Banks on couture: Stella's an amateur, McQueen's a fantasist

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The Independent Online

His clothes are already sold in supermarkets and designed for bank tellers, but Jeff Banks went further yesterday in his mission to bring fashion to the masses with a blistering attack on some of Britain's leading couturiers.

The 60-year-old designer dismissed the work of Alexander McQueen, named last week as the British Designer of the Year, as "totally unwearable".

London fashion week, the annual showcase for domestic talent where McQueen's accolade was announced, was described by Banks as "largely irrelevant" because it appealed to a non-existent couture market in Britain.

The most biting criticism was reserved for Stella McCartney, 31, the daughter of Sir Paul McCartney, whose success, according to Banks, is due largely to the fame of her father. Speaking to the Wales on Sunday newspaper, Banks said: "In my opinion, Stella's clothes are very amateurish, but then because of who her old man is, it doesn't seem to matter. Is she one of Britain's great designers? Had it not been for her having a very rich father, would she be getting all this praise? I very much doubt it."

The criticism of McCartney, who designs for her own label which belongs to the Gucci empire, was part of a wider attack on the haute couture industry.

Banks, the son of a London sheet metal worker who has twice won the British Designer of the Year award, came to prominence as the face of BBC1's The Clothes Show in the 1980s.

He eschewed the glamour of the catwalks of Paris, Milan and New York by concentrating on designing ranges from suits to spectacles for a high-street audience.

His London-based studio, HQ Design, is estimated to make at least £2m a year in royalties from client companies including Sainsbury's, which launched its Jeff & Co range in 2001.

Banks has also delved into the polyester-rich world of the uniform by designing clothing for retailers and banks including Boots, Woolworths, Abbey National and Barclays.

While some British designers such as Julien Macdonald, who works for Givenchy, are judged by Banks to be making wearable clothes for women of all sizes, others such as McQueen are criticised for "fantasy" creations which cannot be worn.

Accusing the couture industry of behaving like an elitist clique when it comes to awards such as designer of the year, Banks said: "There's a kind of mafia that would have voted for Alexander McQueen but his things are a bit like the emperor's clothes.

"In my opinion, they are totally unwearable and don't sell. He's funded by a big Italian company and was the 'in' thing to vote for. I would like to see the syndrome broken of the Gallianos [chief designer for Dior] and the McQueens swiping the board. They are fantasy clothes which are not there to be sold."

The founder of the Warehouse fashion chain was also critical of London fashion week for channelling young British designers into couture, who would then find themselves bankrupted by the experience. Banks said: "At London fashion week, you get young people that have left college one or two years ago and take out an overdraft to show and end up going bust.

"Unfortunately, I think it is largely irrelevant. In New York, Paris or Milan, they promote brands that have broad distribution. In England, across the country, there are probably 90 to 100 shops that could actually buy the designer clothes being shown."

Organisers of London fashion week rejected Banks's comments, saying that a record 4,500 people had attended last week's events, including 900 UK-based buyers in an industry now worth £700m a year. John Wilson, chief executive of the British Fashion Council, said: "I simply don't agree with Jeff Banks. Fashion is not separated from the high street - in fact there are record numbers designing for high street retailers."

A spokeswoman for McCartney said: "We wouldn't like to comment. Stella is in Los Angeles opening her latest store."