The leading British fashion designer Amanda Wakeley, a favourite of Halle Berry, Queen Rania of Jordan and Scarlett Johansson talks about her life in fashion
'I started choosing my own clothes from the year dot'
The leading British fashion designer Amanda Wakeley, a favourite of Halle Berry, Queen Rania of Jordan and Scarlett Johansson, talks about her life and influences in fashion. When I was a child, I had a wonderful dressing-up box full of my grandmothers' cast-offs. They were quite glamorous grandmothers: one drove racing cars around Brooklands racing circuit and the other travelled a lot. As the only girl in our family, I spent my life in a world of my own, forever chopping up saris and other treasures I found in that box. My mother was very tolerant of me cutting everything up. I started making my own clothes when I was tall enough to reach the sewing machine, so I was probably eight or nine years old. I can't remember how many times I ran over my fingers with that sewing machine! It was the Seventies and I was always tie-dyeing sheets and creating things. I remember that I loved the physical craft of making garments and learning how to cut things.
My mum was always very stylish and wore lots of flares and platform shoes. It was quite a glamorous era and she wore a lot of clothes by Jaeger, which was very chic at the time. I started choosing my own clothes from the year dot. I absolutely refused to wear my raincoat because it had buttons and was horrible. I remember hiding it on numerous occasions and to this day I have a button phobia. When I was a teenager I shopped at Fiorucci and I was into vintage fashion. I also customised a lot of clothes. My first party dress was more of a party look: I wore skinny silk pants with a strapless drawstring tunic and a headband.
The first really extravagant thing I bought was a pair of tan suede zouave pants, when I was around 15. I must have spent my whole month's allowance on them. I thought they were the epitome of luxury. I also invested in a suede jacket with my first pay cheque, when I worked in a menswear shop in the school holidays. I spent some years in America in the Eighties and when I moved back to London I couldn't find that easy, luxurious, understated style that I'd been used to wearing in the States. So I started designing my own clothes and sold them to friends. My fashion label really evolved from there.
When I design, two strains run alongside each other. The first is the season's theme, such as Rajasthan, and the second is the question "What do you want, as a busy woman, in your wardrobe?" That question is always the reality check - it's the balance of making sure you include the core pieces and tick all those boxes. I look at vintage pieces for inspiration, rather than to copy - I'm more interested in evolving my collection. I find vintage pieces that influence parts of my collection, such as a shoulder line, a panel of beading or a gorgeous colour, and then I wear the modern interpretation.
Showing the spring/summer 2010 collection at London Fashion Week was especially significant for the brand as it was my first collection in 10 years where I was in complete control of my label. So it was a pretty momentous occasion for me. Nerve-racking. The collection has surpassed our expectations, especially in this difficult financial climate, and the figures are up 25 per cent on targeted sales. The UAE is our largest export market and it's very important for us. It's quite a dressed-up society and our evening wear excels there, especially the vibrant evening dresses and kaftans.
Next season's collection is influenced by India and the ease with which Indian men and women drape fabrics around their bodies, often held together with a belt and with a jacket just thrown over the top. There's a real sensuality and fluidity to the collection. I've gone back to the real essence of the brand, which really pleases me. It's an easy luxury. The shoes are designed in collaboration with Camilla Skovgaard.
Everything I wear is from the Amanda Wakeley collection. But I do buy jeans and also T-shirts from James Perse and American Vintage. I fuel my shoe habit at Christian Louboutin, Miu Miu and Azzedine Alaïa. I also buy boots from Miu Miu, which is where I bought my favourite pair of biker boots and also my most recent purchase, a pair of taupe suede over-the-knee boots. I've always loved Louis Vuitton luggage and Hermès Birkin bags. I have a white, tan and a black Birkin and the white one goes back to Hermès every winter to be refurbished. I also own a sand-coloured Hermès Lindy bag - it's big and squishy and not as obvious as a Birkin. I adore evening bags by Zagliani and the hand-stitched baby Fendi Selleria bags, which I have in both gold and silver burnished leather.
I often wear the diamond thong necklace from my jewellery collection. It's five inches of articulated diamond baguettes suspended from a leather strap. I designed it five years ago and wear it with everything. It has really stood the test of time. I'm often asked if I design for myself and the answer is "sometimes". I'd be mad not to as I'm a woman and I feel very in tune with my customers. I never tire of meeting them and I really love seeing women wearing my clothes.