FilepMotwary: How difficult it was for you to establish yourself individually – away from the talents your parents were known for – as someone who was determined to follow her destiny as a fashion designer? You were very brave!
StellaMcCartney: Some of my biggest memories as a four- or five-year-old were of sitting in my parents’ wardrobe, and what was fascinating was I realized my mum and dad shared it. There was this absolute androgyny. Half the things I assumed were mum’s, dad was actually wearing as well. They would swap. I’ve since worn a flowery shirt out of the archive, and been like, ‘Oh look at this blouse of my mum’s, it’s so cool!’ And then we’d find a photo of my dad wearing it. It’s so modern; this was years ago, but today it’s a cutting-edge conversation to have and one of the reasons I was so keen to launch our ‘Shared’ genderless line which is now in its second season. So this upbringing and being around clothes from a very young age was a huge influence on me becoming a fashion designer and has heavily inspired how I work today… but I always knew I would have to start my own brand because I knew I wanted to have full creative control that was aligned with my beliefs rather than having to do certain things against what I stand for. I am so lucky thay I had a lot of support from my family who ultimately gave me the confidence to go out there and do it alone and make my own name for myself.
FM: Today, 20 years later, how would you describe your identity as a designer?
SMC: Since the beginning and still to this day, my collections have always been an effortless dichotomy of feminine and masculine energy, very much inspired by my parents’ shared wardrobe growing up and also my training on Savile Row where I first learnt the technicalities such as cutting patterns for a tailored jacket and learning how to set a steam edit. The skills I learnt during those incredible 3 years were invaluable, and will forever be part of the Stella McCartney DNA which is why I will always have some element of tailoring within a collection.
In 2010 we launched what is now our iconic Falabella style which has gone on to be a consistent best seller for the brand, still to this day. The Falabella is probably one of the products we are most identified for, and for our Autumn 21 collection we brought it back as a new Maxi style which is super cool, and looks amazing in the lookbook. We figured out that we have saved 400,000 cows just from the sales of our Falabella alone since we launched in 2010 which is just an incredible thought.
FM: Ms. McCartney, is it necessary to take risks when making fashion? What was the biggest risk you ever took?
SMC: I started Stella McCartney taking a huge risk, deciding to create a brand that would never use leather, feathers, furs and skins back when this approach was completely unheard of. At the time I was told over and over I would never have a successful luxury fashion business if I didn’t sell leather handbags but that didn’t stop me. I always told myself that I would stick to my beliefs no matter what people would say, and it’s sticking to those beliefs all those years ago that has got me to where I am today.
In terms of that journey, I had to work on changing the mindset of an industry that is inherently conventional, predominantly working with the same 10 fabrics that have been used for the past 200 years, but this challenge is one of the things that really drives me and has opened many doors for exploring innovation and cutting edge technology.
Another risk I was determined to take was to not create these huge collections each season that you see many brands producing. Believe it or not, you can have healthy revenues from creating less, and there’s plenty of business models in the fashion industry that have really one product that sells over and over which is about timeless design and incredible high quality of manufacture.
At Stella McCartney we have a very conscious way of doing business and have pledged to reduce what we produce, focusing on repurposing what we already have and looking at other circular business models.
FM: You were once described as a ‘consistent and vocal’ supporter of animal rights”. Your campaign for AW is inspired by animals. Please tell us more about the concept. What story did you want to tell?
SMC: I have been an animal rights supporter for as long as I can remember, and as a brand we have been leather, feather fun and skin free since day one, so for 20 years now. For our Autumn campaign I wanted to celebrate this commitment, and loved the idea of seeing animals rewilding London, living freely and taking their place peacefully and seamlessness amongst human life, communicating the message of ‘animals as equals’, all whilst wearing the new collection.
While this campaign is light-hearted, I wanted to address a serious issue: ending the use of fur. Whether it is being sold in the United Kingdom when I am based, or farmed globally, barbarism knows no borders and this effort is key to my life’s mission of bringing a conscience to the fashion industry, therefore we partnered with Humane Society International, supporting their campaign petitions to end the cruel fur trade globally. Humane Society International is an organisation whose work I truly admire and have long supported, so I’m honored to help raise awarness of their important campaign once again.
FM: What was the starting point of the FW21 collection, what was your moodboard about?
SMC: We started designing this collection mid-lockdown so to counteract the strong sense of uncertainty, and overwhelming emotion that we were all feeling, we looked to the recently launched McCartney A to Z Manifesto which is a guiding alphabet of values that helps to keep us accountable for our actions and is a constant reminder to do better. We felt the letter ‘J for Joy’ would bring our customers that much needed optimism, so we set about creating a joyous collection that was full of bright colors, probably the most colorful collection we have done in a very long time. I took a lot of references from sportswear, in particular vintage ski-wear because I loved the bold use of color I was seeing mixed with the athletic functionality. From this we made block colored jackets made with 100% Econyl which is regenerated nylon made entirely from ocean and landfill waste. I was also inspired by these incredible 90s swimsuits I had in my archive, which we elaborated onto bodycon floral dresses made in a stretch organic cotton jersey. For this collection we also worked on an updated ‘STELLA’ logo which we added to oversized Teddy Mat coats and matching jacquard fleece sets that i can’t wait to see my customers in.
FM: More than 75% of your collection is made with sustainable materials.How do you choose the fabrics you are working with – under which criteria? And, how possible is to lead a life of awareness and stay fashionable?
SMC: Our Autumn collection is our most sustainable yet, which is a huge achievement for the house and something I couldn’t be more proud of. This kind of achievement takes a massive amount of commitment from the entire company, actually, because you start in the design and the sourcing of the yarns, but it’s also circular and connective and requires input from all departments. The entire company is living and breathing this philosophy, and everyone has the same goal.
Reaching this milestone hasn’t been a quick or easy journey journey, it takes a life long work for sure because you’re constantly challenging your sourcing. For example, I love working with sequins, but I quickly realised that 99% of sequins are made from petroleum, and so for us, it took time to find sustainable alternatives, and that left us with four types of sequins that we can use, so there’s certainly limitations to working in this way.
In terms of choosing the best new sustainable fabrics… With the help of the team we make a point to do our research as we only want to be a part of initiatives that are working to genuinely advance change. We don’t join things just to be a part of them. We are past the point where just talking is an acceptable action. The initiatives that we get behind are ones that are pushing to change the status quo, to really and radically shake things up and address the serious issues we are facing as humans and as an industry, and we are seeing a lot of hope. Now each season, we see a lot more recycled and sustainable materials come to market that we can use in more interesting ways so I really believe the industry has turned a corner and we are finally getting somewhere!
FM: Your commitment to sustainability is evident through-out all your collections and is part of your brand’s ethos to being a responsible and modern company. Do you think up-cycling could become the norm in buying clothing in the future?
SMC: Working with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation has been a lifechanging experience for us and really accelerated our work in this area. As it stands, less than 1% of textiles are being recycled back into new textiles which means majority of textiles are still coming from the extraction of new resources, and if we stay on the path we are on, clothing waste accumulated between today and 2025 will weigh as much as today’s global population.
The letter ‘R’ in the McCartney A to Z Manifesto represents ‘Repurpose’ showing we are truly committed as a house to repurposing and upcycling fabrics that are already is existence, whether that be our old fabrics or looking at ways to get hold of other peoples unused fabrics. I find the idea of repurposing and upcycling hugely exciting, it allows us to think creatively and create beautiful, limited edition pieces – such as the dress we made for our Spring 2021 A to Z Manifesto collection that used strips of fabric from 9 previous seasons that spanned the last 5 years! I truly believe this way of working is the future of fashion, and I do believe that in say 5 years more and more brands will be using recycled or regenerative fibres, scaling circular innovation and embracing new business models that will transform how clothes are made, sold and repurposed instead of going to landfill.
FM: Speaking of which, is isolation an impossibility for a designer?
SMC:I grew up with musicians, artists, authors and architects all around me, and I remember reaching out to a lot of these friends when we went into the first lockdown last year to ask how they were handling everything, and many friends responded telling me the isolation wasn’t something new for them as that’s often part of their artistic process, but for me, it was the first time I’d really felt this deep sense of isolation. In the fashion industry we work with a big team of people and we feed off each other, creatively. Everyday I’m constantly surrounded by my team in from all our different departments, so it took some getting used to. Looking back, I really cherished that brief moment of isolation last year because it’s the first time I’d really been on my own since I was in Paris I believe, back when it was a much smaller and very different industry to what it is now, and I found myself hugely inspired and this need to be creative, so that’s where I dreamt up the McCartney A to Z Manifesto which is now a huge part of our DNA as a house, and something that will continue to live on and evolve.
FM: Do we seek for a deeper meaning into clothing? Can fashion be didactic? If so, to what level?
SMC:Fashion can absolutely be didactic. Your choice of clothes is a reflection of who you are as a person, an extension of your personality. I know that many of my customers choose to shop at Stella McCartney because they have the same belief system as us. They don’t choose to eat meat so why should they carry a handbag made from animal skin?
FM: What does rebellion look like in fashion these days? What does it mean to you as a leading brand in the industry?
SMC: I have always thought of myself as a rebel because I was that eco weirdo 20 years ago when no one else was really thinking or acting in the same way. I have always been fighting, I think when you come at anything differently, you’re a fighter, you’re a rebel and also an activist.
Bringing it back to today, I think for me, the lockdown was a really powerful moment of pause that made me reignite that feeling of rebellion. It was the first time in my life that I had a couple of weeks where I wasn’t relentlessly working or taking a break that was planned. So I found myself reflecting upon why I do what I do and why do people need fashion when we’re having such turmoil in the world around us. I thought to myself just how incredibly important Stella McCartney is in todays world and how important it was for me to come back fighting, and it made me realize we just have so much more to give in terms of innovation and our sustainable goals.
FM: You are a wife and a mother as well as a fantastic ambassador of today’s womanhood. What are the responsibilities that matter to you the most and why?
SMC: Being a mother to my four beautiful children will always be my primary job but I am also a fashion designer with a global audience, so I feel a huge responsibility to continue innovating in a way that is kind to mother earth, and also use my platform in a way that continues to educate my audience, helping them make more informed decisions when it comes to consuming sustainably.
I have personally always made an effort to be kept informed and have made conscious and responsible decisions from day one. We have worked really hard in order to do what we do successfully and have overcome many challenges along the way. I think one of the things I’m most proud of is being able to show that you can create luxury fashion in a way that’s not hurting the environment, in a way that’s better for the planet, and it’s better for the animals yet not sacrificing anything, especially style in the process.
S for Stella: “Since I can remember myself, I have been actively supporting animal rights, both personally but also through my company, where we do not use fur, feathers, or leather”. Consistent to her values, Stella McCartney continues to serve high fashion in a sustainable way. Read her exclusive interview by Vogue Greece’s editor at large, Filep Motwary HERE
The story was published in Vogue Greece, issue September 2021.
Stella Nina McCartney OBE is an English fashion designer. She is the daughter of English singer-songwriter Sir Paul McCartney and his late wife, American photographer, musician, and animal rights activist Linda McCartney