Calling the shots: Meet British fashion's movers and shakers

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

They start trends and revolutionise the industry and these stylish women hold British fashion in the palm of their hands

Ruth Chapman, CEO of

If you've attended a fashion show in the past decade, you've seen Ruth Chapman and her bobbed shock of silver hair gleaming on the front row. It's easy to imagine her as a chic Manhattan socialite – an Astor, a Rockefeller, a modern-day equivalent to Capote's Swans. Certainly she seems especially at home during the New York shows, perfectly coiffed and blow-dried, an island of calm amid the fashion week frenzy.

But the calm is just a facade: Chapman heads up, a thriving empire with a website and 13 boutiques around London. Behind the stoic smile, her brain is whirring. That's a neat metaphor for the company too – one that employs over 200 people, but still feels like a family business. "Our quirkiness is really important to us," states Chapman emphatically. "We never want to look exclusive, or for people to feel a sense of corporate curation." It's the same for the website, now over 75 per cent of the business (hence this year's name change from plain Matches). It receives 2.5 million visits per month, but doesn't feel like a soulless commercial juggernaut, hitting retail pay dirt without didactically thrusting products in your face.

Much of that is down to Ruth, and her joint CEO Tom Chapman. They're husband and wife, with three grown children – four, if you count They founded the company in 1987, with their first shop in Wimbledon, and married in 1992 – he in Versace, she Antony Price (it was red velvet; "That was the Nineties!" she says). She's continued to support British fashion, buying designers such as Mary Katrantzou, Jonathan Saunders and Christopher Kane with fervour. "It's like everything with us, it wasn't a conscious decision to go really British, it was just that we – and I particularly – found that the most exciting things that we saw were British," Ruth says.

British or not, fashion has always been a fixation. "As soon as I could walk and see, I think I was really strongly aware of what I was wearing, and what women around me were wearing: my mother and my stepmother, who were both fairly glamorous," she says. "The power of clothes was always interesting to me."

Originally, Matches was intended to be "a 'Benetton experience'. But very quickly I started to get involved in the buying – and buying things that were very expensive! And they were the things that sold the fastest." She taps the buying table in their Clapham HQ lightly. "My heart is here – buying is still what I do." But it comes with a caveat. "Be careful what you wish for – I always wanted lots of gorgeous clothes, and now I'm just surrounded by them! I can't escape from them!"

Alexander Fury

Katie Shillingford, fashion director, AnOther Magazine (Frantzesco Kangaris) Katie Shillingford, fashion director, AnOther Magazine (Frantzesco Kangaris)
Katie Shillingford, fashion director, AnOther Magazine

As fashion director of the biannual style publication AnOther Magazine and a contributor to sister title Dazed & Confused, Katie Shillingford is responsible for the sort of fashion imagery that takes risks and sets agendas.

As a teenager in the era of fashion dominated by supermodels, Shillingford became "really, really fascinated – obsessed" with them, which led to an interest in designers and their "flamboyant, amazing creations". The lifelong Londoner completed a foundation course at Central Saint Martins but was a bit "scared by fashion". Next she studied graphic design at the Camberwell College of Arts and there met the designer Gareth Pugh: "And that's how everything started," she says, as if reborn. "Gareth was the one that held my hand."

The pair joined a collective called !WOWOW! putting on parties and exhibitions – Shillingford still continues to style Pugh's catwalk shows: "It's such a fluid, easy relationship because we're friends".

Through Pugh she met Nicola Formichetti [then fashion editor of Dazed & Confused]. "Gareth told me Nicola was looking for an assistant so I went to meet him and started the next day."

Working for Dazed & Confused was "being happy to take risks," she says. "You don't care what other people think. You're just trying to be inspiring, energetic and pushing things forward." Traits she believes she inherited from her "very outspoken American" mother.

Shillingford and her husband, the music producer Alex Dromgoole, had their first child in November before Shillingford returned to work four months later. She admits the brevity of her maternity leave was due to fears that she might struggle to get back in to the fashion world if she was out of it for too long. "In some ways it was a good thing to do," she says. "But occasionally I wish I had spent more time with my baby."

Despite working for some of the coolest titles in fashion, Shillingford believes she was "never very cool", but always "liked interesting things". She grew up in Battersea, and her two older sisters took her shopping on the King's Road: "To the Oxfam next to Vivienne Westwood there, the old Boy London shop and smaller, funny shops," she says, lamenting the days when that road was world-renowned rather than another bland high street.

"I was quite a big charity shopper, at school I used to get 'What are you wearing? It's really weird'. I've just always loved things that are a bit different."

Rebecca Gonsalves

Sarah Mower, critic, advocate (Frantzesco Kangaris) Sarah Mower, critic, advocate (Frantzesco Kangaris)
Sarah Mower, critic, advocate

There are many labels to attach to Sarah Mower. The most obvious one is critic – that's what she's famous for as the voice, first of, and latterly She's also been dubbed an ambassador for emerging talent, because of her renowned eye. "I can't bear not to know what's next," she admits. She's an MBE, too, and a mother – a label she wears proudly. Most recently she's been titled a 'pillar president' for education by the British Fashion Council. You can easily condense all of that down, though: Sarah Mower is a champion. Her role is to champion fashion. Give her your tired, your poor, your huddled masses – of designers, that is. She'll give them a voice, and a chance.

Sarah Mower is vocally passionate about fashion. She's been in the business for 30 years, but not always as a journalist. Stints at British Vogue and Harper's Bazaar in New York were followed by time at Topshop, where Mower initiated the store's collaboration with young London designers – in this case, Hussein Chalayan – to create high-street collections, despite the reticence of designers to hand over patterns to what was then the mass-market enemy.

"I had to go and persuade the designers to collaborate… they thought they would be raped, copied, ripped-off!" Now, Topshop is a key sponsor of London Fashion Week with their showspace offering a platform for young designers, free of production costs.

Mower reserves a special passion for young London designers: she chairs the British Fashion Council's NEWGEN panel, the body that dishes out money, support and mentorship to new talent. "Everything I've done has always been out of a sense of outrage about the way things were going," says Mower protectively. It's no coincidence that her nickname among the ranks of British designers is Mother Mower.

Being born in Bath to teacher parents – her mother art, her father engineering – gave Mower a neat link both to fashion (a combination of art and engineering at its best) and the importance she places on the British education system. Part of her new role as education 'pillar' is to portion out money to fund students. "I was so lucky to be born in my generation," she says. "We got paid to go to university! There was no question – if you had the brains, you went."

The obvious question then: what makes great fashion? It's simple, for Mower. "Is it coming from you, from your soul? Fashion's emotional."

Alexander Fury

Penny Martin, editor-in-chief The Gentlewoman (Frantzesco Kangaris) Penny Martin, editor-in-chief The Gentlewoman (Frantzesco Kangaris)
Penny Martin, editor-in-chief The Gentlewoman

Since the launch of The Gentlewoman in 2008, editor-in-chief Penny Martin has created a considered oasis in a densely populated magazine landscape. Her background in academia has helped her reach an intelligent female reader often sidelined by glossier publications.

One of Martin's most celebrated decisions was to put actress Angela Lansbury on the cover for autumn/winter 2012. Did choosing an 86-year-old as the face of an issue seem like a risk? "As soon as I saw that picture I knew we were putting it on the cover, I didn't care what anybody said," she explains. "As an editor you don't want to choose the obvious subjects because then everyone's read about them. I don't think it's safer [to have a more populist cover star]. The one thing that everyone wants to talk to me about is Angela Lansbury."

For Martin, editing the magazine requires intuition and emotion. "It's about personality, warmth. It's how you choose your friends – you don't choose your friends because they're thin," she says of cover stars that may seem unexpected. The reader response and circulation attests that Martin is not the only one who wants something more than the glossies. "If you're saying you're about a broad scope of women, you've got to make sure that you are inclusive," says Martin pragmatically. "We've had a plus-size woman [Adele] on the cover, but readers didn't talk to me about the fact she was plus-size; they talked to me about the fact she had a cigarette in her hand."

After studying history of art and museum studies at university, Martin started a curatorial career, when she realised she was "much more interested in commercial photography than modern art photography. The material wasn't really covered so it was much more exciting to me." This led her to the fashion world. While working on a PhD on fashion magazines and curating an exhibition about a Vogue shoot for the V&A, she received a call from fashion photographer Nick Knight.

He was calling about his new website, SHOWstudio, of which Martin became editor-in-chief. This was in 2001, when the fashion industry was slow to capitalise on new technology. "We were just making it up to be honest, and satisfying a kind of creative greed," says Martin. Given that much of what was created at SHOWstudio has become the prototype for modern fashion content online, her instincts are to be trusted.

After seven years at the site – "an amazing, limitless experience" – Martin became Chair of Fashion Imagery at the London College of Fashion, before Gert Jonkers and Jop van Bennekom, founders of Fantastic Man magazine, asked her to launch a sister title. Her approach has been "more rigorous, researched and more substantial" in a time when print is rushing to emulate the spontaneity of online publications.

Despite how the fashion media is portrayed, "like we're all little Margaret Thatchers scrabbling over each other so we can climb up," Martin thinks that it is an industry where "a lot of women really help each other".

Rebecca Gonsalves

Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind-the-scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
Winchester College Football (universally known as Winkies) is designed to make athletic skill all but irrelevant
Life...arcane public school games explained
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
Life and Style
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    C# Algo-Developer (BDD/TDD, ASP.NET, JavaScript, RX)

    £45000 - £69999 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Algo-Develo...

    Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, Apache Mahout, Python,R,AI)

    £60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

    Data Scientist (SQL,Data mining, data modelling, PHD, AI)

    £50000 - £80000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Data Sci...

    Java Developer - 1 year contract

    £350 - £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Cent...

    Day In a Page

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone