Antony Price: Price of perfection

He styled Roxy Music in the Seventies, Duran Duran in the Eighties, and has dressed women as different as Jerry Hall and the Duchess of Cornwall. So why on earth does the fashion establishment still snub him? Iain R Webb talks to the talented Antony Price
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"Because I'm not in the magazines every week they think I've crawled in a corner and died," says the designer Antony Price, one of British fashion's most outspoken characters and one of its greatest purveyors of glamour. "Of course, all the women who buy my things know very well that I exist."

Price, who is now sixty, first came to fame in the early 1970s, as one of the first fashion designers (if not the first) to be credited on a record sleeve - Roxy Music's début album - for "clothes, make-up & hair". Described by The Independent's style guru Peter York as an "image controller", he also dressed the model Gayla Mitchell for the infamous and iconic back-cover shot of Lou Reed's Transformer album.

"Everyone thought she was a drag queen," laughs the designer. "I was working that hot-biker look way before everyone else got it," he says, referring to Mitchell's male companion in leather cap, tight white T-shirt and even tighter, barely decent blue jeans. Price worked with Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music (along with Duran Duran and Steve Strange in his Visage incarnation) to create a futuristic hybrid of faux-Hollywood heroes and heroines: Ferry in shiny, sharp-shouldered, matinée-idol suits or neo-military trappings, Jerry Hall in skin-tight mermaid dresses. Yet Price's dalliances with the music business did him few favours with the fashion establishment and, to this day, the designer has never quite received the recognition he deserves.

"If he was doing that now he would be treated as a star," says the milliner Philip Treacy, who commissioned Price to make dresses to accessorise his hats for catwalk shows in London, Paris and New York. "But back then, music and fashion were seen as two very different worlds. Neither Ossie Clarke nor Charles James got the acclaim they deserved and I think Antony is in that same mould. He is very eccentric and quite brilliant."

"Some of those looks were probably too early, which is still a crime in this business," says Price, intimating that along with his shoulder-rubbing with rock'n'roll, this may have been why he was never fully accepted into fashion's inner circle. "The art is being on time. Too late is embarrassing, too early is financially embarrassing. I guess I have not been very good at timing in my career. In most cases I was a little early, but then I was too late for the glamorous Hollywood period. Maybe if I'd woken up in Travis Banton's shoes [the costume designer who dressed Marlene Dietrich and Mae West], I would have done just fine, but there are not that many Marlenes around."

"He's the master of cutting and illusion," Treacy continues. "In an age when everybody and anybody is a designer, Antony is a true fashion designer. Those dresses he created for me looked sprayed on."

Having attended the Royal College of Art in the late 1960s, Price began his career designing for hip-and-happening labels such as Che Guevera and Stirling Cooper (where fashion legend has it that he claims to have invented the cap-sleeve T-shirt), before opening his own store, Plaza, on London's King's Road. The Plaza experience was totally postmodern. The shop's window featured a screen f flashing highly stylised, glossy images of archly posed models. Once inside the darkened glass doors, instead of hanging from racks, Price's clothes (including a pair of ingeniously seamed trousers that enhanced the male anatomy called, for obvious reasons, Arsepants) were stapled on to boards and ordered from the sales assistant via a hatch. The shop was a magnet for trend-setters and art students alike. Price's forte? Exaggerated glamour that, with clever construction, streamlines the body to almost cartoon proportions. Price adores the silver-screen pin-ups of yesteryear: men with broad shoulders, women with hourglass curves. The same kind of silhouette that is today garnering fans for the London-based designer Roland Mouret.

"I always liked that look," says Price. "I always chose models that were like that. Sometimes we'd get lumbered at the last minute with a really skinny model who looked like hell and everyone went, 'No, not right'. I always needed girls with bottoms and bosoms. I share similar tastes to male rock artists in that department. My choice of models would have pleased them," he says, "and did!"

Price's form-fitting siren dresses that make the most of a woman's curves gained him f female fans, too, including Jerry Hall, Amanda Lear, Yasmin LeBon and the late Paula Yates. "A lot of the women come to me now because they once bought a dress from one of my shops, then they tell another woman and it spreads," he says, "but it originally came from women who had success wearing them."

It was not for nothing that Janet Street-Porter was inspired to refer to Price's designs as "result wear". "I think that best defines his brilliance," says Treacy. "He has an obsession that ensures a more than happy clientele. He never fails [them]. Antony knows all the tricks. He makes a person look the best they've ever looked. He deals with real people: that's who the customer is. She's not Amazonian or stick thin."

Price has little good to say about the fashion

industry's myopic focus on youthful, skinny, unattainable images of the female form, and is especially biting about its unrealistic sizing system. "All the clothes are modelled on this tiny size-10 girl and then the manufacturers just add a bit around the edge," he says. "Well, sorry, when you have mountainous bosoms you can't just add a bit round the edge and call it a size 14; it's not going to work. You've got to go back to the drawing board and completely remake the pattern."

The problem, he believes, can be traced back to the one-size-fits-all tailors' dummies (Price makes his own). "They are sold to every workroom and have a 34-36-inch bust, 24-inch waist and 36-inch hips. This is Gina Lollobrigida in the 1950s," he continues.

"Women have real fears about things being too small for them. They've been tortured by the fashion industry. Terrible things have been done to them. I deal with women who look fantastic but they can be apologising before I've got anywhere near them."

It is this honest passion that Price has harnessed and managed to stitch into his designs. "His dresses make women look amazing, which is ultimately what every woman wants," says Josephine Turner, owner of A La Mode, who has decided to put Price's dresses back on the racks in her Chelsea boutique. "He is one of the few designers who cuts the patterns himself. If you can cut a dress which makes a woman look two sizes smaller, the bosom is in the right place and the hips looking smaller, it's a winner. Antony's clothes are sexy without vulgarity and that is a very, very big plus." Turner has persuaded Price to create a handful of exclusive designs for her store, based on his trademark silhouettes but given a modern revamp. These include a seriously sinuous Chantilly lace cocktail dress with a zip that spirals miraculously around the body, and another that is a remake of his corseted mermaid evening dress.

"We have a huge demand for glamorous party dresses," says Turner. "I thought Antony's dresses are just what every woman who walks into the shop has in mind."

During his career, Price has continued to sharpen his cutting skills and has now morphed into a couturier of sorts, creating one-off outfits for a clientele of well-to-do international women ("That's the only time a British fashion designer can possibly make it pay, if we go direct to the customer") including Camilla Parker Bowles, The Duchess of Cornwall, whom he dressed in the midnight- blue velvet and white silk dress she wore for her New York jaunt with The Prince of Wales in November last year. "I've discovered that in a small place like London where all the wealthy people know each other and go to the same parties, if one of them has worn a dress, it's finished," says Price. "It's not like they don't know where Dior is - they've been there."

Having long since spurned the urban jungle, Price, a Yorkshireman by birth, now favours the country life. "Antony lives on the edge of a forest with an incredible garden that's a mix of Bel Air and Barbados," says Treacy. While he is no longer creating the extremes of high camp that featured in the fashion shows he staged in the 1980s at London's fanciest night-clubs, The Camden Palace and The Hippodrome (billed as "fashion extravaganzas", they were exactly that: the fashion version of a Busby Berkeley production), he is still sometimes surprised by the gorgeousness of the dresses he designs.

"Unfortunately they won't appear until my death," he says, noting that today most of his designs are created for private occasions, not to be photographed by the press. "Then there will be an exhibition and they'll all donate them, like Charles James [the legendary New York designer], and they'll all come out and say, 'My God, they are quite fabulous!'

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