His first two collections set London Fashion Week alight, Chloe Sevigny, Kylie and Kate Moss wear his dresses, and he’s still only 24. Kirstin Innes talks to Christopher Kane about the 1990s, Donatella Versace, and being fashionable in Motherwell
Imagine you’re a 23-year-old fashion postgraduate from Motherwell. Your work is featured in Vogue in an article on student designers, and then Anna Wintour herself turns up at your degree show. She recommends that you meet Donatella - yes, Versace - and within a week you’ve been whisked off to Milan. Fast forward 12 months, and you’ve had two highly acclaimed catwalk shows at London Fashion Week, you’re working as a consultant for the Versace collection in addition to running your own label, and celebrities including Kylie, Kate Moss and Chloe Sevigny are falling over themselves to get their fingers on your frocks. It’s easy to assume that so much success so quickly would turn even the best adjusted twenty-something into a petulant brat, but Christopher Kane, currently one of the hottest designers in the fashion firmament, is almost disturbingly down-to-earth and even humble. And he’s still only 24.
Kane is relaxing in his London studio/flat after a hectic few weeks. The exclusive collection he designed for Topshop sold out within two hours of going on sale, and his second professional catwalk show, at London Fashion Week in February, received almost universal acclaim from the world’s fashion press and saw him hailed as one of the most important new designers in the world.
‘It’s been a total whirlwind,’ he says ‘It’s still a bit crazy, because that lifestyle is a completely different world. Chloe Sevigny is wearing my dresses - Chloe Sevigny! She’s always been an icon of mine, and now - wow. The thing is, people assume I’ve undergone this huge transformation, that my life is so glamorous - and it is glamorous when they’re whisking you off to, you know, the Versace show in Milan, when they’re pouring you champagne - but at the end of the day it’s my sister Tammy and me, still living in our little flat in Hackney, trying crazily to finish the next collection and struggling for money.’
Kane’s older sister Tammy, herself a designer who trained at the Scottish College of Textile Design in Galashiels, is also his business partner. He might be the one getting all the acclaim, but Kane makes it very clear that ‘Christopher Kane’ is a two-person operation: in addition to running the financial side of their business, Tammy helps him create the fabrics and has input on the designs too. ‘Tammy moved down to London with me when I started studying at Central St Martin’s - we’ve always lived and worked together.’ It’s clear that this strong family tie is part of what keeps him grounded, too: ‘Tammy and I see our clothes in magazines and go “Oh wow! Right, back to work again”. It’s fashion, eh? It’s fickle. We’re just grateful to be getting all this exposure right at the time when we’re trying to build up our business.’
The elastic, neon mini-dresses Kane sent down the catwalk during his debut Spring/Summer show last year, skin-tight as sportswear, frilled, panelled and partitioned up by ordinary white utility belts, not only got the fashion pack very excited but seemed to herald a revival of early 1990s fashions. Kane’s designs were immediately picked up and copied by art students and clubbers up and down the country.
‘It’s really weird, because I never meant to design club clothes. I only used neon last year because it was my first collection and I wanted to go as bright as possible!
‘It’s all about what you grow up with, isn’t it? Gianni Versace grew up surrounded by all these very strong Italian prostitutes - he glamorised that idea and they were obviously a major influence on his designs. I was growing up in the early 90s. Back then, Tammy and my other sister Sandra were getting dressed up and jumping about, going out to clubs. My dad got a satellite dish and I became obsessed with Fashion TV and The Clothes Show.’
‘I’ve always been surrounded by lots of very strong women: my mum, all my aunties, my sisters. I wanted to make clothes that felt Scottish to me, and obviously I’m not that into tartan. I think that idea of a strong, no-nonsense, confident woman is very Scottish. I always imagined my designs being worn by older, really confident women. Older confident women with really fantastic bodies . . .’
Those older, confident women are the ones with the money to buy his clothes. Kane’s couture line retails at around £1095 a dress, and this has drawn criticism about the feasibility - and wearability - of his clothes. Carine Roitfeld, the hugely influential editor of French Vogue, is a big fan of his dresses, but apart from the tiny 50-something Roitfeld and Kylie, who wore one of his student designs onstage during a recent tour, very few women conform to Kane’s ideal.
Broadsheet fashion writers have muttered darkly about the misogyny inherent in Kane’s figure-hugging designs, with their emphasis on a strapped-in and prohibitive physical silhouette, and it’s true that, like his hero Gianni Versace, Kane’s catwalk shows deal in a fantasy version of female sexuality. But this, it could be reasonably argued, owes more to Kane’s relative youth and naivety than misogyny. In contrast, his Topshop collection reinvented the exciting elements of his work for real female body shapes.
‘Getting to do the Topshop collection was great, because it made my designs much more accessible to people - and not just people who can’t usually afford my work.’
As though he has taken the criticism onboard, his LFW catwalk show in February used looser body shapes and more traditionally grown-up hemlines. He begins talking me through the collection. ‘The sculpted velvet minidresses are Scarlett O’Hara. Tammy and I were watching Gone With The Wind on the telly one Saturday, and we just got inspired. The leather - that’s a bit Rambo-esque, isn’t it, and the gun metal with the burnt orange - I think I was thinking about some of the colours they use in the battle scenes in Braveheart, there.’
And, skipping again from the prosaic to the glamourous, he goes on to outline the next six months, which he and Tammy intend to spend working on new collections for Tokyo and Paris, as well as the next LFW.
‘Who would I like to dress next? Ideally, Jarvis Cocker’s wife. She’s great. Or - wait, no. Cher! Cher back when she was singing with Sonny, when she looked like a wee bit of a Goth. She was really, really beautiful.’