David Longshaw - A Thrilling Imagination
David Longshaw trained at St Martins and the RCA and has worked for such fashion luminaries as Alberta Ferretti and Max Mara. As well as forging something of a special relationship with flagship fashion magazine Vogue, who named him one of their Designers To Watch, his was also one of six businesses to win the BFC / ELLE Talent Launch Pad 2010. However, Longshaw is much more than just an exciting design talent, as he has a feel for illustration, and a thrilling imagination, that has taken his label from a promising brand, to a creation of real personality.
The Glass Pineapple spoke to David to find out why he makes so many dresses and why a mouse is his mouthpiece...
What kind of woman wears David Longshaw? Who are you designing for?
It’s quite a mixture. Some really get into the creativity, the ideas behind the collection - because I use my own illustrations for all the prints. Some just like it for the actual aesthetic. And some like to get into the different layers of the stories and the different characters. With the scarves, that’s a real mixture, because anyone, any shape, any age, can wear a scarf - and that’s why I do things like that.
What are your ambitions for the David Longshaw ‘look’?
It’s important to create brand identity and the aesthetic that goes through that but then throw a few extras into the mix to keep you on your toes and to keep people guessing. I’d like to carry on developing my aesthetic and then grow the range into other products, whether it’s cushions or mobile phone cases.
Why are you so drawn to the dress silhouette? You don’t seem to make much apart from them.
I do normally do jackets and coats as well. Sometimes I’ll show them, sometimes literally they’ll be just images for buyers to go through. And sometimes in stores, there’ll actually be things that are less catwalk-y. Generally though, I tend to find that it’s dresses,skirts and tops that are the best received. And just in terms of the aesthetic, because I’m not doing a massive collection like Chanel, it’s quite a tight aesthetic.
If people are going to buy a pair of designer trousers they’re going to go somewhere where they feel safe, like Chanel or Donna Karan or Max Mara. When it comes to dresses, tops and skirts, people tend to be a bit more adventurous.
What do you think it takes to make a name for yourself in a competitive, cutting-edge fashion market like London?
I think you have to have a unique selling point because there are a lot of designers - the big brands - who have large amounts of money to throw at things. So with those brands, even if editors or buyers aren’t particularly loving the collection, they’re still going to buy it and put it into the magazines because they’re one of the advertisers. With younger brands you don’t really have that luxury.
What would you consider your USP to be?
I think it’s the combination of the illustrations and the storytelling that I bring to the collection, and also the patterns. Some designers are very print-heavy and won’t necessarily know much about garment construction, but I studied womenswear rather than print. Some of my garments look super simple, but there’s a bit more detail and a more interesting cut than you’d get with a conventional print collection.
How has winning the inaugural BFC/Elle award affected your business?
Initially, it helped to introduce me to certain stores and to get a certain amount of press. Longer term, it’s good to have that extra thing on your CV to help make you stand out, and people will at least have a look at what you’re doing.
Tell us about your experience working at Alberta Ferretti.
It was really interesting. I literally went the day after graduating to Alberta Ferretti. I was offered the job before I’d even designed my final collection at the RCA. I graduated on the Friday, moved to Italy on the Saturday and started on Monday.
Alberta Ferretti has got her own manufacturer based where her design team are - so you’re working above the factory and dealing with completely different budgets and scales of everything. It was nice to have that as my first proper job.
What were the most important things you learned there?
At college you just think of producing a quite small collection of six to eight outfits, and it’s just pure vision, not selling. When you’re working for yourself, you have to think of the vision for the magazine but then also the piece that can be easily worn with something else. It’s about getting a balance of statement pieces for special events and various easier pieces that can mix into a wardrobe.
Did you take anything stylistic or aesthetic from working at Alberta Ferretti and Max Mara?
It’s hard to say, in a way. I think I probably did, looking at what I did in college and looking at what I do now. It was probably more sub-consciously.
What was it like putting together your first own collection?
Exciting and a bit nerve-wracking as well. When you’re designing for someone else, you’re answering to someone. At Alberta Ferretti you’re trying to produce clothes that please her, and she’s the one who’s worrying more about what the rest of the world thinks. Whereas when you’re doing your own label you don’t have that one person you’re answerable to.
How would you describe your creative process? How do your designing, illustrating and writing work together?
I like to get them all to merge, so I try to have everything I do generally feeding into everything else. There’s normally some sort of story behind each season, so I’ll start thinking of the girl for the season, and what her story is. While I’m thinking of the story, I’ll start thinking, ‘Where would she be living, or what environment would she be in, and what sort of colours are there, what sort of textures are there.’ And from there I’ll start to get ideas for prints and silhouettes. It carries on like that the whole way through, and I carry on developing all the different sides of it right through the collection, really, until everything’s been finished off.
'Painting over Harry' by David Longshaw
You’re lauded for your creative storytelling abilities. What kind of stories are you interested in telling?
I really like a mixture. For SS13 I made this little animation called 'Eva and Doug Go on holiday.’ That was about a girl called Eva who had a little bear who was quite depressed - I painted him blue and made him look quite slumped. The idea was that she takes him on holiday to try to cheer him up. From there I was getting ideas like, where does she go on holiday? Does she go to the beach? Does Doug have his own deck chair? From those ideas I started thinking about deck chair fabric, and I actually used a few vintage deck chair fabrics in the collection to make up various elements of garments. I also took some of the inspiration from their colours, and used imagery you’d see. They fly away on holiday, so I had little planes as part of the print, there were sand castles because at some point Doug makes a sand castle. It was all mixed up, really.
I also made Eva a little dress for the animation, and I scanned the dress and used the scanning of the dress as one of the prints that I then made into a real dress. On top of the scanning I also made up some of my illustrations over it.
You seem quite drawn to animals in your illustrations - why is that?
I’m not too sure, because I don’t have any actual pets myself. I had a rabbit when I was little. I just find them quite interesting to draw. And you can express quite a lot of emotion through them. I tend to think in terms of things to create - like a print or a silhouette - and sometimes people are quite drawn to wearing different animals. I find that quite a nice way of expressing a new character, and you can be more tongue-in-cheek with them as well.
Tell us about the lovely Maude. How did she come to be? What role does she (and Maudezine) play for you and the DL brand?
I created her while I was at St Martin’s. I wrote a story for my final collection there and Maude was one of the bit-part characters in the collection. Richard James of Savile Row had given me all sorts of fabrics - I’d done a work experience there - and I thought it’d be quite fun to make some of the characters to go in the models’ hair, since I’d used them to decorate the garments as well. So I had Maude climbing in the hair of one of the models as she went down the catwalk at the press show. And then from there, I’ve used her in different ways in different projects.
I like to use her a bit like a mouthpiece, but sometimes I just like to have her saying things I find amusing. It’s not even things I agree with necessarily. I have a Twitter account, and will tweet something which I’ll then retweet. The Tumblr for my account is actually Maudezine, so she’ll start off with, ‘Here’s something that David Longshaw’s done’ or something else like an exhibition. It can be a more fun way of people getting into what I’m doing, but without feeling like I’m constantly pushing it down their throats. It’s a way of drawing people in, and another point of difference from other designers.
Tell us about your relationship with Vogue. What role does it play for you creatively and professionally?
I’ve been doing a comic strip for Italian Vogue. Vogue is a supporter of new designers, so they’d come around to see me at Somerset House during LFW. But also they’re a big fan of Fashion Scout who do LFW and PFW, and I exhibited in Paris with Fashion Scout. With Vogue I’d see them and talk them through my collection, and they’d often have a few images from my collection straight away online. And they’ve done various pieces on me, and in one of the pieces they used images of my illustrations. We just sort of ended up working out the comic strip that I do for them.
With UK Vogue, that happened because they were the first ones to actually write about me doing my own label, after I’d come back from Italy. They wrote about me and used images of my collections and illustrations, as well as various previews of my collections, using my illustration. From that, they asked me to do a Christmas or birthday card for them, and we ended up discussing doing other things, little projects.
Tell us about something or someone that inspires you - another designer, an artist, a person, a fashion piece, etc.
I really like the work of Paula Rego the artist. She’s figurative, her work deals predominantly with female characters, and there’s often an element of storytelling in them. She’s done a quite interesting series inspired by Jane Eyre and the pieces were exhibited at the Bronte parsonage. The women she draws are almost a bit masculine, not in a fashion androgyny way, but more in a solid way. There’s often a bit of melancholy with her.
I also like Ron Mueck, who is a sculptor. He used to work for the Jim Henson workshop creating characters for them. He makes these super-realistic sculptures where every single little hair is there. They look eerily realistic. But he also plays with scale, so they’re never a normal human scale.
Words by Emily Lauffer. Intro and edits by GP.