Katy England Would Rather Just Get on With It
Although you’ve definitely seen her influence, you may not have heard of Katy England. She isn’t one for the street-style paps or the blogosphere—probably because she’s too busy styling the collections of such talents as Riccardo Tisci, Tom Ford, and Marios Schwab to stop and strike a pose. During her twenty-year-and-counting career, England has built close relationships with Dazed & Confused and AnOther magazines (she previously held the role of fashion director at the latter), and served as the creative director of Alexander McQueen’s studio from the mid-nineties to the mid-naughties. If you’re still not impressed, we should tell you that she’s styled covers and spreads with photographers such as Rankin, Nick Knight, and Willy Vanderperre, and currently works with one Kate Moss on her much-talked-about Topshop range.
England has just released Made in England, a short film, created in collaboration with Vauxhall, that focuses on the many facets of contemporary British youth culture. Here, the stylist talks to Style.com about her directorial debut, McQueen, and why fashion is for the young.
Your film is all about British youth culture, which has historically played a huge role in British fashion. Do you think that youth culture now is equally as influential as it was during the punk or New Romantic/club kid eras?
I don’t feel there’s the same energy. It’s just so different, but I’m not young anymore. Teenagers today think they’re doing the most exciting things, just like we did at our age. It’s all relative. But I think designers—all of us—get inspired by young people and what they’re doing. I certainly do. Real fashion, high fashion, is from the kids and for the kids. We can all look stylish, and we can all dress really well and be on trend, but real fashion, as I would call it, is for the young. I work with Riccardo Tisci on his menswear collections; he is so inspired by what young kids are doing worldwide. And I’m sure Marc Jacobs does as well. I think there’s a certain bunch of them that are really young at heart.
What do you think of the increasing focus being placed on London’s young talents?
I used to work for Alexander McQueen, and when he took his position at Givenchy many, many years ago, it was the beginning of designers being approached by big houses. We were just kids—new kids on the block at the house of Givenchy—and we didn’t know what to do, and we didn’t get much support. I think now it’s become much more familiar—it happens all the time. And it’s great, but [the young designers] all need to have support around them, whether it’s great stylists, great people helping them research, great technicians…. I think these jobs are huge, and they’re a lot of pressure for the kids. If they’re supported, they’ll be fine, because they have a huge amount of energy, but it’s so tough. I did it with Alexander McQueen, unsupported. And it was harsh—really harsh.
Do you think it’s a positive thing that big houses are tapping young talents, and that these important companies are investing in new designers?
Sometimes I think it’s too much too soon, and I think there’s a huge value in learning in a smaller way. I work with Marios Schwab, who has a very small company in London. He’s been doing it a long time, and he’s such a talent. Bit by bit, he keeps going, and I hope that it will happen for him in the end. And when it does, my god will he be set up and ready for it, because he’s learned his craft. You have to learn your craft. You can’t just catapult. You’re going to be better for it if you learn the hard way.
Would you prefer to have youth or wisdom?
I’d love the energy of youth. I love being around people with that energy. I really feed off of that. But it’s tough for kids now. When I started in the fashion industry, it was so openly creative and you were not restricted in any way. Kids don’t have that opportunity so much anymore, because fashion is much more of a business now. Even with photo shoots, the clients are so much more powerful, because of digital photography—they can watch the shoot taking place. That was never the case before, and they had to put trust in a team of creatives to book the right people and get on with it. It was literally so free, and you would hope that you captured it, and you’d be so excited to see the film in the end. The creative process is very spontaneous, and it needs to be spontaneous. I think that we’ve lost a lot of that spontaneity.
What is your role when working with designers like Riccardo Tisci or Tom Ford or Alexander McQueen?
Each designer situation is different. I personally love being involved in the beginning of the development stages and helping with research and working with the design teams. I’m there to give a second opinion to the designer, because they have to have someone to bounce their ideas off of. Riccardo is a real team player—he’s very strong, and he knows what he wants, but he listens to his team and he wants their opinion. They’re young kids, and he wants to know what’s going on. My role with him is to help him edit and move forward. But with McQueen, I was almost one of the design team. I was there every day of the week. In general, designers need an editor to come in, because often they’re so close to their collections that they can’t differentiate. Having an outside eye, I can come in really fresh and help them pull out the best of what they’re doing.
How does working with Kate Moss at Topshop compare to working with talents like Tom or Riccardo?
It’s a different market. We’re looking at the high street. But Kate and I are good friends. We have the same taste, and it’s quite a natural process. She’s definitely very hands-on, and she’s a great designer. She’s got great knowledge because she’s been in the industry for twenty years. She’s worked with the best designers and worn the best clothes, so she has a huge understanding of it—she’s good at fitting and understanding the body. And she’s got a really good commercial eye. She’ll take a piece out if she doesn’t fully believe in it. If she doesn’t want to wear it herself, it doesn’t go in.
Your film incorporates a wide range of labels, from American Apparel to Saint Laurent. Have you always felt it was important to mix high and low?
It’s something I’ve always done. The catwalk show is where the designer can present his vision. So, as a stylist, I believe my role is to show what they’ve done in another way, throughout the season, and that’s by who wears it and how it’s put together with other things. Just dropping it onto a model in exactly the way it was presented on the runway isn’t really styling. And that’s the way I put things together for myself. It’s really acceptable to wear your jeans from Topshop with your fantastic Saint Laurent jacket. That’s totally…that’s what we do now. It’s part of the way we dress, and it’s something I’ve always believed in.
With the rise of street style, a lot of stylists have stepped into celebrity roles. But you’ve stayed behind the scenes and kept your nose to the grindstone. Why?
It’s changed so much. When I started to do this job, it was just really a job to me, and all this promotion doesn’t sit very comfortably with me. I like getting on with it, really. Fashion is so widespread now, and twenty years ago it wasn’t. We just had a couple of magazines, and now it’s this digital age. Now everybody is hungry for this information, so I can see why everybody wants to read about it. It’s huge. But still, I’d rather just be getting on with it.