A Big Night Out for Stella McCartney
She's dressing Team GB for the Olympics and her label continues to grow. No wonder Stella McCartney's celebrating, says Harriet Walker
Stella McCartney has plenty of reasons to be cheerful. Last year she celebrated the 10th anniversary of her eponymous label; last month she opened an enormous new store in New York's SoHo and last week she took London by storm with an elaborate and A-list-studded eveningwear presentation.
"We wanted to celebrate London 2012 and everything that's happening this year," she explains at that event, after dinner (vegetarian, of course) has been cleared away, models have climbed down from the tables and the likes of Rihanna, Katy B and Alexa Chung have taken to the dancefloor. "This year seemed like a great year to be British. I'm a born and bred Londoner and my brand's based here. You know, my first ever show was here. So it's just a celebration really."
And there is plenty more to come: her main line show in Paris next month, a new flagship store opening in London's Brompton Cross this spring, and the Olympics this summer, for which McCartney has designed the Team GB kit. Has she got the inside track on any of those elusive tickets?
"Well, it's one of the perks of designing for over 600 athletes in 26 disciplines," she laughs. "The least we can do is get some tickets. I'm hoping to go to a lot of things. And I'm really proud."
Deservedly so: since launching her own label in 2001 and selling a 50 per cent stake to parent company the Gucci group, McCartney, 40, has gone from strength to strength. Although the Stella McCartney brand was loss-making until 2006, the company posted a 15 per cent growth in profits, to £2.1bn, in 2009 and sales continue to rise.
Collaborations with H&M, Adidas and GapKids have further consolidated this and, along with her active campaigning for animal rights, have made McCartney a household name far beyond the demographic that buys her father's records.
Born in 1971 at the height of her parents' fame, McCartney's early years were spent touring with their band Wings. She was sent to state schools in an attempt to maintain as normal an existence as possible – although she has admitted in interviews that she was bullied because of her rockstar background – and went on to study fashion at Central Saint Martins.
Her graduate show in 1995 was not what most fashion students can expect: Naomi Campbell, Yasmin le Bon and Kate Moss modelled in it for free, and the soundtrack was written by Sir Paul himself. Off the back of it and the accompanying front pages, McCartney's first collection was bought in its entirety by one London boutique and selected by buyers from Browns, Joseph and Neiman Marcus.
Within two years she had taken over from Karl Lagerfeld as creative director at the French house Chloé, in what was by then a decade characterised by an influx of young British names, such as John Galliano and Alexander McQueen, taking over at Paris's most prestigious ateliers.
Since then, Stella McCartney has developed a reputation for figure-flattering, woman-friendly designs that are as subtly glamorous and intelligently flirtatious as they are structurally complex, and as witty as they are ethical (McCartney refuses to use any leather or fur). Sharp tailoring is key – made modern with sportswear detailing – as is the cocktail dress, its most recent incarnations decorated with an illusory hourglass outline and worn by Kate Winslet on several red-carpet outings.
Spring 2011 saw separates scattered with giant citrus prints that became widely emulated on the high street, while last autumn the label's signature trouser suit was reinvented in striking gold Mylar – an offbeat material picked up by many this spring. And London Fashion Week's eveningwear event, held in a former church in Mayfair, spoke volumes about the popularity and reach of the label.
"It's a standalone collection," McCartney explains, "and a celebration of the brand, looking at our sense of humour and our tailoring, our celebration of the female form, playing with sculptural elements and colour and print. Being bold, and taking everything we've done over the past ten years to the next level."
Corset dresses with couture-esque proportions finished with pencil skirts and giant peplums were printed with marble-effect whorls in yellow and blue, a bold palette for modern formal-wear that dealt with prettiness and proportion, all the while prioritising comfort and ease.
Guests at the event included life-long friends and celebrities and (in McCartney's world these are often the same thing), as well as press, with tables filled by the likes of Kate Moss, Zaha Hadid, Richard E. Grant, Yasmin le Bon and Shalom Harlow, all invited by stiffly embossed cards with a Routemaster keyring attached.
After a stage show by magician Hans Klink, during which Alexa Chung levitated over Saracen swords and McCartney herself was made to assist in a card trick ("I take it as a compliment that my team feels confident enough around me to play a trick like that on me," she later demurs through only slightly gritted teeth), models deployed as guests at each table jumped up and joined in a complex choreography that included ballet, street dance and clambering on to the tables, all to Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song".
This homecoming for Stella McCartney and her label was well judged and well timed and, judging by the cohort of starlets present at the event, her evening wear is something we are about see a lot more of, at awards ceremonies and on red carpets. It marks the beginning of a new era for a designer now famous and acclaimed in her own right.
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