The well-connected and fast-rising designer Katie Eary shares her fashion secrets, ambitious plans, Kanye, Kula Shaker and a plate of chips with Martin Copland-Gray
It’s a Monday night and for a change I’m not collapsed on the sofa nursing a post work cup of Earl Grey wondering just how it was that the weekend had seemed to vanish right before me. One minute it was Friday night and then…bam…like Arsenal’s title prospects it had disappeared.
Instead I’m sat in a small but cosy eatery somewhere deep in the heart of East London opposite a young lady who is one of the Fashion World’s brightest young things. After a last minute change of plans the mug of tea has been sacrificed for something more substantial and a dash by train has been made to the location of choice.
The eatery in question is a chip shop on Broadway Market and the young lady who right now is tucking into a sizeable portion of chips and pickled gherkin is Katie Eary, friend to Kanye West and the go to designer for such Pop luminaries as Rhianna & Rita Ora. Quite frankly it doesn’t get much more hipster than this.
Setting aside my own portion of chips and a pickled egg (don’t judge me I’m from the Midlands!) I dive straight in…
Louder Than War: So how long have you been showing your collections?
Katie Eary: Six years now. My first one was back in 2008, it was mental but it was an installation so err… weird. I remember a load of my friends came from Stevenage and people were going “Can I take your picture?” My friends were taking the piss out of me because I didn’t know how to act or what to do. It was like a totally different world.
Does it still feel like that now or have you got used to it?
Sometimes. A lot of the time when I go to parties I think what the hell am I doing here and sometimes it’s a bit shit cause you go alone, you don’t go with your friends, you don’t enjoy it with your friends. You know it’s full of amazing people that they love but it’s just you. You can’t go and talk to them because you don’t know who they are and so you just go and relay that story to someone, your friend. It’s a really weird industry.
Given where you are now following your recent collaboration with Savile Row icon Richard Anderson & the support of Kanye West is that what you envisaged when you started?
Never in a million years! It’s really weird. All of it just happened so naturally, which I never asked for. I thought it’ll happen organically so I just went with it and even the Kanye thing. I didn’t really listen to him or paid attention to it. My best friend is obsessed with him so he was the one that broke it to me when I got an email how big that actually was. I didn’t know. He was a musician, why would he be interested in what I was up to? I didn’t realise he was on his design mission. It’s only become really apparent to a lot of people in the last year and a half whereas actually Kanye has been on that mission for 5 years.
Anyway, even that’s an organic thing. So it sounds mental you know…Kanye West! But when he contacted me he wasn’t who he is now. Yes he was really famous but now he’s like, I don’t know, a whole different level. So it’s been an organic thing. Do you understand? We move along at the same time together. It doesn’t feel like that massive a deal.
What design influences do you have?
Always books! Always! Whenever I get stuck I just read or re-read yet another Irvine Welsh book. I love Irvine Welsh!
Didn’t one of his books inspire one of the recent collections?
I’ve based three collections on his books out of twelve that I’ve done. So, Filth was the last one. The one before that was Marabou Stork Nightmares. But I called that Marabou Stork Nightmare 2 because I’d already used that book four years before when I had no money. So I was like, imagine if I could do it now when I can actually afford to do what I want to do and I hope to do that with a couple of other shows in the future. Like the old ones I did when I really struggled and it was all handmade, but brilliant. Like there’s one based on William Burroughs Naked Lunch. That was when I first started and that broke a whole new meaning back then.
I was living in Hackney Wick and I couldn’t even afford the rent. It was only £250 a month and I’d be paying that rent once every three months because maybe I’d got a commission to make a pair of trousers for £800. I remember thinking £50 in Tesco was like being a king! King of the world! And that was only five and a half years ago.
So always books and realness. I love really sad things and I don’t know why. Because fashion is a very privileged world and at the same time, I don’t know, maybe I’m quite passive/aggressive wanting to remind people that reality is always there. That’s why I always go for quite gritty things.
Given the inspiration of Welsh & Burroughs have you ever considered any Jack Kerouac works?
No, I’ve never even tried a Jack Kerouac but I should. Hunter S Thompson, anything that’s drug related I love..ha ha. I don’t know why. There’s something you get from a book that’s all your own. It’s their book but you’re imagining that vision and no-one else can tell you what that looks like. Unless you watch a film and it dictates when you are reading it who that character is. Whereas before that it’s 100% your own.
Do you watch many films for inspiration?
I love British gangster films. Lock Stock for example, Gangster No.1, Sexy Beast. Anything to do with the 80s when Cocaine was massive and it comes in and destroys everything. When guns come into the scene you know how culture changes and that’s what happens in Goodfellas. They’re living the good life and all of a sudden when Cocaine comes on the scene it all goes to shit.
I love art as well. Ralph Steadman for obvious reasons. Anything YBA (Young British Artists) I’m absolutely obsessed with because when I was 17 or 18 I first found out about the Sensation Exhibition with Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst and all those guys. At school I didn’t want to be a fashion designer I wanted to be an artist. I remember seeing that and thinking oh my god, what can I do now? Because anything I did, it would be an add on of that. YBA was such a movement. Just like when cubism hit. For me that is a stand out moment. So I thought I don’t want to add on to that I want to make my own and with menswear I can give it a go
Oh yeah, again I’m a total 90s freak! I’ve been listening to Kula Shaker all day (laughs). All sorts – Blur, Suede, you know I love the 90s. Have you watched…I’m going to sound like I just love TV shows. I don’t watch TV I catch up on I-Player. I can’t sleep unless I watch something. My Mad Fat Diary – I watch it during the day sometimes when I’m working just for the soundtrack. It’s got everything on it – Stone Roses, Dodgy…it’s so good.
I’ve loved Hip Hop for about two years during the time of working with Kanye because I listen to it and I loved watching them, how they orchestrate music. It’s amazing how they all work together. Because it was him as well it was really Arthouse. He’d have amazing and beautiful instrumentals that he’d rap over. It was so fascinating, a whole new world. But I always slip back into 90s mode…ha ha. So I’m back there at the moment.
When you are planning a show do you go through a list of 90s music or is it a particular song that sets you off?
Unfortunately, I wish it could be like that. A lot of people think when designers are designing they’re thinking about it. But it’s so busy you don’t have time to think what’s on the radio. You just put on Radio 1 until you’re sick to death of their voices and then we’ll put Absolute 90s on or Magic FM or something. Back in the day when I used to have lots of interns I used to say put some music on, you’re younger than me so you know what the cool stuff is! Whereas now it’s just me and another girl and we’re both so rushed off our feet. So it’s Radio 1 or I dunno.
How did the whole Kayne West thing happen?
He just emailed me and just said that he liked my work and that he’d love to meet me. I just thought it was my friend. I thought wow my friend has gone to quite long lengths here, to make up an email address, to email me and pretend to be someone else. So I actually sent quite a sarcastic reply because I thought why would someone like that be interested in someone like me? I didn’t know he was interested in art. I didn’t follow Hip Hop. So he said he was in Japan and I said Oh yeah well if you see my work then fly me out there and I’ll show you. I would NEVER say that to anybody but I just said it because I thought it was my friend and then I got a reply saying, like his love for McQueen, it was in such detail that I quickly realised that my friend who never know anything like that and I remember the colour draining from my face and thinking how do I back track from this because he’s going to think I’m a horrible person? It was so awful. I was devastated.
So I replied a really nice one as if I was someone completely different and then a month later he just called me and said Hey I’m in London and I was like Oh my God! Ha ha! He said I can be there in five minutes! I think we were having a house party and I was like clean up quick! He stayed for hours and showed me all these music videos he’d directed and all sorts. He was really nice and then every couple of months I’d hear from him. I was quite frustrated with how installations and catwalk shows had been going and then he called and I said I hope you’re ringing to give me a job and he said yeah I am actually and I said thank fuck for that it took you long enough! And that’s how it happened.
Do you think there are still boundaries to be broken down for a female fashion designer?
Yeah, I think there clearly is because that question is still being asked. I get loads of questions like why menswear, why this, why that and I can’t put my finger on it but there’s clearly something not right if those questions are being asked. Why is it such a taboo? It’s really strange. I meet a lot of men in the industry and I do think there are a lot of smarmy, sleazy men involved in it but I’m sure a lot of men go out and find women like that so who knows.
I haven’t noticed many female versions of Philip Green or Harold Tillman. It seems to be all these big fish men. Where are women in this same position? But I think that’s an older generation thing.
Do you think it can change?
Yeah, I was talking to a friend the other day. You know how women were literally worthless only two hundred years ago? Two hundred years is not a long time at all. Imagine if it reversed.
Do you think there’s something comparable to the casting couch in the fashion industry?
Yeah, I do feel the big bosses are usually men. But you know I really, really love Natalie Massenet (founder of Net-A-Porter), I think she’s a legend! I think she’s so cool. Just because she’s so successful and she’s gorgeous and she’s really nice. That’s something you don’t have as I think women can be a bit mean as well as men. She’s like an idol for me.
One of the most recent collections (AW14) is called Bi-Polar. Can you tell us more about that?
I looked at Filth and Bruce Robertson was clearly unwell so I wanted to compare his character to Mickey Mouse. Because in the book he’s a policeman, in that uniform which is trusted and like Mickey Mouse is a symbol of angelic…whatever, but actually Mickey Mouse has got a really dark history. As we all know the racism and really dark stuff. So Bruce is a raving coke head, abuses kids and is so, so dark. Then there’s one of the first Mickey Mouse cartoons, it was an outrage, where Mickey twisted up two animals and it made one. Now that’s like a sin, playing god. So I quite liked the idea of twisting Bruce and Mickey and making this super, evil character. So basically taking something that’s super, super innocent and then just switch (clicks fingers) and that’s where the Bi-Polar, that’s where it all came from.
Is that where the use of straight jackets in the collection came from?
Yeah, I just wanted to do something that was really dark. It’s really nasty. I just wanted to show something really sinister. To design something that’s bondage, 70s, just something that really sticks out, that you won’t easily forget.
Your most recent collaboration for London Men’s Collection 2014 was with the renowned Savile Row tailor Richard Anderson, what was that like?
It was meticulous and I loved it. Richard used to work with my stylist Way Perry and he suggested that I work with Richard on something. I said I’d quite like to do tailoring because when I was at RCA (Royal College of Art) I loved it. I loved the intricacy but to do tailoring you really have to go for it. If a couple of things go wrong that’s it. So working with Richard again you know, when you get the model in and do the fittings that’s how much I loved it.
Your shows are very colourful. Where does that love of colour come from?
I don’t know. I think it’s because people don’t use it then that makes me want to use it even more. A lot of art that I love is in your face – you either love it or hate it. It gives you a feeling. I’d rather someone feel absolute hatred than regard it as a failure. If people hate it then at least I’ve got to them in some way…ha ha ha.
So where do you go from here? New collections?
Yeah, New Season. I’ve just started working on new prints but I’m not sure at the moment. It just takes a bit of time. I was only saying the other day I’ve never been this busy in March. Because usually for me March is time out. But it’s obviously not happening this year..ha ha!
Are there any particular inspirations for Spring/Summer 2015?
I’m not entirely sure yet but I’m getting some stuff together. I’m going to go back to Stevenage and spend a week at home and that usually helps and I come up with something whilst I’m sitting there. Perhaps something about daytime TV and being surrounded by cats!! Ha ha!!
And there we left it, but not before discussing which tunes are currently on the Eary playlist. They are:
- The Horrors – Still Life
- Sulk – Back in Bloom
- Toy – Lose My Way
- Pulp – Underwear
- Kula Shaker – Hey Dude
Just a few weeks before the interview took place I was walking past Somerset House during London Fashion Week. The place was thronging with fashionistas having their photographs taken for blogs, articles and such like. I couldn’t help but notice the current uniform of said fashionistas which seems to be thus – black clompy shoes or boots, black skinny jeans (showing just a hint of flesh at the ankle), black boyfriend shirt (are you sensing the theme yet?), black shapeless Donkey Jacket and topped off with black shades and a black Fedora. I stood there for a moment, shook my head in dismay and then like the good social media type that I am, went on the Twitter to air my disappointment at this rather limited style spectrum.
Now let me tell you something, I may spend my days in a suit, working for one of the top tailors on Savile Row but when the sun shines on a day off and I wish to make a fashion statement then you’ll find me swigging a single estate double espresso in some hipster coffee shop in downtown Shoreditch rocking my Katie Eary leopard print T shirt. Because folks, life is not for living in Black & White it’s all about embracing the dark side in a riot of colour and in the words of Miss Eary saying yes, YES!
Katie Eary’s Latest Collection can be viewed at – www.katieeary.co.uk.
Interview and article by Martin Copland-Gray, find his Louder Than War archive here.