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The Jonathan Saunders Interview

- Cressida Meale

Jonathan Saunders SS13 Catwalk
Jonathan Saunders at his SS13 show

Jonathan Saunders is the kind of man you want to have on your team. One of those people that ticks all the right boxes. Talented? Yes. Nice? Of course. A bit wonderful? Absolutely. We've been fans of Mr Saunders for quite some time now, so it was a thrill, honour and joy to work together on the live-streaming of his critically acclaimed Spring Summer 2013 show earlier this year.

And you know what? We just couldn't get enough. So much so, in fact, that we are delighted to be able to present to you in the merest of days, four exclusive to Motilo Resort '13 pieces for your purchasing pleasure. We had a little chat with Jonathan about why people love him so much, and how he feels like a fraud...

What was the most challenging collaboration you've ever worked on?
I would say that it was Pollini. I learnt so much from the experience; it was a really big challenge because I was going into a ready-to-wear brand and had to try to think of a completely new direction for it. It was quite a lot of responsibility.

Jonathan Saunders and Cara Delevingne at the British Fashion Awards 2012
Jonathan Saunders and Cara Delevingne at the British Fashion Awards 2012

What made you move back to London Fashion Week after a two year break?
Firstly the BFC asked me to come back for their 20th Anniversary. I was in two minds because we have an amazing market in America… But I decided to come back. It’s just great to be here in London, the response for the collection, how I feel as a designer made a massive difference. London is an inspiring place to work from and it seemed relevant to show here.

You've had a huge amount of experience at many prestigious labels. What was the greatest lesson you learned which helped you start your own brand?
I’ve learnt a lot from all the different brands that I’ve worked with, but what was astounding to me, especially earlier on, was that no matter how established the brand is and no matter how experienced the designers or the creative directors are, everybody has to put the work in and put the time in. It’s not just about having ideas but about making them happen.

What do you think it is about your brand that resonates with fashion editors, and that has caused it to be so critically acclaimed?
I’m not sure! I mean, I always see room for improvement with every collection. But I think the simplicity of the shapes has a point of difference that you can recognise. The collections are very separates driven and day wear focused; although the brand identity is about colour and pattern, separates are such a strong part of the collection, this allows the woman to wear the pieces in her own way.

Jonathan Saunders SS13
Jonathan Saunders SS13

What contemporaries do you admire, and which fashion house is your all time favourite?
I’m really proud to be part of a group of British designers who each have their own strong point of view. I think that what’s great about Christopher Kane, for example, he makes brave choices and has a very focused vision. I think that is really important within a fashion collection these days, especially because there are so many of them. I think Richard Nicoll has an amazing brand identity as well, his collections have as a sense of easiness, colour and a sporty femininity which people easily connect with. And Louise Gray, she is a designer who is very close to my heart, she came from the same educational background as I did and has a similar optimism within her collections. However, my all time favourite has to be Miuccia Prada. She has achieved a sense of wearability within her collections, she also has a strong knowledge of her culture and what’s going on within other fields of art, design and architecture. I think how that resonates through each of her collections is an inspiration.

Is there something tangible that has always drawn you towards colour and print?
I think I have just always loved making things – I started off in textiles and before that I was working in furniture; when I was at college I looked at Bauhaus and lots of design movements, and used those elements to create something interesting. I have also always been interested in surfaces and colours, and how they can be combined together to make something interesting and visually stimulating.

Jonathan Saunders AW04
Jonathan Saunders AW04

Was the recent progression into menswear a natural one? What are the key differences in designing for men and women, besides the obvious?
I love working on menswear. It was a personal decision because it was creatively something I wanted to do. You are designing categories within each collection and there is a much more subtle approach towards textile within the collection. Details are also really important and I had to look at these in a different way to womenswear. I think that for me it’s always about trying to push things and trying things out by learning a new way of doing things, and menswear has allowed me to do that. Menswear has always been in the back of my head, I did it in my first collection as well, and I think we are in a position now to explore it further – and that’s how it happened. Yes designing for men and women are very different but from a research point of view, I like to work on the projects together, because it’s about a person, as supposed to being about a man or a woman.

Do reviews, whether good or bad, affect how you approach the next season?
I think fashion is an unusual business - you are doing something creative and what you are passionate about it, but you also have to respect what other people think of it. At the end of the day, you are providing a service to your customer, they are much more important than I am, and so it’s a fine balance of looking at what people think of the collection and what I personally think. I am my own worst critique, the first thing you do after a collection is try to think how you can do it better, I think that’s the only thing that you can do really. The beauty of fashion is that there are so many different opinions out there, but it’s just about if you feel confident about what you are doing, and if that shows in the collection, irrespective of what the reviews are.

Jonathan Saunders with his contempories Richard Nicoll, Louise Gray, Henry Holland and Lulu Kennedy
Jonathan Saunders with his contempories Richard Nicoll, Louise Gray, Henry Holland and Lulu Kennedy

How do you feel when you wake up most mornings? Is your incredible success a motivator or a pressure?
I don’t see myself as having an incredible success, sometimes I feel a bit like a fraud! What strives me always is to want to make things better than before; it’s a combination of anxiety and excitement which is what we thrive on.

London has one of the most inclusive designer communities; do you see yourself as a key member of that movement? Are many of your friends in fashion?
Yes definitely, particularly in London or more so East London with the likes of Roksanda Ilincic, Christopher Kane, Louise Gray & Richard Nicoll - we have a really tight bond as we are all experiencing the same highs and lows each season.

You’ve previously mentioned that Scotland’s energy has proved greatly inspiring; does London influence you in a similar way? Or is there elsewhere in the world that does so?
I find London incredibly inspiring especially as it is such a progressive city. I have also recently taken inspiration from other cities including Miami, New York and over Christmas last year I was lucky enough to visit India which was particularly inspiring when it came to looking at embroidery and textural fabrics.

Duchess Of Cambridge wearing Jonathan Saunders pre-fall 2012
Duchess Of Cambridge wearing Jonathan Saunders pre-fall 2012

You often speak of your love of design as a whole, and have worked on numerous eclectic collaborations paying testament to that. Would you ever consider expanding into lifestyle sectors, such as interior décor and fragrance for example?
I want to make sure we have all the categories in the clothing lines done right before moving on, although a collaboration with Cutler and Gross on sunglasses has been a new thing for me.

Have you, and do you set yourself long-term goals? And if so, how many have been achieved thus far and what remains for the future?
I always want to grow and improve – I am ambitious and want the brand to grow in all areas, so much to do…

How would you describe your own fashion habits, from shopping to deciding what to wear? Do you have any personal style icons?
I’m a stereotypical designer – white tee shirt and black jeans are my staple – Sunspel, Acne and Churches shoes.

Your collections are such a celebrated continuation of colour, print and movement – would you ever make an LBD?
The customer wants something special – if it’s black, it has to have some surface textile decoration.


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