look is the Seditionairies shirt with the Mickey Mouse buckle and pleated layering in leopard tartan. I created the tartan and it took me days of just staring at a screen to create it. I dropped the leopard print into the tartan and put black in the background so it looks like it’s been burnt into the print. I love it, I feel like it’s a quite an accomplishment on a nerdy level of Photoshop [laughs]. It’s my favorite look.
L+T: Why Mickey Mouse for this collection?
KE: When I start any project, my starting point is usually a book. This particular book is Irvine Welsh’s Filth, I always use his books; this is the third book of his that I’ve based a collection on because I love his writing. In this book there’s a policeman who has a raging coke habit; he’s a complete pig. He’s mental. He murders someone at the beginning and he’s the one investigating the murder. He’s just a really horrible person. It was the fact that he’s a policeman in a position of power, he’s supposed to be trustworthy and he’s anything but so the uniform means nothing. I compared that to Mickey Mouse where as a child it’s very innocent, but if you strip it back to the ’40s where he was racist and sexist… it was a nice contradiction and I wanted to compare the two. Although he’s squeaky clean now, he has his murky past. I’m such a geek, I’m really not cool [laughs] I love burying myself in books and Welsh’s books are amazing. I preach about them to everyone. They’re written in Scottish phonetic so it feels like you’re there. The way he describes his characters is incredible; they’re always so gruesome. All the taboos are in there and I love it.
L+T: Wow sounds like an interesting read. Do you also have a think tank of people you go to when you’re creating to throw ideas about?
KE: Not really. Every show I try to wipe the slate completely clean, go on holiday or go and have a blow out or hang out with my friends and get hammered or go back to Stevenage and hang out with my mum or go to garden centers; something so anti-creative. That actually helps me more than anything. I always have weekends off; I don’t work all around the clock. I make sure I have breaks because otherwise I’d just go crazy. If I don’t sleep, I’ll just cry all day.
L+T: Who else have you worked with on this collection?
KE: I’ve collaborated with Richard Anderson, Hancock and collaborated with Shackleton Bags. It’s revisiting the old artisanal theme.
L+T: You are known for your use of bold prints a lot. Is there a reason for that?
KE: I love making images. Until it gets boring or I feel that people aren’t interested anymore… I’ll keep going. It feels quite current and everyone loves a good print. While I enjoy being a complete nerd.
L+T: Does living in Britain inspire your collection?
KE: Oh my god, I’m really patriotic! The fact that I’m doing this ’70s Seditionairies; paying homage to Viviane Westwood… that whole movement. It’s very much that and I love flying the British Flag and I’m working with Saville Row. It’s all very British, British, British!
L+T: How would you describe your design style?
KE: It’s really hard to say, especially right now where it’s kind of gone back to where it originated from. It’s couture really, but its quite street and usually they don’t go hand in hand. I’ve always just said it’s in between Vice and Vogue. It’s extremely glamorous and all the fabrics are the most luxurious you can find and yet I design for 17 year-old boys that go skateboarding. It’s in between there and I find it really hard to describe the style and I think a lot of people find that as a problem as a brand because they don’t know where to put it. But I think that’s what makes it special.
L+T: Who do you see wearing this collection?
KE: I don’t know. I genuinely don’t know right now. Maybe Macaulay Culkin, even though I don’t know what the hell he’s up to at the moment! Maybe when he was in his prime, like on the cover of The Face magazine.
L+T: So this is your third London Collections Men showing now…
KE: Yeah with London Collections Men in place now… It’s weird because I have my own set of friends and life aside from fashion, but London Collections Men… it’s like they’re trying to get all these designers like superstars. They invite you to these amazing dinners and everyone there is an A-lister and you’re walking around thinking, “What am I doing here because I’m not a movie star.”
L+T: Do you feel uncomfortable in those situations?
KE: No, not really. There’s been a couple where I’ve gone and said hello to people and they’ve quickly turned the other cheek as soon as someone more famous comes by. As soon as someone of more interest comes by they’re gone. You can go home and it makes you feel worthless. I never set out to be a musician or a movie star, but it seems like they’re trying to. I don’t even know who ‘they’ are when I say ‘they’ but I feel like they’re creating all these events and there’s so much focus on the designer and it’s a bit weird.
L+T: A lot of musicians have worn your designs from the likes of Kanye West, Frank Ocean, Rihanna, Big Sean, Rita Ora, 2 Chainz and more. How does music inspire you when creating?
KE: The music is always inspiring. It’s as rich as fashion, it’s as rich as art because music is an art, just like fashion is an art. They’re inextricably linked anyway and I think it’s really important. Visiting punk music whist doing this really got me into it.
L+T: What about the runway music for this collection?
KE: It’s quite punk. Milly [McMahon] from i-D and Daniel Canetti from Vice worked on it. I listened to a lot of Drenge though the process of making this collection. I went with Kanye [West] to see his rehearsal for Jools Holland. I didn’t go for the actual night because it’s miles away but I watched Kanye’s performance on TV because I was intrigued to see what he was going to do. I then felt sorry for whoever had to follow him because it was really quite powerful. Then this amazing punk band… I don’t even know if they’d call themselves punk but they were incredible and they thrashed out his incredible track. I was like, “I need this music now!” So I listened to all their tracks on YouTube while creating this project.
L+T: Talking about Kanye, how was it working with him on his collection?
KE: Amazing. We got on. Always lots of fun ideas being bounced around. I would go crazy and he would refine the ideas [laughs].
L+T: His clothing line received a lot of attention and he was sometimes criticized as a designer. Do you feel the fashion press are too critical with Kanye?
KE: Yes, far too harsh. Totally unnecessary.
L+T: What did you learn from working with Kanye?
KE: Anything is possible.
L+T: If you could choose one music act would you like to work with on a complete project from album artwork, tour costumes, merchandise and so on?
KE: I don’t know. That’s such a difficult question! I’d maybe say The Horrors, particularly for this collection… or maybe Drenge.
L+T: You have a collaboration coming out with UK high street brand River Island also. What can you tell us about your River Island collection?
KE: It’s 18 pieces and they’ll be out on the 17th of this month. It’s an amazing desert land collection, very lucid dreaming… Think Leovone in Las Vegas. I feel like all the guys have all the fun. The idea was what if it wasn’t them, what if it was two women, what would they be wearing? It would be super glamorous but in amazing bohemian floor length maxis and complete tiger print or snake print; they’re totally rock & roll amazing women. The whole collection was designed towards strong women getting off their face in the desert [laughs].
L+T: How did the collaboration come about?
KE: I’m not sure! BFC (British Fashion Council) contacted me and asked if I would be interested and I said, “Yes, definitely!” I’ve been trying my hand at women’s for ages and I think it’s a really nice starting point. I’ve always done it but never to the point of mass production. It’s just to keep it fresh, fun and I genuinely love doing women’s so it was a perfect starting point to do a full collection for a big brand like that and see how it goes and hopefully from there build on something.
L+T: What are the other dream brands to collaborate with?
KE: I’d quite like to do something with Vans; I think that would be cool. I’d like to do something with Palace and DONDA again.
L+T: Are you looking to brand out to the US at all?
KE: I’m getting there slowly. I’ve got around 15 stockists in the US so far. Slowly but surely; you don’t want to have it all at the same time because you always need something to build on. I’m getting there bit by bit.
L+T: If there were any brand you could become the creative director for, what brand would it be?
KE: I’d want someone really rubbish so I could make it really cool. If Riccardo Tisci left Givenchy there’s absolutely no way I’d put my hand up and volunteer! It would have to be a house that’s not cool anymore so you could make it your own. I think that’s the goal but I don’t know how long that’s going to be.
L+T: What designers inspire you?
KE: Hedi Slimane, Riccardo Tisci, Raf Simons; those are the three main ones. I love Burberry, it’s flawless really, I love Louis Vuitton, Kim Jones. That’s it I think.
L+T: Do you have a motto you live by?
KE: Just “When it’s not fun, don’t do it anymore.” When I say that, I mean the design bit. Everything about this is stressful and I hate about 80% of it. People, BFC (British Fashion Council) fleecing money out of people, the amount of money you have to pay for venues, models, this, that, the other. Then on the day it’s radios, food… it’s money, money, money! You’re a walking ATM and it’s very… stressful. The day that I can’t design anymore, I’ll have to stop.
L+T: You don’t seem to be caught up in the business. You seem to see it for what it is, while a lot of people get caught up in it.
KE: I think a lot of people are. My dad had his own shop for 22 years and just like that in the recession he lost everything. He didn’t take an interest in mine or my brother’s life because of that shop and we still don’t have much of a relationship. He did all of that and now he has nothing to show for it and he worked every single day, seven days a week. You could have something and be flying high and it can all go just like that. And where I’m from, I suppose the reality is always there. Just like that you can do a shit collection and no one will be interested anymore. Sometimes it feels like a popularity contest and I just think I’d rather not be involved in that contest [laughs] I’d rather just be around quietly.
L+T: Was your mother a big support system?
KE: She’s my total inspiration. She’s amazing. It’s me and three other brothers and she brought us all up as a single parent whilst she went to college, university and got her masters as well as her doctorate. I think that’s why I’m so headstrong.
L+T: What are your careers highlights so far?
KE: Every moment is the best moment. A couple of years ago I met George Condo, last year it was Jake and Dinos Chapman and I had a private view around their gallery with them which was amazing. This year who knows what’s going to happen. There’s the River Island collaboration, London Collections Men has more eyes on it that ever, we’re not even in the first week of January yet so I can’t even tell you what’s going to happen!
L+T: What’s the biggest compliment you’ve received or advice you’ve been given?
KE: When anybody, doesn’t matter how famous or not famous, say they’re inspired by me, that’s the biggest compliment. To think I made someone excited to get on with something means a lot to me. Advice? I don’t know. A lot of people do advise me but I generally don’t listen [laughs]. I would say though, if you’re looking to get into this business, don’t expect to make money for at least five years. Even after five years some people still can’t pay rent. You can kind of tell who are interested in making stuff or just want to be famous. There’s too much heartache to go into it for fierce vanity.
L+T: What’s does the future hold for the Katie Eary brand?
KE: I don’t know! Its like tripled in size since last summer so… I don’t know! Hopefully I’ll be at [Roberto] Cavalli or something. I really want that, that’s my dream. Or do something with Donatella [Versace]. At the BFC (British Fashion Council) awards I was sitting on the River Island table in a full leopard outfit (as usual!) and this blonde woman was looking at me and I looked. My heart was beating because she’s my idol and she was probably looking at me like “That bitch is biting my style!” [Laughs].
L+T: What is the biggest misconception of Katie Eary?
KE: That I’m loaded! They think I go out all the time and just party.
L+T: Finally what’s your headspace like right about now?
KE: A total mess, I’m exhausted after prepping for this show for the past months and of course I’m excited as well and now it’s all going to be about production! Straight after the show and Italy are sending me samples that I need to get out to the stores. I need a holiday [laughs].