Mother of Pearl is the project of Maia Norman who we’ve also known as the long-term partner of Damien Hirst. MoP began as a vintage clothing business and has morphed into a rather exciting clothing label with a strong USP. Each collection is a collaboration with a different artist. We went to chat to head designer Amy Powney, a wonderfully grounded Kingston graduate from up north. What is it about northerners that leaves them able to cut through the BS?
Often interviewing designers is a delicate mission, requiring much ego massage, but the opportunities we gave for Amy to preen-for-the-magazine were not just ignored, but actively dismissed. When asked if she sees fashion, and specifically the garments she makes in conjunction with artists, as wearable art, she laughed and said, “No! Fashion is functional.” And the form versus function debate begins. MoP has a sporty aesthetic. It’s elegant, simple, comfortable in cut and the print lends individuality and statement. Amy makes the comparison of Chanel, not so much in aesthetic as in ideal. It is, after all, possible for a woman to be effortless, comfortable and chic all at the same time. “I hate seeing women fidgeting with clothes that don’t fit properly. It spoils the whole look.”
The artists MoP have worked with range from emerging to established talent, and Maia has worked her way through a back-log of artists she was desperate to collaborate with, which means that she’ll be looking for fresh meat over the next few seasons. This PRE SS13 collaboration is with Gary Hume and will be showing in Paris any minute now and you can see the collection here. Previous artists have included Fred Tomaselli for AW12, Fiona Banner, Keith Tyson and a one off collaboration for Garage magazine with John Currin. Francesco Simeti will collaborate with Mother of Pearl for SS13. Coming from the very centre of the turning art world, Maia naturally has access to a lot of talent. But it’s by no means established, celebrity talent that she’s after. She’s as interested in up-and-comers as she is in the art gods and goddesses by which she’s surrounded. More so in fact, because, as Amy quite sensibly puts it, they are looking to grow a brand that lasts, not a flash in the pan created off the back of someone else’s fame. And so they’re going slowly, growing from the roots and ensuring quality.
Amy holds Prada in estime as the strongest modern business model in the fashion industry, pointing out, quite rightly, that the really big fashion houses all go way back. As far as huge new brands are concerned, we’re a little thin on the ground, which she attributes to an obsession with youth and quick-fix fame. The thing we tend to forget is that success shouldn’t really occur until middle age, or even later, when we’ve had time to actually do the work. Of course there are exceptions, but this fixation on getting successful as quickly and easily as possible is not conducive to thriving industries that have what it takes to go the distance. Boom and bust if you like.
She goes on to talk about her experiences at university and in internships. She began interning right away for Giles and credits this with her success. Essentially it sounds like she just worked a lot harder than everyone else, which is, of course, what it takes. We asked her if she saw Giles as her mentor, and were met with another response that came from the salt of the earth, “No, it was everyone I worked with there collectively.” Amy suggests that far too much emphasis is placed upon conceptual thinking at universities that are preparing people for vocational work, and she points out that while this is important, it’s the sort of thing that can be done all the time; in bed before you go to sleep, while doing the shopping, in the gym and so on. What really needs to be taught is good, old-fashioned craftsmanship, the basics, the martial arts apprentice who sweeps the floor for a month or more before even being allowed to begin his or her training. And this feeds into the boom and bust business models too. “You need the tools to get the ideas into life or that’s all they’ll ever be.” It’s a shame that there’s such a lot of red tape around taking apprentices into the workplace these days and none at all around the exploitation of interns. In terms of health and safety legislation, an apprentice can cost more than they’re worth before they’ve even started. Whilst Blair’s attempt to get 50% of the population into university was admirable on the one hand, has it left the UK short of the folk who get the work done, in favour of those with great expectations, and no tools with which to realise them?
Words – Vanessa Austin Locke