In some ways, Matthew Williamson embodies that unique
London blend of glamour and grit.
For his first runway show in fall 1997, his new friend, Jade Jagger, offered to model for him. She called her pal Kate Moss, who quickly volunteered her services. Not long after, Helena Christensen and Diane Kruger came on board to model the 11 pieces that Williamson had lovingly embroidered with butterflies and peacock feathers.
Despite the impressive runway lineup, there was nowhere to sit. "We couldn't afford seats, and we thought nothing of it. Now, I can't believe we expected people to stand!" said the Manchester native from his slick new headquarters in a Georgian town house in Mayfair.
But Williamson also has defied other London stereotypes, including that of the utterly creative — but poor — spirit who wins rave press reviews but can't sustain a business, or the young buck whose fledgling business gets gobbled up by a big conglomerate.
In the 10 years he's spent designing his own label, famous for its flashes of fluorescent color, embroideries, beading and whimsy, Williamson and his business partner, Joseph Velosa, have blazed an alternative trail.
They've kept their headquarters in London, grown the business organically and recently partnered with Baugur, an Icelandic investment company specializing in retail, and TSM Capital, Marvin Traub's new investment vehicle.
Thanks to cash injections from Baugur, which holds a 26 percent stake in the Williamson business, and TSM, which holds a 22 percent stake, Williamson is in rapid-expansion mode.
He will open his second freestanding store on Manhattan's Upper East Side next spring and will launch his first full accessories business in February. A third store, in Los Angeles, will follow at the end of next year, with a Paris store after that.
The company's annual volume was 8.1 million pounds, or $16.2 million at current exchange, in 2006, and is expected to close this year with sales of 9.5 million pounds, or $19 million.
Williamson said his success so far is due to a really good marriage.
"If you were to caricature us, it would be me throwing pink chiffon in the air all day, and Joseph presiding over piles of money," said Williamson with a smile.
Hermès is launching a Laundromat pop-up shop in NYC - dubbed Hermèsmatic - where customers can bring their old scarves to be dip-dyed by an expert. Get all the details on WWD.com. #wwdnews (📷: @donstahl)