Todd Lynn: Tailor-made rock'n'roll

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Designer Todd Lynn has dressed U2 and Marilyn Manson, but he's branching out with a show next week at Ascot. He tells Harriet Walker why he's having a flutter on some new customers

For those familiar with the work of designer Todd Lynn, a catwalk show of his spring/ summer collection at Ascot may not sound like the perfect fit. His sleek and attenuated brand of urban, rock-chick tailoring is somewhat at odds with the gaudiness and gazar-clad girls of a day at the races.

"I've never been," he admits, over a glass of orange juice that looks violently fluorescent next to his entirely black outfit, long dark hair and pale skin. "I wonder what the reality will actually be. It's funny because you can always tell when Ascot's on – on the train, there's always this huge crowd of people all dressed up. There's either a massive wedding that every single person is going to, or it's Ascot."

So what's the logic of courting the preened masses, I wonder, bearing in mind that Lynn was the man who once dressed goth-rocker Marilyn Manson in a coat made from Icelandic horse, replete with Flicka-esque manes. "They eat them there," Lynn says. "I recently discovered my customer base is much broader than I thought. When you design your collection, you have your customer in mind and it's always fascinating to find out it actually touches more people. The Ascot thing will be a totally different group of people and the potential to meet them is great."

Lynn, 37, had already worked with a roster of rockstars – including Bono, the Rolling Stones, PJ Harvey and Courtney Love – and launched his first menswear collection at London Fashion Week in 2006.

Since then, he has become known for collections based around structured and sophisticated tailoring. That first show included several womenswear looks, but it wasn't until 2008 that this became his main focus. What Lynn creates for men is suit-based statement dressing in a dark and dramatic vein – a look that translates well into a female wardrobe both as understated, modern workwear and as something a little more exotic.

"I'm known for my tailoring, so my biggest things that I sell are my trousers," he says.

"I think people love a good trouser – I've spoken to lots of women who say if it isn't jeans they're not interested, because they can never find anything they like or that fits."

Criticised in the past for focusing on trouser suits rather than anything more overtly feminine, Lynn's strides are what many women are crying out to wear, faced either with the shiny, stretchy bootcuts that populate the high street's workwear wing or the stiff-and-pressed tailoring that has suited men's needs for centuries – but does not fit so easily into a modern, feminine aesthetic.

Lynn seeks out fabrics that fit not only with his specifically sharp aesthetic but also with his desire to create comfortable clothes that flatter their owners. "This one," he says, pointing to his own leg and snapping the material enthusiastically, "is something I use a lot. It's linen, with only 1 per cent elastane, but it's seriously, seriously stretchy. I know it sounds a bit mumsy, but you have to have stretch. And technical fabrics are what I love".

Thereby hangs the hybrid appeal of Lynn's creations and the rationale for the forthcoming shows he is holding at Ascot. His pieces contain a dual aesthetic, as at home in the office as they are on stage, of an elongated silhouette made modern with geometric flourishes and made comfortable and – most importantly – flattering, by an ingenuity of cut that includes complex and planal structuring of jackets and trousers, inside and out. All this combines to create a feel that is current as well as timeless.

"I always say that the three main things about fashion are that people want to look good, they want to look tall and they want to look skinny," Lynn says. "I'm not being size-zero-ist. It doesn't matter what size you are, you want to look smaller. That's just the way we are. And I think people want things to be fitted: they want room, they want it to be comfortable. Sometimes you see things on a catwalk and you just know it's only going to look good on a model. You know that as soon as you get it on somebody else, someone in the street, it just loses everything about it."

The importance of a flattering aspect combined with freedom of movement is a skill that has been impressed on Lynn, who spent the years between his first fashion degree in Toronto and his MA, at Central Saint Martins' acclaimed course under Louise Wilson, dressing musicians for their videos and tours, where his creations came under the scrutiny of thousands.

"It's amazing how they rely on clothes as a security blanket," Lynn says of the stars he has worked with. "I was watching U2's first show in Miami on the first tour that I worked with them on. The stylist had said beforehand that Bono wasn't going to wear what I'd made to start off with, because he was so nervous. He was just in his own leather jacket.

"But everybody knew something was happening around that time: the stars were aligned, it was U2's second coming almost. And when they came back on for the second half, he was wearing the stuff we had made.

"But it's funny. Or amazing, really; the first thing I thought when I saw him is 'you've got 20,000 people looking at a thing you've created'. And then I worried that the sleeve was going to fall off. Sometimes, I'd be hemming his trousers or something, or putting a button back on, and Bono's half-dressed with thousands of people waiting for him. He's late on stage because I'm doing a button!"

It's a far cry from the small Canadian town of Smiths Falls in which Lynn grew up, population: 9,000. "Actually I grew up outside the small town," he says. "The closest village to where I lived was on a main highway. It had two houses and a corner store. And you could stand on the highway and see the 'Now Entering' sign. And if you looked down the highway, you could see the 'Now Entering' sign for cars coming the other way. That was it. There were maybe four people and a dog there."

But it was music that galvanised Lynn, bringing international inspiration to a youth marked by few metropolitan outposts. "The idea of going from that to ending up here [he is now based in London] or on tour with The Rolling Stones, having dinner with Janet Jackson. It's bizarre."

It's also Lynn's USP. Any rockstar can attest to the power of good tailoring – just think of the Beatles in their collarless Cardin jackets, of Bowie in his Thin White Duke incarnation, of Bryan Ferry's louche Antony Price stylings. Coolly subverted smart has ever been the uniform of megastars and their fans alike.

But Lynn spins this in idiosyncratic ways. For autumn, he focused on a theme of revolution inspired by the student protests and, latterly, the Arab Spring. Previous shows have taken keynotes from characters as diverse as a fifth-century Algerian queen (who provided inspiration for a blazer yoked with beaten silver shoulder blades provided by jewellery designer Shaun Leane and worn on an arena tour recently by Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas) and an Edwardian Catholic priest.

He also resolutely fits his clothes on the women who work in his studio, as well as working with his catwalk models, acknowledging that, as clothing sizes increase, the dimensions of a piece do not get proportionally bigger.

"Once you get a real body into something, the size variations come, like gradients," he says.

"It's fascinating to put something on a non-model and make sure it looks good. Models make anything look good, but when something's great it just looks that much better."

And the clothes on show are great: first shown last September, Lynn's spring/summer 2011 collection combines a palette of warm neutrals – sand, grey, aqua and metallics – and snakeskin to ethereal and reptilian effect. "I'm sure some people will go 'oh, isn't that nice'," he says. "But then there might be others who maybe want to discover more. Everybody wants to be cool, don't they?" He smiles, like a rockstar contemplating his first foray into pop music. "I mean, I have no idea what to expect from it, but I'm sure it'll be a good surprise."

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