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Primed For The Limelight

<CS:BOLD>Matthew Williamson is leaving England's shores for New York this season with one thought in mind: building his business. The designer, a graduate of Central St. Martin's College of Art and Design, has shown his collection here for the past...

Matthew Williamson is leaving England’s shores for New York this season with one thought in mind: building his business. The designer, a graduate of Central St. Martin’s College of Art and Design, has shown his collection here for the past four years, and now he’s ready to move on.

“I want to increase my profile in the U.S.,” said Williamson during an interview at his studio north of London’s Soho neighborhood, where the window frames are painted electric pink and purple saris hang in place of curtains. “I’m not so new anymore here, I want to show to a wider audience, and I’d love to be picked up by a department store in the States.”

Williamson has eight accounts in the U.S., including Henri Bendel, Scoop and Wilkes Bashford.

The designer said he hopes to attract buyers and media who wouldn’t necessarily come to London’s fashion week. “I was having these thoughts even before Sept. 11, but the issue became even more relevant after what happened.”

Last season, London was perhaps the worst hit of all the European fashion capitals. Most U.S. buyers and much of the media failed to attend the shows, which were held about a week after the terrorist attacks in New York.

The move makes sense for Williamson. While his biggest market is still the U.K., sales in the U.S. now generate about one-third of turnover, which was approximately $2.4 million last year. According to Williamson’s business partner, Joseph Velosa, the company now has the infrastructure to quadruple the business without much further investment.

The collection this season is feminine, sexy and — true to Williamson form — colorful. “There are Indian influences, street inspirations and more casual pieces for day,” said Williamson, pulling out some samples from the racks in the studio. Looks include corduroy trenches and skirts, silk chiffon blouses hand-beaded in Bombay and hand-dyed to Williamson’s specifications.

Other sweaters and skirts are inspired by colorfully striped Guatemalan blankets. For those who can’t wear Williamson’s signature eye-searing pinks and turquoises, there is also a series of black crepe separates.

Williamson is also putting the finishing touches on four showpiece dresses that won’t go into production — although they just might appear on a red carpet. The inspiration behind the dresses is the changing patterns of a kaleidoscope: Williamson is hand-stitching and pleating fabric from old saris and decorating the dresses with pins, jewels and ribbons.

“I’m a bit of a magpie, really, and I’ve brought out all my trinkets,” said Williamson. “I think it’s a time when clothes have to be beautiful, feminine and sexy. It’s not the time to hold back, but to go even farther in the direction of intricate, ornate pieces.”