Matthew Williamson: 'I just try to white-knuckle it'

London Fashion Week is very scary, the designer tells Kate Youde

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The Independent Online

At 7pm tonight, the fashion designer Matthew Williamson will be trying to hold it together. While the gazes of fashion commentators and coiffed celebrities, not to mention photographers' lenses, are trained on his latest catwalk creations at London Fashion Week, the Brit will be "ridiculously nervous". For despite 15 years' experience under his stylish belt, presenting his designs for global scrutiny gets harder.

"I hide it pretty well but I do go into a show really anxious and it doesn't get any easier," he says, his elbow propped on the back of a sofa in the Savoy Hotel suite where we meet. "I've found that the nerves haven't subsided in 15 years; they are worse than they were in the beginning. I guess you've got more at stake. The business is bigger now so there's more to lose than there was back then." The man best known for boho chic pretends to bite on his fist for emphasis: "I just try to white-knuckle it and keep calm."

Chances are he has nothing to worry about. Since showing his – legendary, in fashion circles at least – colourful debut collection, Electric Angels, in London in 1997 on the models Kate Moss, Jade Jagger and Helena Christensen, Williamson has attracted a legion of A-list fans, including his friend Sienna Miller, and built an international presence. His latest pieces, being unveiled at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, are inspired by Russia and its costumes, palaces and tsars – and, more subliminally, by the economic downturn.

"In a way it [the recession] has inspired because I think it's made designers really look deeper into their offer. That garment has to have many more reasons why you would buy it than it did pre-recession," says Williamson, 40, himself decked out in designer threads from Etro and Thom Sweeney. "It's harder, and I think there are more challenges, and people want the same quality but they want a lower price point." Yet his business has enjoyed an "upswing in the highest price point", with customers opting for "a box-ticking" – as opposed to fashion – piece that will last.

Williamson's latest project is for charity. He has collaborated with Sainsbury's to create three canvas shopping bags being sold in aid of Sport Relief: at least £1.50 of each £5 bag goes to the charity. He recently visited Kids Company in Kilburn, north London – one of Sport Relief's good causes – and worked with children on an art project.

As a child, Williamson used to draw and paint every night after school and he knew from an early age what he wanted to do for a career. Born in Chorlton, Manchester, the self-confessed un-sporty designer was named after the celebrated Manchester United manager Sir Matt Busby, thanks to his football-fan father, David. He was inspired to draw by the way his mother, Maureen, a receptionist for a chain of opticians, dressed, and went on to graduate in fashion design and printed textiles from Central Saint Martins, London in 1994. Three years later, he founded his fashion house with his business partner Joseph Velosa.

Nowadays it is Miller, as opposed to his mum, who is recognised as Williamson's muse. Although he says he does not think of just one person when he designs, he describes the actress as "inspirational". "You know, she's willing to try anything and her sense of humour is very close to mine and our eye is drawn to the same things, creatively speaking."

Williamson is about to move into a new London home with his partner, the model Stephen Baccari, and dog, Coco (after Chanel). He believes British fashion is in a better state than ever, turning over money that "is not to be ignored". And he says definite effort are being made, including by the Government, to support the industry. "I think the future's very hopeful if they continue to see those new designers into their middle term of growth," he says. "I think it will finally dispel the idea that London is just about creative talent that then disintegrates, which it was back in the day."

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