FASHIO AT WOR
Combining fashion with politics. Katharine Hamnett’s designs have always had purpose. Now engaged in two new projects. costumes for Rambert Dance and a new shop in Glasgow. she gave Alice Bain a rare interview.
We met the lion in her den. Arriving early at the Katharine llamnett workshops in North London. the photographer. Ballet Rambert PR. and l were ushered into the Cave. a room iced from the inside with fibreglass rock.
We pulled up a boulder and waited. The grotto was furnished with clothes. racks of minis. macs and black silk dresses hardly bigger than a man-size handkerchief. but big enough to take the Katharine Hamnett label. Coffee was served in wide white cups. so far the only other ‘designer‘ packaging we had seen. For a company now counting its turnover in millions. which makes 60.000 pairs ofjeans per year and which deals in style. these premises were remarkable for their lack of glamour. Apart from the Cave. which can only be described as a typical Hamnett eccentricity from a pre-High Tech era. the rest ofthe workshop worked. People cutting patterns and making up clothes at one end and the men in suits balancing the books at the other. The excitement was in the buzz rather than the look of the place.
Choose Life T-Shirts
Katharine Hamnett‘s personal assistant came in. She hoped not to disappoint us but Katharine was ill. Appointment-making had taken us three weeks to finalise and now it looked like the interview was off. Rejected in the Cave.
On the heels ofthis announcement came the cavalry. Tossing a shaggy mane. Hamnett strode in on the scene with apologies. The interview was on but the photograph was most certainly not. She claimed dishevelment but the photographer sat firm at the glass table and said nothing.
Katharine Hamnett‘s success as a fashion designer is a product of the Eighties. but she and her talent have not entirely forsaken earlier decades. Bang in the middle of the Sixties. Hamnett was at St. Martin‘s School of Art. Great. she remembers. Training over. practical application was tried and tested with her first shot at business. Her first fashion company Tuttabankem was not a roaring success and packed up
4 The List 13 — 26 November 1987
in 1974. By the end ofthe Seventies. Hamnett had launched into business again. Post-punk and recession tired. fashion was ready for her fun in functionalism. Crushed silk boiler-suits and combat gear transformed the high fashion catwalk into a runway. In 1983. two children later. Hamnett went out on a further limb and put the Choose Life T-Shirts into her collection. Killing Whales. Ban Pollution. Stop Acid Rain. demanded her shirty slogans. Yeah. yeah. says the lady. Beatle-style.
Next week. Katharine llamnett clothes again take on Strong Language in a dance of the same name choreographed by Richard Alston and performed by the company he directs. the Rambe rt Dance Company (ex-Ballet Rambert). When Alston asked her to provide costumes the dance world was new to her. ‘I was always put off ballet because my grandmother used to drag me down to the Nutcracker every Christmas. My grandparents were very pretentious about culture. It was never anything to do with pleasure. Piano lessons at school were enough to put you off. This great big woman.‘ fag in hand.
Hamnett makes a wide gesticulation.
‘would sit in the middle and one side there was me and on the other this great big trolley ofsweets. She never gave me a sweet. Reverse Pavlov.”
For her. working with Rambert seems to have reversed opinion. ‘A lot of people who haven‘t been
interested in ballet all their lives are suddenly getting interested in it. Like Malcolm McLaren. He‘s producing this mad opera on Broadway — he‘s got some old guys that do the musicals and wants to combine them with superb French choreography.‘
A stomach rumbles in our midst. ‘Have you eaten'." quizzes the great Hamnett from her fibreglass settle. The telephone is lifted pronto and croissants ordered from a nearby take-away. Beside Hamnett — tall (nearly oft ). commanding and with a fiery enthusiasm — we take the role of the hungry cubs.
Back to the dance. Had Hamnett
got what she wanted? Not quite. Her initial plans for this “licence to kill' were fantastical — dancers dressed as crystals in constructivist suits with lots of UV. lighting. There was no time for that: the commission came
in June right in the middle of preparations for the next collection ‘It was desperation really. I put them in the winter collection.‘ Contemporary dance design goes off the peg for the first time.