On the first day of London Fashion Week Mens, we make our way to Phoebe English’s much anticipated menswear presentation. Straight from a highly coveted NEWGEN Sponsorship, Phoebe English has definitely hit her stride with her eponymous menswear brand - Phoebe English MAN.
The buzz is palpable in the BFC Presentation space, and amidst countless interviews, flashing lights, and the eerily calm alienation of models casually moulding clay ceramics — we find a quiet moment with Phoebe to sit down and discuss her unique place in the London Fashion scene. From her unique approach to fabrication, her distinct creative vision, and her hopeful view of the future; Phoebe English is undeniably one of London’s most talented young designers.
Tell us about your first experience with design? How did you fall in love with fashion?
I was interested in a lot of things, but it was always just interesting how much I noticed clothes and how much I thought about them. Some of my earliest approaches towards fashion were thinking about collars, I would say “ooh I really like this collar but I don’t like the ribbon” It was strange how I always weirdly thought about this. So I guess, it has always been part of the way I think.
I guess I was just always going along with the opportunities in front of me, so I think I was doing it in a very naive way. I don’t think I quite realise how hard it was, because I was just responding to the next thing, and the next thing, and the next thing. It was at this point, after where people have known me for about six years where I am like “this is actually quite a big endeavour” I started the business with a business partner, then moved on to a business manager, and now I’m running it on my own. Every year is a new chapter of the business, it’s quite tough, but it’s also very exciting.
You’ve had Phoebe English MAN for quite a while, what made you decide to expand into menswear?
My best friend is a menswear pattern cutter and he didn't have a job — so it was an excuse to employ my friend. I woke up in the morning and was like let’s try some menswear and then it just got out of hand. We’ve had a really positive response to it and we had to decide really quickly if we wanted to keep doing it, in terms of buyers. Now the majority of my business is menswear sales.
For you, how does your design process differ between menswear and womenswear?
Oh it’s completely different. Design wise, it’s literally splitting my brain in two halves. The menswear is an external experience in terms of designing while the womenswear is internal. So with menswear, there is a lot of talking to external people and it’s a lot of work in terms of meeting people, having conversations and looking at things. Its good just to look at things through someone else eyes and being less internal, I think it’s quite healthy for me to expand this as a practitioner. Womenswear is so much more internal because for me, it’s really about how I am feeling and how I experience this world.
Your entire collection is proudly made in England and your fabrics are predominantly sourced in the UK. What inspired this decision?
I just always felt it was really weird to make these things and then put them in a DHL bag, sending them to the other side of the planet, wait for five weeks until they come back, and then just see what ideas have changed by then. It wasn't instantaneous enough so that process seemed really illogical. We’re wasting all these fossil fuels, shipping stuff all over the place, it’s really slow, you know I want it to be hands on, and be able to control things. For example when I have a problem with the factory I just get onto the tube and sort things out. It’s really important to be able to have that control.
Do you think that being and working in London is an intrinsic part of your brand?
Not exactly, I mean I think it has been up until now. Especially now that I found my feet and understand the industry that I’m working in. However, I don’t feel the strong the need to stay working here. I don’t think I would like to move out of England, as there is a lot of englishness to my brand. I’ve grown up in England so I only know England, but I would definitely never say that it would never happen. I am also trying to set up a studio in a different part of the UK and not in London. It’s very hard to run a small business, with London living costs and everything — it’s not just difficult for yourself, you also have to consider staff and studio costs. If you have a business then you have to work out the best way of letting it survive; and sometimes that involves changing where you are, so I wouldn't ever allow my location influence my work.
So, tell us about your SS18 Menswear Collection?
This collection is really based on trying to express something grateful, healing, and optimistic. It’s been a weird time in the world and I think we can only hope for healing and hope. It’s a lot softer shapes, optimistic bright colours, and then all of our signature touches like the stripes, which is something we always use. The collection is always based on my boyfriend and what he wears, he has blue eyes and he wears blue and he wears stripes all the time, so it’s really based on my one and only.
What are you working on now? What can we expect from Phoebe English for the rest of 2017?
Just carrying on, we’ve got some new members in our team — so it’s changing a little bit. My team is very important to me, so I invest quite a lot of energy in being around for them. I spend a lot of time in the studio with them, so that’s gonna be a big change. Additionally, we’re investing a lot of time in our online store as well, so you’ll see that popping up loads and then you know another men’s collection, so production for that as well — it’s a lot.
Final question, how do you think London creators like yourself, are changing the face of London fashion?
I think London designers are very reactive, there is less of this strict heritage about aesthetic and about how you run your business in London. It’s not like Milan or Paris, where they really have a separate way of doing things. There is also a lot of youth here in London, lots of fashion graduates. I think it’s an exciting place to be, cause you can see people reacting and responding to the times that you live in. I think if things are gonna change, they are gonna change here.
Words by Hannah Tan