Shropshire-born LOU DALTON spent much of her youth on her grandmother’s farm and left school at 16 to become a pattern cutter. Two decades later, Dalton’s rugged-yet-refined AW19 collection has been bought by Browns and her collaboration with John Smedley is selling like hot cakes. Adrian Gibson catches-up with the fast-rising menswear designer at Men’s Fashion Week in Paris.
Who has been your biggest fashion influence?
Upon leaving school at 16, I started an apprenticeship with a bespoke tailor called Arthur Pardington in Market Drayton. Arthur produced bespoke shooting attire and traditional English country wear for the local land owners in-and-around Shropshire, as well as J. Purdey & Sons in London which has held royal warrants since 1868. Arthur had a huge impact on me and my work. I grew up in a house where we were told we could do anything we wanted if we worked for it, so I did!
Please talk us through the creative process for a season?
I start by pulling together a visual mood board of ideas, fabrics, colours and suchlike, based on past sales and collections that have been well received. Then I begin to build a range plan for the collection. From this, I share the ideas with my stylist and art director who often feedback their inspired thoughts and ideas. Then I spend time drawing the collection out and developing patterns for each of the garment ideas. We then produce toiles and prototypes for each garment. Fittings are then held where we photograph them all. Once we have finished photographing, we lay each image out and work through which of the looks works best and edit accordingly. Throughout this process, we come up with additional ideas which are added and considered. We continue to work through everything until I feel that the collection is complete and ready to sample in the actual fabrics.
What are your thoughts on having a muse?
I have always been inspired by the men in and around my life. To think outside the box, outside one’s little world, can be difficult at times. Having a muse makes me, as a designer, question what I do, who it’s for and its end use. My collaboration with many companies, from high street to high fashion, have provided an opportunity to introduce our products and aesthetic to a vast client base. A few years ago, we decided to show our clothes on a muse via an editorial campaign. The idea was for someone who appreciated what we did, and who joe public could relate to, to be seen in our clothes in magazines and online.
How did Lou Dalton team-up with British actor Russell Tovey?
I had admired Russell Tovey for some time, and, thanks to social media, we struck-up a friendship. Having been the unofficial face of the brand for a few seasons, I was obviously thrilled when he agreed to become the actual frontman as the campaign star for the AW16 season. To date I have produced four campaigns with Russell, which many menswear magazines kindly supported, including GQ, Fantastic Man and Man About Town, to name but a few. I am currently looking into alternative ways to showcase my collections and hope to pick-up working with Russell again in the very near future.
Please tell The Cultured Traveller about your collaborations with iconic British knitwear brand John Smedley?
John Smedley is a well-respected, iconic British knitwear company which I am honoured to be collaborating with. John Smedley is striving to encourage and help strengthen UK clothing manufacturing. I was fortunate enough to be one of the designers the brand chose to collaborate with. Working with such an established company gives incredible reassurance to a buyer regarding the delivery of products and the quality of the making.
What did you last wear when on the red carpet?
For the 2017 British Fashion Awards, I wore a Dries Van Noten high-collared black shirt, Marni black pleated skirt, Marni shoes, Falke opaque tights, Prada earrings and a Lou Dalton black lacquered swing overcoat from my AW16 collection.
Which of your collections do you think has most defined you as a designer and why?
SS13 was a turning point for Lou Dalton as a label, because the likes of Liberty and Dover Street Market started to retail the collection. AW16 was an incredibly personal collection and related to a special time I spent in Shetland. AW16 was also the first collection that Russell Tovey fronted and is still very much one of my favourites. For AW17 I decided to present the collection in a studio, rather than show it on a catwalk, which was like turning a new page and start a new chapter. Since then, the brand has gone from strength-to-strength. AW19 marks the beginning of a collaboration with archetypal luxury British designer brand Gloverall, which is famous for its duffle coats.
We know that you’re very much into art. Who are you favourite artists?
When I like an artist and their work, I tend to stick with it regardless of whether it’s in fashion one minute or out the next. Rachel Whiteread, Wolfgang Tillmans, Rebecca Horn, John Currin, Cindy Sherman, David Hockney, Francis Bacon, Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth will all, forever, inspire me.
What music are you listening to at the moment?
I have an eclectic, ongoing Spotify playlist that I keep building from day-to-day. It includes music I listened to as a kid – including The Fall, The Smiths and Joy Division – through to A Guy Called Gerald, Raze, Joe Smooth and Andrew Weatherall. You’ll also find Roy Orbison, Ry Cooder and Robert Plant in there. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea but it’s mine!
Where is home for you right now, and what’s the best and worst thing about it?
London. The best thing about living in the British capital, is that although the streets are not paved with gold, being in London instils you with the belief that you can do and be whatever you want. The worst is that my fiancé Justin isn’t in London as much as I would like him to be!
Favourite hotel in the world and why?
Glengorm Castle on the Isle of Mull in Scotland. More a country house than a castle, Glengorm was built in the 1860s and overlooks the Sound of Mull, Ardnamurchan Peninsula and outlying islands. My first holiday with Justin was a road trip around Scotland. Singing along to Loretta Lynn as we were driving, we ended up on the Isle of Mull. Glengorm is a wonderfully magical place and still family run I believe. At sunset the Outer Hebrides are stunningly vivid in the distance. (www.glengormcastle.co.uk)
Any travel tips for our readers?
Take the time to read up on where you are going. Being a little informed always comes in culturally handy.
What four items can you not do without in your hand luggage on a flight?
Wet wipes, Elizabeth Arden Eight-Hour Cream (developed in the 1930s but still one of the best skin protectants on sale today), hand cream and a pillow.
Any holiday plans for 2019?
Palma for a week of sun, the Yorkshire Dales to walk part of the Pennine Way, and Baku to spend some time with my man!
Favourite place to eat in the world?
Kennedy’s of London serves the best fish and chips in town and I often take the team to eat there when we have finished a collection. There’s usually a fleet of London cabs lined-up outside Kennedy’s – not waiting for a fare, but inside grabbing a bite to eat! (www.kennedyslondon.co.uk)
What do you do to relax?
The usual: read, go to the cinema and theatre, listen to music, see exhibitions and travel. I work a lot, so any time away from fashion feels like a luxury. I have recently been going to the gym a lot, since they say that exercise is good for the mind, body and your soul.
With Lou Dalton being picked up by Bergdorf Goodman in New York and Browns in London recently, amongst others, it feels like the brand is really gaining traction at home and abroad. What do you put this down to?
A change in approach to the business and what we do. I spent many seasons putting together catwalk show after catwalk show, losing huge amounts of cash as well as my mind. Taking stock of who we are and what we do helped me to identify what my strengths were as a designer and as a business. And working with established companies that have a strong manufacturing machine in place has helped bring to life a more focused contemporary collection which is both affordable and well-made.
Lou Dalton is very popular in Japan where a number of retailers stock the brand. What do you think particularly appeals to the Japanese market?
Working with John Smedley and Gloverall of course strengthens Lou Dalton’s appeal since they both have strong footfall within Japan. Saying that, I believe that our approach to design for the last couple of seasons, focusing on core contemporary garments, has also heavily influenced the increased interest from Japan.
The brand is launching an online store for SS19. What challenges does this present to the business?
This will be our second attempt at retailing via our own e-store. When I chose to pull away from the catwalk, I also called time on the online store, not least because we were spending a lot of cash with little return. This time the online focus is to offer a slightly more bespoke service, with garments being made to order and a slightly longer delivery window of 4-5 days. Although customers like to buy instantly as it were, sustainability has also become increasingly important. There is too much product out there, online, and a lot of wastage in the industry. So, whilst I do believe that it is key for the brand to have an online presence, I believe it is my responsibility to be mindful on what we produce, where we produce and how much we produce.
Talk us through your inspiration for Lou Dalton’s AW19 collection?
For Autumn/Winter 2019, I looked to the individuals who have historically challenged the “false reality” created by incumbent rulers and regimes. I took inspiration from the “severe style” movement, namely Azerbaijani painter and draughtsman Tahir Salahov, adopted the utilitarian silhouettes of the industrial workers depicted in such works, and combined them with the sparing palette of contrasting vibrant and muted tones originally used to accurately portray true life in the Soviet 1960s.
What changes do you see on the horizon for the menswear market?
Considering Brexit and general world affairs, and at a time when global greed and domination are rife, as consumers it’s inevitable that we will all be affected. I think a desire to own less and be more resourceful is key. One needs to be open to change. And I believe that sustainability will become more important within the menswear sector over the next few seasons.