We talk everything from gothic to ghetto fabulous with Wonderland’s favourite designer-with-a-dark-side, Simon Preen.
He says he was a “shy kid”, but there is nothing inhibited about his clothing. From leather harnessing to mesh cut-outs via a healthy dose of glitter, Simon Preen’s unashamed designs have been empowering women since the launch of his eponymous clothing line back in 2009. Having graduated from London College of Fashion and going onto work with the likes of Pam Hogg, his barely-there body suits have since caught the attention of music acts ranging from FKA Twigs to Kylie.
After a whirlwind 2014, we start the New Year by catching up with the music world’s designer du jour to get a first look at his SS15 collection, ‘Bunny’, and to see what other tricks he has up his sleeve for the future.
Tell us a bit about the journey that led to you launching your own label…
I studied fashion: I did a BA in Menswear. I guess I didn’t really expect to do menswear initially, but I did a fashion course in Chesterfield – where I’m from – and so when it came to applying to courses, it was kind of all the same to me in my head, because I never really design for men or women. So even though I applied for a menswear course, it wasn’t necessarily strictly menswear that I was producing. I just thought that the technical side of London College of Fashion’s menswear course was really good and really strong. Having said that, I feel that I got more of what I needed [to start up my own label] from London rather than the course!
2014 was a great year for you: you’ve been busy working on projects with everyone from Kylie to FKA Twigs… What was it like to work with such empowering women?
Those kind of projects are the things that I enjoy the most as a designer. Especially working within music, which is where most of my celebrity work is. Music is one of my biggest inspirations and passions, so working with people in music is something I like to do. I do like working on my own, but I also like being a part of a bigger, final result. So I’ve done work with smaller artists, which has mostly been through my own initiative, but the big artists always seem to come to me, which is great. And Kylie… I’ve loved Kylie since I was about six years old. But when they approached me to do it, I didn’t tell them that I was such a big fan! I’m a bit shy. I guess I never stopped being a shy kid at heart…
The theatrical element of your designs does lend them well to music and dance, doesn’t it?
That’s why I’ve done so many tours now, because my clothes are perfect for stage. They’re quite graphic, but you can really move in them.
Will you always work with just women?
A lot of people have asked me to do menswear, actually. So I decided to do a small collection of five pieces to see how it went about five years ago. Everyone really loved it and it got a really good response, but ultimately it didn’t really sell. So it wasn’t really worth my time trying to do two extra collections. And the kind of boys that want to wear my stuff will wear what I design anyway. They’ll wear the women’s stuff. I wear it! I hate saying body stocking all the time – it sounds so cheap! – but the way that they’re supposed to fit mean that a lot of boys can wear it anyway. Especially skinny, gay guys. And trannies. Actually, I shouldn’t say trannies. No, I should say trannies to make a point. I’m sick of people being offended by the word rather than the intent behind the word – it’s PC gone mad that RuPaul could be accused of being transphobic – and I guess the word tranny is a bit vague and all encompassing but gender and sexuality is so wide these days that if you are a part of the queer community in my opinion we are all the same and I so passionately love every kind of tranny that there is so….
So when you’re looking for someone that you want to work with, what is it that you’re looking for in that person?
It really does just come down to me liking someone and thinking that they’re cool and wanting to dress them. I’m trying to think of someone in particularly that I’d like to dress at the moment… Actually, I’ve always wanted to dress PJ Harvey. She looks amazing now, but my ideal would be to dress her during the To Bring You My Love album era. Apart from that, I’ve always wanted to do a shoe collaboration. I don’t really want to have my own line of shoes or anything, but I’ve always been interested in doing a shoe collab. I think Dr. Martens would work well with the way that I make my clothes already, kind of like piece work.
What are your goals for 2015?
My goal is really just to catch up! To catch up with the seasons and feel like I’m working to a proper schedule. It sounds a bit boring to say that, but I’m not very good at planning ahead. I just take the next step that I need to take as it comes, and then I think of the next step after that. I really need a business advisor. That should be what I’m aiming towards this year! But I don’t really believe in new year’s resolutions…
And moving onto your SS15 collection, ‘Bunny’; what was the inspiration behind it?
Well the inspiration is quite loose – as with all my inspirations – because I don’t actually start with the inspiration. I decide upon the theme at the end when I’ve made everything. I find whenever I’ve tried to make collections with a specific result in mind or with a specific inspiration it doesn’t work. It confuses me. So I basically just start making things. I don’t even really like drawing on paper: I just have these ideas in my head and make them straight into patterns. Then I kind of notice the themes somewhere along the way and christen it at the end.
With ‘Bunny’, I decided I wanted to do more leather work. So I did a section of leather pieces in there. And I also wanted to do more pieces that weren’t leotards and skin-tight body suits. I wanted to work outwards from the body a little bit more. I feel like I was getting a bit comfortable with the body suits. That’s what people love me for though, and it’s what I love doing, so I think I will always do a certain amount of them. In fact, the final piece that I made was the Bunny body, and I always name each collection after the key piece or my favourite piece. The Bunny was actually an idea I had when coming back from visiting family and friends for the weekend. I was hoping to do the look book shoot two days later, but when I made it I realised I had to call it the ‘Bunny’ collection. I also realised that there was a general Alice in Wonderland theme coming through as well, and so each name for each piece is a kind of Wonderland-inspired name. There’s not always necessarily a direct link, but it encapsulates the kind of playful, cut-out, cartoon element of the collection. So I thought that worked really well.
Leather works really well with your overall look, but this is the first time you’ve used it again since your first collections. Why did you decide to incorporate it back into your designs?
I wanted the leather pieces that I did to be somewhere in between a harness and a piece of clothing, so they’re almost like pieces of clothing with big sections missing. I had the idea a long time ago for the blue ‘Alice’ dress in this collection; I actually made the original sample for that almost two years ago. That was the starting point. Then making those leather pieces work with the body suits underneath them sums up the whole look, really.
What is it about the body stocking and body-con silhouette that you like so much?
That’s my favourite way to work with regard to pattern cutting. It’s just the way I visualise things really. In my head I draw lines onto bodies. I like the female form, and in my mind I like separating it. That’s the way I draw. I draw straight onto a full body pattern and kind of just cut it up and create weird shapes. It’s like that whole Grace Jones in Vamp kind of a vibe.
There’s definitely a gothic – almost fetishistic – element that runs throughout your designs. Is this something that’s important to you and your aesthetic?
Yes. That’s the way I think, and that’s the kind of girl that I’m designing for in my head. As I say, because I don’t choose a theme at the beginning of each collection, I think my collections won’t always look dramatically different, but there will always be this dark edge to everything that I do because that’s what I’m inspired by. Music, movies, everything. That’s the way I dress: a bit gothic, a bit grunge. Glamour grunge. So that’s the girl that I’m designing for in my head all the time.
So what kind of girl do you think does wear your clothing?
It kind of goes across the board. It’s actually interesting to see people wearing things that you’ve designed with a certain image in mind, but they make it so completely different. There’s this American beauty mogul that practically owns every piece of my collections and we’ve started doing a few custom pieces for her as well. She’s, like, completely ghetto fabulous, and she’s inspired so many other people to buy from me, who wear my designs in a completely different way to how I would have ever thought of, but it’s amazing. I love it. The body suits are like a second skin, so I think that’s why it’s so easy to wear it in so many different ways.
Do you have any thoughts on your next collection yet?
I have started doing some patterns, but at the moment it’s going to be as big a surprise for me as it will be to anyone else!
Words: Samantha Southern
Photography: Emily Rose England
Make-Up: Guy Common
Hair: Sophia Hadjisergis
Model: Maxine at Anti Agency
Stylist: Simon Preen
Shoes: Natacha Marro