FASHION AND FURNITURE: Matthew Williamson spoke about furniture, fashion and his mother at a talk held at Liberty where he launched his bespoke 20-piece furniture collection with Nottingham-based sofa manufacturer Duresta.
Williamson, who noted that it’s been an interesting couple of years said he made the decision two years ago to see which aspects of his brand were working and what was not, which led him to switch his business plan into an online platform.
For him, it was a big decision as he opted to stop showing during London Fashion Week, stopped wholesaling to department stores and closed bricks-and-mortar stores. “It was actually a huge, big shift for us to take,” said Williamson. “So far, so good, we’re starting to see gratitude with that new platform that we have. It was kind of done with this whole intention to connect more with the customer and to reengage with the shopper. ‘Is this what she wants, when does she want it, how does she want it and did she use it before?’ To open the dialog with her, which I now have. We didn’t have that before.”
“We had to rely on the press to get the message out on who we were,” he added. “And if we were in that magazine that month or not, we had to rely on the buyer of the department stores, to buy the right clothes. ‘Did she buy the right things? Did she show the collection?’ So that’s really shifted now. The focus is now much more on the designer to be their own marketing, to be their own press person, largely through Instagram and other platforms. It’s been a big shift, and we’re still at the early stages of seeing how it will pan out.”
Williamson, who was born in the Seventies and raised in Manchester, spoke of his mother as one of his key style influences. “Not only did she encourage, and support and nurture,” said Williamson, “What she thought she saw in me — this ability to design and create — I was drawn to that side of things. I was so aware of her. Her way, the way she was and the way she connected with people. She has a really lovely aura and really draws people in. With very little money, she dressed herself in a certain way. I was so aware of the details that she would meticulously spend the night before to plan her outfit for the day and then the next day. It would be down to her nail polish and shoes and then she’d hang the outfit in the wardrobe. I’d sit down on the end of bed and go ‘Why would you wear that jacket with that skirt?’ My dad would scratch his head at the door and say ‘This is a bit weird.'”
“She was quite bold, she was not afraid of color,” he added. “To me, she was like a firefly. You were drawn to her. She was the brightest woman in the room — literally. So you can’t help but be seduced by that. She’d put bright patterned clothes on. I remember one time she got dressed for a garden party we were throwing and everyone arrived. The women were there in their grays and blacks and men were there with their wives. My mum didn’t appear until a good 20 minutes later and when she did, she was wearing a dress that she saved up weeks for to buy. It was the Seventies and she was in a plunging V-neck long jersey dress in brown tie-dye with red plastic patent cork wedges and red lipstick. When she walked in, there was this sort of moment. You could see the women were like, ‘B–ch’ and their husbands were just, like, gravitating toward her. I thought wow, that’s so powerful. But it’s only now in hindsight. I think I do what I do today because I recognized that she used what little she had to make herself feel better. She created this world for herself. She had such a positive energy around her, so I thought if I could only do a little bit of that.”
Williamson also recalled a time when he received European football cleats from his father one Christmas when he actually preferred his grandmother’s sewing machine — which he eventually received later on. When he did, he started making dresses for his girlfriends that he dated at the time. “They love their tartan shorts, and leopard-printed bikinis — I was very popular with the girls.” said Williamson.
Williamson, who launched the 20-piece range with Duresta at Liberty, spoke about his focus on lifestyle. “It’s such an important project for me,” said Williamson. “It’s lifestyle and furniture and all these different are a very natural extension of what I’ve done in the last 20 years. I’ve focused mainly on fashion, but I’ve always tinkered with lifestyle. I made rugs for The Rug Company, made rugs for Habitat, made bars of soap and candles back in the day. So I’ve always been concerned and interested in a 360-degree approach. I don’t think I’ve ever really been a hard-core fashion designer, I think I’m more lifestyle and I’m much more comfortable saying that now, and so, when Duresta came on board, it was such an easy tick for me because it’s such a fantastic brand. They have real history, passion and craftsmanship at their core, and I love that. I love seeing things that we made. I love seeing processes. I love seeing the process of the sketched, finished product like a chair and table. I thought fashion was bad enough, but it’s super complex. I think anyone could be amazed to see what’s inside that chair and the amount of stages and the amount of people it requires. My job is quite small compared to that.”
When comparing furniture design to clothing design, Williamson noted he is hands-on. “There is a similar thought process,” said Williamson. “It is a similar sort of logic to the design process, but I’m no expert in furniture making, I’m no more expert than I am in making cars or trainers or whatever, but that doesn’t make me scared, I still want do it. I still have my desire to do it. I’m going to bring my expertise which I think is about a certain essence, a certain look, a color, a pattern, a texture, and I’m going to rely on Duresta to combine — it’s very 50-50. They’ve got their skill set and I’ve got mine, and if we can both merge them together, that’s how it works.”
The designer noted an unglamorous part of his job is the “tug between creativity and commerce.” “It just exists,” said Williamson. “It’s making things that I want to make, and then hoping that it can sustain a business, the staff and the cost to run a business. The fact that what you do creatively has to work really, and I’ve become better at it, and I think now I have the online operation, I get feedback from many customers and I read it, learn from it and I educate myself.”
Williamson noted that the fashion industry is evolving. “Right now, it’s in a real shift,” said Williamson. “I think everything is a bit up in the air right now. There was a roundtable meeting the last couple of days, with the BFC, and it was very interesting who they invited to that meeting, who they considered to be pioneers of this new movement into this new sort of social, online world, and that was myself, and Giles Deacon, and Christopher Bailey from Burberry, and a couple of others, who were all kind of starting to love the trend of fashion shows. For years it has been fashion show, and then six months when the clothes land in store. But now of course everyone is seeing the show on the day, so to wait six months again…But this phrase that’s being handed about, ‘buy-now-wear-now’ that’s kind of the new thing.”