Margaret Howell has collaborated with iconic British designer Kenneth Grange on a simple yet striking grey shirt as part of the Margaret Howell Plus Range.
Kenneth Grange might not be an immediately recognisable name, but if you’ve ever travelled by London taxi (1996), Intercity train (1972) or used an Anglepoise lamp type 75, you’ve connected with his work – he has designed all three. Grange is also responsible for pens for Parker (1977), razors for Wilkinson Sword (1982) and cameras for Kodak (1970). Margaret Howell has been a fan of the industrial designer’s work for much of her life. It was therefore a natural fit for Howell to invite Grange to collaborate on her new annual project, Margaret Howell Plus, which will see respected creatives co-produce a shirt. Grange’s design for Howell is a chic, slate grey Egyptian cotton number, with minimal detailing and a uniquely designed pocket for pens. Each shirt is designed and hand-finished in Howell’s North London workroom by her specialised team. “It launders fantastically well,” a proud Grange says. We meet at the Margaret Howell headquarters to discuss the collaboration. Howell is quick to thank Grange before the interview for the DVD of Mad Men he and his wife April sent her.
How did you first become aware of Kenneth and his work?
M: I’d been aware of Kenneth Grange for a while. I grew up with interest in designers – people like Kenneth and Robin Day, David Mellor, Robert Welch. And we had odd things around the house. I’ve always been aware of Kenneth being one of our good, British designers and when Margaret Howell moved here to Wigmore Street in 2002, I was looking back at things that I wanted to promote alongside our clothing, because our clothing, it doesn’t really sit among the fashion designers or the more established brands – even though they’ve changed now – such as Burberry or Aquascutum. I wanted to put our clothes into a certain context, a British one, which I knew, they represented. We found the Ercol chair and the Anglepoise lamp and promoted those pieces in store. In a way that’s just how it is. I then met Kenneth at an RDI [Royal Designer for Industry] summer school.
Kenneth, were you immediately interested in working with Margaret after being introduced?
K: Certainly. It’s inevitable in all designers that I know that you’re nothing unless you have a good, ongoing working relationship with key partners. It becomes a personal matter – you may be a good designer with a good reputation but you don’t make such a mark in product field unless you collaborate. Margaret referred to the RDI, which we are both members of, and that’s a special club that you can easily meet through, often in situations that are very agreeable.
M: I find this with the people we work with making the clothes, the factories – it is so important one builds good relationships, paying regular visits… Even if it takes you a day and a half to get somewhere for just a few hours!
K: It’s immensely rewarding and often working together something emerges. I think it’s a disadvantage in some fields of design that your work forces you to practice more and more in isolation. That’s when it becomes design-art instead of design-product, as we have here.
M: One of the main parts of design is trying to overcome problems – you have to be working with a technician, coming together to find the best solution. That is design, I think. It’s also true that the more disciplined the brief, the more you have to ‘edit out’. That’s the other thing, the editing process of design…
K: It’s a characteristic of your clothes, I think, the authorship and the editing. It’s like literature to an extent.
M: When I look back to how I was when I first started, I think of fashion students and how they try to put everything into a garment as they’re so eager, that it ends up cluttered with detail. And you don’t want that, really.
Kenneth, you have been responsible for many pieces of iconic, purposeful design over your career. How do you transfer these skills to fashion?
K: Well, I used to be a very flash dresser…
M: You still are!
K: [Laughs] No, not any more, I grew up. I used to indulge myself in clothes on the Kings Road on a Saturday but as I’ve got older I’ve become less interested in fashion and more interested in the intelligence of things, and that’s exactly why our collaboration has been such a pleasure. It reflects this intelligence more than fashion with a big ‘F’.
Do you both identify with each other? Can you pinpoint similarities in your work?
K: Absolutely. Perhaps I’ve felt more at ease as I’ve got older – you project a certain attitude, everything does, so it tends to attract people that identify with it. I’m big on anti-waste, for instance and I love the idea that you can pass Margaret’s clothes down from generation to generation and they will still be as good.
M: We have a young designer here, Pascal, whose mother bought our clothes. And he now wears them and mixes them with new things. That’s nice.
K: It’s beautiful. And some things do get better with age, through washing, ironing and being worn.
M: Definitely. It’s always the quality I wanted to achieve, especially starting in menswear. Men want a certain ease, not too formal, even if it is chic or smart or whatever. My sort of man, anyhow. I always liked the way cloth would soften up and crumple.
K: In my heyday, I used to get my clothes made by a brilliant tailor in London. Probably through stress I can still fit in to them. [Laughs]. I have suits that are 30, 40 years old and they seem to be better with every wear. That’s the best sort of relationship you can have with an object I think, whether it be a chair or jacket, whatever.
Originally appeared in The Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes Issue, Summer 2010
Text: Dean Mayo-Davies