FASHION / I don't dress girls: Antony Price, designer to the trophy wife, and never a shrinking violet when it comes to his own talents, has a new range of affordable after-lunch wear and a thought or two about Paris

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
ANTONY PRICE has been in and out of fashion more times than the elastic insides of his evening dresses. First he was famous in the Seventies for his top-selling salad-print swirly skirt and the skin-tight, bulging-crotch stage clothes he designed for glam rock; then, during the Eighties, for his grand and curvaceous evening dresses that Janet Street-Porter famously dubbed 'result wear' and the superman-shouldered power suits he tailored for discerning media men. Now, Price predicts, his next 15 minutes of fame is approaching.

If it is, then it will be either because of the new collection of women's wear he has designed with the backing of the mass-market clothing company Ariella, and which makes its debut at a trade show in Paris today, or - and this is a much less definite possibility, based only on his enigmatic hints about 'talks in Paris' - because of his belated entry into the ranks of French haute couture. After grunge, Price predicts, comes glamour: and he should know.

Since the end of the Eighties, Price has moved from the epi-

centre of fashion retailing - a tiny shop in South Molton Street - to his new cavernous workshop in south London, just behind the Oval. But though the address might be less chi-chi, there is no suggestion that his life is any less fashionable than it has ever been. He shows me snaps from a recent holiday in Mustique: Antony with Bryan Ferry, Antony with Lucy Ferry, David Bowie photographed by Antony and Antony with Calvin Klein - and everyone looking healthy and honey brown.

'Most of my periods of fame,' he says, 'I've been in with something different. I was a great high street designer, I was a great menswear designer, I put on a few big womenswear shows which got me in the limelight again. If I've got enough money, I can murder the opposition. All I need is money.'

He's got it now. The Ariella deal has given him another chance to attract a mass market - something he hasn't had since the Seventies.

Price desribes himself as 'a Joe Orton of fashion, a Hovis boy'. Without taking the Orton analogy to its gory conclusion, he means working-class-boy-made good; the huge hands that have been running tape measures over rich and famous bodies for 20 years used to be employed dry stone walling in Yorkshire, until he discovered London, the fashion world and his knack for giving form to what he terms 'straight mens' fantasies'.

He attributes his staying power to 'an understanding of how women want to look when they can't get away with a little frock for a tenner anymore - and (understanding) how men want women to look'. He doesn't care about charges of reinforcing female stereotypes, or that feminism has passed him by. 'My customer can do what she wants by day; my clothes don't come out till well after lunch. But by night, she wants a body. She's got a husband and she's had a child or two and she wants to look good. I don't dress girls.'

After the arrival of this new collection, grown-up women who want to please their men will be able to buy Price-type sex appeal from about pounds 100. The link-up with Ariella brings 'the clout to deal with factories that wouldn't have looked at me (before), enabling me to produce the stuff for half the price I did on my own. Now I can do you a big fizzy frock for around 500 quid.'

His skill is in being able to instruct factories, that have been 'used to one seam and two arm holes', how to make complicated clothes. 'It's a series of simple techniques with someone to orchestrate it. You show Blanche how to do her bit, then you show Doris her bit. I can do it because I can make a garment. I can strip it down to simple lines of machining.'

Price can draw, cut on the body, pattern cut and sew, which many very successful designers have to rely on others to do for them. He could, he claims, also apply these skills to the other end of the market: 'I want to be taken on as a designer for a Paris House. I was nearly given a top job - I won't say which because the designer is still there. I walked in and I was horrified with the money being wasted. They haven't altered the way they make clothes since the days of Marie Antoinette.' The arrival of Price might not be popular with couture workers. 'First thing I'd do is move. These people are sitting in chic addresses in Paris, when most of the work could be done in a Nissen hut on the way to Charles de Gaulle airport. If I got one of those jobs, I'd get real. I'd rent out half the space for a start.' And he isn't likely to endear himself to the mandarins of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, either.

'I'd shock them. They don't make the clothes to sell. If I did it, they would actually get orders. That would freak them out, because they would actually have to produce something. Half the stuff on the couture catwalk now might as well be stuck together with rubber glue, as no one is going to put any of it on after the show. The whole circus is about getting the required 75 outfits out, so that you can then slam the name on perfume.'

This is a reference to the arcane rules of the Chambre Syndicale, which dictate how many outfits a couturier must make each season and how many seamstresses must be employed, before receiving its imprimatur and thus bestowing the requisite glamour and romance on to a profit-making signature perfume.

But could Price attract customers the way Oscar de la Renta, couture's newest recruit, did so sucessfully for his first show for the House of Balmain last January? 'Yeah] I'd have everybody who is anybody in music. Anyone who is selling records now is a dinosaur I've known for years. The French are horribly impressed by that. They fight to get famous people in the front row. I'd have famous men whooping and whistling because I know how to present fashion in their little secret fantasy way. Then they'd buy the stuff for their wives.'

Price's customer is, typically, the rich

married woman eager to maintain her figure by fair means or foul. And Price is her perfect designer: able to supply the structure without the surgery. Few grown women have the slender measurements of pubescent models. 'I know,' Price says. 'I've been measuring them up for long enough.'

He has always been able, by tricks of cut and construction, to maximise the body of the moment - skinny in the Seventies, curvy in the Eighties, and now, in the Nineties, Price's design quest is 'to minimise the arse'.

'Balcony bums were big in the Eighties, but now it's like the Thirties or the Seventies, the required shape is that of a boy. I want to make hips look as narrow, as male as possible.'

Grabbing a papier-mache dummy clad in mannish pants in brushed cotton with a snakeskin print, he explains the fit. 'Had I used this snake fabric in a womanly way, it would have been too camp, too Miss Lizard-Woman. Instead it's masculine.' His technique is to drop the line over the bottom slightly (so that it does not go up and in like a Lycra-clad bottom), then add a back pocket, drop the waistline at the back and have it slightly lower still at the front, to elongate the torso. 'What women like most about men is their arses. I know, I've asked them, and I've seen television programmes on it, so just with cut and line, the placing of pockets and the low rise over the crotch, I'm creating a mannish shape that women will want for themselves too. Cleverness is what other designers look to me for. Although sometimes the public don't get it, other designers do, and they think: 'Antony Price, he's a clever sod.' '

The only designer Price has any respect for is Claude Montana, whom he descibes as 'a genius, Balenciaga revisited - not that he profits from it. Other designers see the skill and nick it and send it out strained, though with a touch of naff and make money.'

THE obsession with the Seventies, he says, means that more designers will be nicking from him, 'because I was there. I was one of the top designers of the time'. He in turn 'got inspiration' in the Seventies from Busby Berkeley movies and is re-running them in his head, 'remembering every single frame'.

For his dresses, he is now reworking the slender Thirties line cut on the bias. He pulls at a 10ft chiffon-thin column of nothingness to demonstrate that it shortens as it widens, 'like a lattice fence'. But unlike the originals, Price's dresses have the serious support that his customers expect hidden inside, including 'a corset as tight as hospital bandages and little pockets to slip in extra bust pads'.

An alternative for evening wear, he predicts, will be a return to pants: 'The whole thing about the Seventies was the arrival of trousers to be worn at night. We've had nothing but ruched dresses for years and now we'll go back to glamourous pants.'

If Paris doesn't take the hint, he will continue his own made-to-measure service alongside his new mass-market venture. Women, he says, will come to him despite the fact that his

'salon' - if it could be thus generously

described - is down an unprepossessing street

in Kennington. 'Why not?' Price asks. 'Some people drive to Ikea for furniture, why shouldn't other people drive here for frocks? Anyway, south London is to the Nineties what Notting Hill was to the Eighties, and Ladbroke Grove was to the Seventies. It's cheap, it's got the Fridge, the Brixton Academy and the Ministry of Sound and my customer doesn't care that it's a long way from Hampstead.'

Enquiries to Antony Price 071-582 7970