Jasper Conran: Designs for life

Jasper Conran has become one of British fashion's most successful and versatile figures – and his new collection is a tour de force. Iain R Webb meets him

When the designer Jasper Conran, then a precocious pretty-boy aged 19, emerged on the British fashion scene three decades ago Vogue proudly pronounced that he could be our own Calvin Klein.

"I went to Parson's School in New York, but I actually thought Calvin Klein was quite boring," laughs Conran when I meet him at his HQ in south-west London. "I thought, 'Oh God, please don't make me be a beige coat' and I kicked against being categorised."

Fast-forward 30 years and Conran has expanded his CV exponentially. Known primarily as a womenswear designer, he also creates high fashion menswear, along with J Line, a lower-priced range for Debenhams that includes jeans, accessories, childrenswear, homeware and hosiery. His talents are manifold; over the years he has designed a range of crystal for Waterford, china for Wedgwood, fabrics and wallpapers for Designers Guild, luggage and even fireplaces. At the beginning of this year Specsavers launched his Optical Collection.

It does not stop there. A four-storey Georgian townhouse in central London is the jewel in Conran's crown. It opened in 2005 and is home to his flagship store, showcase for his fashions, fragrances, made-to-order furniture, homeware and a couture bridal service. Never one to miss a business opportunity Conran has added a bridegroom collection.

Although he cringed at the Klein comparison, Conran must have been thrilled when described as "Britain's equivalent to Ralph Lauren".

"It's evolved because it's a business," says Conran. "I work as hard at T-shirts at Debenhams. I find the application of creativity to pure business situations absolutely riveting. And I think I've become quite good at it."

An understatement if the rumours that Conran is now worth as much as his father, Sir Terence, are true – at last count his personal property portfolio was estimated at over £15m. In the mid-1980s when I asked the rising star how much he was worth, he responded that the question was academic. "It's what I will be worth that matters," he said. So what is he worth now?

"I'm worth enough," he says. "We are a very profitable company. We are many companies. A lot on paper."

The impressive store, with its air of art-gallery tranquillity, is a tangible accomplishment. It was a defining moment when the designer saw all his efforts come together under one roof. "Yes, because I designed everything in that place," he says.

Despite his deceptively nonchalant demeanour, Conran is a big deal in the British fashion industry and this year he was awarded an OBE for services to the retail industry.

"I've got the OBE and two doctorates, I'm a visiting professor," says Conran, "but I'm more proud of being tenacious because there's been really tough times – the late Eighties were just awful."

While many of his contemporaries have taken lucrative jobs overseas or show abroad, Conran doggedly champions Britain.

"I have a real affection for this country," he says, "and trust me I pay a lot of tax. But the Government are still not quite sure what creativity is. It's unreasonable to expect that all creative people should have business brains, but it would be reasonable to expect that British designers were given practical help."

Conran once told me that there was a "strong difference between what I do and fashion, I've never said that I make fashion".

"That still holds," says Conran. "I feel that I am in my heart more dressmaker than showman. I like making the much quieter things that are craft and skill based, that's my love. For me making quite simple dresses is a pleasure."

Throughout his career Conran has adhered resolutely to this ethos, effortlessly refining his look. While his debut collection featured classically restrained clothes, his most recent collections have offered sensuous silk jersey dresses in golden sun-tan tones (S/S 2008) and understated tailored suits and cocktail dresses that mixed 1990s minimalism with 1950s couture in shades of kohl, clay, nude and sable (A/W 2008). Over the years he has built up a faithful clientele who love his quietly confident clothes.

"They are not that va-va-voom," says Conran. "I've had to live in the real world of selling clothes, which has been frustrating at times."

While the Conran moniker might be seen as a stepping-stone to stardom, Conran Jnr points out that the need to get away from the tag of being somebody's son has been a huge motivation in his career.

"From my early childhood my father was successful, and that was hard," he says. "I couldn't go to art schools in this country as he was a governor. So, I went to New York."

Those early days in the Big Apple influenced him to the core. American fashion appeals to what Conran calls his "sensible approach". Sensible clothes don't always make headlines. How has he dealt with the capricious press?

"You are not going to be everybody's cup of tea, that's fair enough," says Conran.

It is not just Conran's designs that appear grown-up. Having diversified into so many other areas of the design industry Conran has gained a confidence that has afforded him a new perspective on the fashion business.

"I feel I've conquered other people's expectations of me and the fear of that," he says. "Deciding to work with Debenhams was a really good thing to do and has been good for other British designers. When I first did it, everybody was looking down their noses. Now Karl Lagerfeld's doing it.

"I feel very certain of myself now and that's because I work with more people. I like working in a team. Actually, I like being head of the team."

Voices
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Sport
Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
News
i100
Travel
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Arts and Entertainment
Jennifer Saunders stars as Miss Windsor, Dennis's hysterical French teacher
filmJennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Voices
Jimmy Mubenga died after being restrained on an aircraft by G4S escorts
voicesJonathan Cox: Tragedy of Jimmy Mubenga highlights lack of dignity shown to migrants
Life and Style
Sebastian Siemiatkowski is the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of Klarna, which provides a simple way for people to buy things online
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

    £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

    Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

    £40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

    Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

    £70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

    Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

    £30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

    Day In a Page

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum