Well, say hello to Howie Jeavons, who's nothing like that at all. An enormous man with shocking blue eyes, Coke-bottle glasses and the kind of fringe last seen on a flasher, he works from an east London studio that's about as glamorous as the Old Vic's back room. Still, he designs the kind of clothes Ian Beale would never understand.
From a distance, his tank-tops and jumpers look as though they're made out of camouflage. It's only when you get up close that you realise each one is a sort of jigsaw puzzle. Jeavons has managed to make cashmere look funky, but each garment is so well-made, you wouldn't get better quality in Burlington Arcade. Jeavons uses between 15 and 20 pieces of cashmere per garment and the whole creative process is like some kind of IQ knitting test. Each small curve has to be sewn perfectly flush with the next, a process that would make most people see double.
"I've always approached things differently," explains Jeavons, "and this is a huge amount of work. You have to draw the pattern on the inside of the fabric and cut out the shapes you want on each jumper." Luckily, Jeavons works with a machinist who's as much of a perfectionist as he is. "He knows I won't give up," he laughs. "I've worked with him a number of years now and he's very clever. If you have a good machinist you can do amazing things."
Jeavons always liked the idea of cut-and-paste clothing. His mother used to run a charity shop so he grew up with second-hand clothes, and now imports about 100 kilos of big cashmere sweaters from the States, out of which he makes 200 to 300 garments. He even tries to recycle the scraps left over, though he never uses yellow: "You get sent all sorts of colours, most of which I try to use," he chuckles. "I try to recycle what's left but I get no takers, I end up taking piles of yellow cashmere jumpers to Oxfam."
Before he got into knitwear Jeavons used to make jackets and shirts at Hyper Hyper and had a wonderful time putting zips into every conceivable seam. Knitwear became an option when he met up with Desiree Mejer, and for several years the two talents brought Fake London, the patchwork cashmere label, to life. He did the designing and production, she did the promotion and selling. However, it all ended in tears, with Jeavons splitting from the company. "I put all my money into that business, buying cashmere and investing, and now I've had to start from scratch."
After telling me about his fashion business nightmare, he smiles beatifically and offers me another cup of tea. As well as the flasher, there's something of the vicar in Howie Jeavons. But then he's hardly had a conventional up-bringing. While the rest of us were sweating over GCSEs, he was walking the entire coastline of Britain. "I stayed in a network of monasteries," he explains. "I took a book called Alternative England with me, and travelled along the coast with just a sleeping bag and pounds 10 in my pocket. I always met nice people who put me up, and the monasteries had wonderful libraries with great books on art."
By the time he was 17, Jeavons was "doing" Canada and the States on not so much a shoe-string as on a thread. "I met a lot of people who were into art or design, and realised that you could make things and get your ideas into the public domain," he enthuses. "I decided that when I came back I wanted to do something creative."
Despite having no formal education, he got five O- and two A-levels in one year and then went on to an art foundation course. Five years later he left Leeds university with a fine art degree. He's still in love with education, and now works with textile students at the University of Derby, developing new ways with fabric. "I was always trying to get new projects started," he explains, "and I was always ringing up factories but they weren't interested in trying anything new." Eventually, he found a kindred spirit in the form of John Angus, head of textiles at the university, and the students now work with Jeavons on developing new ideas: they get experience, he gets help.
Aside from future fabrics (on which he's keeping schtum), he's developing a recycled cashmere dress, a sort of early Eighties red and white Rising Sun design. "Maybe it will go in a window," he says wistfully. I have absolutely no idea what he's talking about. But I know one thing. I really like his jumpers.
Contact Howie Jeavons 0171 488 4722 for prices and stockists, or check out his website on www.jeavons.comReuse content