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Matthew Williamson Interview

Lynda Moyo talks to the Mancunian muse with 15 years in fashion and still focussed

Written by . Published on January 13th 2012.


Matthew Williamson Interview

MATTHEW WILLIAMSON knows magic.

Having worked his way from Chorlton-cum-Hardy to world designer domination, it’s not just his mystical appearance that makes him worthy of a wand.

Long, slick back hair, that moustache, glacial blue glaring eyes, and trend-setting tricks up his perfectly tailored sleeves no doubt.  He’s a well-dressed Desperado meets Derren Brown enchantment.  

"Sienna Miller - a friend of mine - has a line of clothes and she’s an actress. Far be it for me to say back off it’s my territory."

Up from London for the launch of his latest collection at Selfridges, Manchester, Matthew is staying at the Didsbury House Hotel for the night so as not to impose on his tirelessly supportive family who still reside in the city.

“My parents are coming,” he says with a knowing look. “They’ll be here in a minute. They love a bit of a Matthew event. My sister and her children too. I come back to Manchester less than I’d like to but a couple of times of year."

Matthew WilliamsonMatthew Williamson

You only have to hear the soft, unshakable Manc enunciation to know Matthew is still very much the Billy Elliot of Manchester, despite his long-term London life.

“I do empathise with that character” he says. “I think it’s one thing dreaming and another to have the courage and self belief to follow that dream through. We’ve all got dreams but it takes a person who is strong, focussed, single minded, with dogged ambition and also talent.

“I had all those ingredients plus the support of my parents. I always knew what I wanted to do. I wasn’t confused going through school and college. My parents really encouraged and nurtured that talent they could see from being a young boy.”

And is sitting atop the fashion mountain as fulfilling as finally dancing in Swan Lake would have been for Billy?

“Yeah. I kind of did imagine it to be just like this.”

But the game has changed dramatically since Matthew graduated from Central Saint Martin's in 1994. Last year, pop star turned WAG turned fashion designer, Victoria Beckham, took home a prestigious British Fashion Award. Matthew was also the recipient of a BFA three years previous, but doesn’t feel bitter about the new wave of showbiz shifters.

Matthew Williamson collection at SelfridgesMatthew Williamson collection at Selfridges

“Sienna Miller - a friend of mine - has a line of clothes and she’s an actress. Far be it for me to say back off it’s my territory. I might have done a number of years ago but today I don’t feel that.

“Take Victoria Beckham for example. I’ve become aware of her product and how she works and I genuinely believe she is talented. She has an eye and a vision. And she does work hard. The press surrounding her is not necessarily fair. She’s known for other things and it’s difficult for people to express themselves in a different field if they’re already in the spotlight.”

A visit to the careers advisor was a good thing for Victoria, according to Matthew, but would he ever consider a dramatic change himself? Acting perhaps? Singing even?

He winces.

“You never know, but don’t hold your breath. I personally like to do one thing and one thing really well. I think I would struggle if I took on too many diverse roles.”

He’s right. He’s a natural born fashion designer – you only have to look at the dress he designed for singer Kelis’ marriage to rapper Nas back in 2005 to see his undeniable creative capabilities.

“Kelis is a real firecracker. I love her approach to fashion. It’s very much my sensibility. She’s a bit of a magpie and she’s prepared to take risks and make mistakes. I’d much rather that than someone that was on the safe side.

“The wedding dress was her idea. She wanted to look like the colour of a green grape, and she certainly did.”

Kelis' Wedding DressKelis' Wedding Dress

Whether it’s bespoke designs for Kelis, capsule collections for Debenhams or collaborations with H&M, there was clearly never a plan B for Matthew when it came to his path in life. Maybe there rarely is with true creative types.

“If I wasn’t doing what I’m doing today?” he ponders. “Well, I love interior design. I’m obsessed with homes and houses and how people live and I find the two worlds quite closely connected so yes, I think I would still be in design.”

Anything from the shop floor upwards then? “Yes exactly.”

It’s that down-to-earth, humble nature that’s pleasing, if not a little unexpected, about Matthew. Unlike many in his field, he works tirelessly and successfully, without taking time out for ego trips. He’s a quiet man and I suggest his eccentric, wild side is instead reflected in his designs.

“I never thought of it like that. I don’t see myself as a timid character. I do love to party and I can talk the legs off a donkey. Trust me.”

I don’t buy it though. Cool, sweet and colourful in design - like a fruit pastille ice lolly really - it’s no wonder the fashion world’s a sucker for Matthew. He’s magic.

The Matthew Williamson s/s 2012 collection is available from Selfridges.

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