August 29 2014

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jonathan saunders fasts forward


The current velocity of Jonathan Saunders‘ career can best be measured in frequent-flier miles. In the last six months, the London-based designer has relocated his runway show to New York fashion week, taken up itinerant residence in Milan as the new creative director of Pollini, and jetted back and forth between Europe and the U.S. as he worked on his new collection for Target, which launched October 3. On a recent morning, however, the affable Scot was to be found in Paris, where he took a few minutes away from designer multitasking to talk to about explosive color, trend implosion, and globe-trotting on behalf of fashion.

These past months must have been rather dizzying for you. I’m sure you’re excited about the Jonathan Saunders for Target collection debuting in stores, but now that it has, are you also feeling a simple sense of relief that the project is off your plate?

I think that, for my generation of designers, there’s a certain acceptance of the fact that you have to be working on lots of projects all the time. Like, the job at Pollini, that’s an interesting opportunity on its own merits, but that work is also what enables me to keep my own line independent. And Target—I mean, I don’t want to say that it’s easy creating one of these collections, but the people at Target do work very hard to make the process fun. Enjoy yourself, they say. And they mean it.

Maybe you can elaborate on that. How does a “fast fashion” collection come to be?

“Fast” is the key word. I had my first meeting at Target at the end of last year and I gave them all my initial sketches in February. After that, it’s a back-and-forth process, you know. They make samples, I look at them, we discuss, they make alterations. There’s a whole team dedicated to these collaborations, they have incredible facilities at their fingertips, and the whole process just sort of goes. Or, I should add, that’s my perspective—the nice thing for me, I mean, aside from having my name on the clothes at about a thousand stores, is that I never had to deal with any of the back-end business. For the first time as a designer, I got to focus exclusively on the creative aspect of a collection. The project was really a joy, in that way.

I’m generally pretty ambivalent about these collaborations, but your Target collection is really good. Did you get the sense, working with the Target team, that they had developed certain guidelines about what works and what doesn’t?

They definitely had a perspective on that, but I came to the table with a pretty clear sense of what I wanted to do. And what I didn’t want to do, which was to create a dumbed-down, high street version of my own line in cheaper fabrics. I think a designer can learn a lot from an experience like this one, in terms of how to translate an aesthetic into a lower price point. Think simpler, think younger, maybe, but for me, the key was to approach this collection the same way I approach my own, starting with color.

Strong color is definitely a Jonathan Saunders signature. When you take on a job like your new one at Pollini, is your strategy to adapt that signature to a different muse?

I’m not a person who works with a muse in mind—and for that matter, I’ve never been a designer who sits around daydreaming about putting a lady into a fancy dress. That said, I know the woman who wears my clothes is a strong character who’s happy to wear a lot of color. Every season, I try to figure out a new way to make all that color modern and elegant. At Pollini, sure, it’s a different customer. But more generally, it’s just a totally different project—I mean, I’m relaunching a brand, and that brand is much less niche than Jonathan Saunders. It encompasses everything from coats and dresses to bags and shoes, and it has to include product at a wide range of prices. And then there are the stores, which I’d like to see embrace all that variety by being, I don’t know, eccentric in a way. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I keep myself sane by treating Pollini as its own thing. Pollini also brings along a lot of tradition—that’s a word we bandy about quite a bit.

Between working with Target and working at Pollini, you must be socking away some ideas about ways you could expand your own brand.

I’m certainly learning a lot, but for the moment, I’m just too busy to sit around hatching plans, like, OK, next step for Jonathan Saunders is a boutique, or an accessory collection, or a diffusion range. If I am getting up into my head, it’s more like—my time is precious, so how do I make myself as creatively satisfied as possible?

So? How do you make yourself creatively satisfied?

Hmm…trying things. Trying fabrics. Trying colors together. I mean, the magical thing about fashion is its ability to conjure a mood, an emotion. I like to problem-solve as I go, and it’s always amazing to me, how that work on the problems leads you to new energy each season. I’m never going to be a designer who says, this season is about X—because every season is about the same thing for me, which is my love of prints and textiles. But even when there’s no dramatic change from one collection to the next, the energy is different. Although, this season I definitely got dramatically fleshier. Higher hemlines. More leg.

Sorry, but you’ve wandered into a really annoying question. Do higher hemlines at Jonathan Saunders indicate a better economy come Spring?

Oh god. Maybe that hemline thing was true at some point, but these days, they’re up, they’re down, they’re up again too quickly to dictate anything, and certainly not the world economy. And anyway, it’s all happening at once. The whole concept of “trend” is imploding. The speed of fashion, it’s mind-boggling. I can’t help but feel that something’s got to give. Maybe the next trend is stay the same. Yves Saint Laurent did essentially the same collection for eight seasons in a row. I like that idea. I think, on some level, we could all use a break.

Photo: Courtesy of Target