It was a cosy and sunny Thursday evening when I met Joshua Kane at his own store on Great Portland Street in Central London. It was quite tough to book an appointment with him – but I’m glad I made it after several calls and long emails between his press office and me.
On that Thursday, Joshua’s schedule was fully booked, so I got a chance to see him only for half an hour. As I came into the store, his PR well-dressed assistant Francesca kindly greeted me, offered a glass of water and invited to take a seat while we were all waiting for Joshua to come down the stairs from his studio to the shop floor.
I was nervous and excited about meeting him. I’ve been a fan of his for ages and always wanted to meet him in person. He doesn’t have just the style, but he also has some sort of mystery behind him – which I adore. That day was extremely busy for myself personally and since I wasn’t in New York, the cab system there in London was different – you can’t get the cab just on the street (or perhaps I just didn’t see people doing that), so I just took an “Uber” and asked the driver to rush, because I already thought that I would be late.
I made it on time and while waiting for Joshua – I took some pictures of the store and tried to feel the aura. Honestly – even without Joshua’s presence – I could feel him in the air by just looking around. An iconic look is vital for any designer’s success… And Joshua definitely has one for himself. Even if the label was cut out and you didn’t tell me where that suit was from – I would still be able to tell that it’s Joshua Kane’s. What I like about him the most is that he stands as a real ambassador for man’s individuality and personality. Besides the clothes that he creates, his models for his campaigns always stand out as well – they are not just sexy, good-looking guys that meet the criteria of a “model” – but they have something that when you go through the magazine’s pages – Joshua Kane’s image or campaign will make you stop and look at it again, because there is just something different about it.
Once, I have heard a quote, forgot what it was exactly, but it was saying something about the fact that the suit is not for fashionable men – it is for men, who have no fantasy. However, Joshua breaks that myth by creating an “intellectual” suit (let me call it like that). His suit is definitely not for boring people and definitely not for people, who have no fantasy. I agree with the fact that there are many boring suits in nowadays world – but Joshua’s suit is not for boring people. I believe that Joshua’s suit is for a confident personality and independent from public opinion. When you wear Joshua’s suit – you always make some sort of statement about yourself. And the last thing that I understood about Joshua’s suits while I was looking around – they are not for men, who just follow the trends. They are for men, who SET the trends.
Here is my conversation with Joshua about what it takes to be a successful designer and the commercialism that a business-minded world has to face nowadays.
B: You were considering career in football. It seems to be as a very different career path from what you do now – fashion design. Do you still do sports?
J: I don’t really play football anymore. Perhaps only once every six months... I still love all sports, though. Skateboarding – probably the most – and I do this regularly. That’s really athletic, physically demanding. The comparison between sports and fashion is the competitiveness. Sports are very competitive and there can be a lot of high stress, so is fashion. I’m a very competitive person. Even though the sports can seem to be very different from fashion – there are still many things that belong together in both fields. The experience and skills that I gained as a personality by doing sports – I can use now in fashion.
B: Since you mentioned competition… Just recently I read the book “Grace” by Grace Coddington, the Creative Director of American Vogue and she doesn’t fully agree with people, who call fashion photography as art. She would much rather say that it is business, because they are supposed to sell clothes by making those pictures. In this very competitive and business-minded world, do you think that fashion is a form of art? Or a form of business?
J: It’s a good question… I think it depends what you are referring to. Because you are talking about such a big spectrum of people that belong under a term of “fashion”. If you’re talking about the range from “Primark” to “Fendi” – you can’t answer such question the same way. Everyone has different directives and everyone has different goals.
B: I know what you mean, but let’s suppose that I’ve just graduated from university with a degree in fashion design, also got some work experience and now I would like to start working on my own brand, start doing my own fashion shows, open my own store, etc.
What would you say to young designers, who feel this way – should they just do whatever feels right for them to do or would you say that they should always have a sense of business and a little bit of commercialism?
J: I think questions like that I would have to answer based on my own personal experience. I wouldn’t want to say what’s right and what’s wrong, because everyone’s different. I’ve met thousands of designers in the last thirteen years and everyone has a different approach. That is the nature of designers – they all have different opinions. For me – finishing university and starting your own business is a bad move. Because you’re just not educated enough, however good university you graduated from. You need to learn further… I believe that working for someone else is your next level of education. You need to do it before you graduate into being a successful designer. Getting some work experience, working for other brands, working long hours – only after this stage I believe you are ready for the next step.
B: But just talking from your own experience – does a fashion designer have such luxury nowadays to be totally independent from public opinion and do whatever seems right to do. Or would you say that designers still have to think sometimes what is sellable and what is not – what I call as “commercialism”. I know that your business is not orientated to big masses – so your way of thinking might be different – but I would just like to hear your opinion about it.
J: I know what you mean… However, I really hate that word “commercialism”. I believe it’s a dirty word. But yes – designer has to produce something that is sellable.
B: I’m asking this question, because there are different designers with different opinions. For example, Tom Ford has been very open about it said that before he creates something – he first of all thinks if he can actually sell it. Another example could be Alexander McQueen – he’s quite an opposite. He did all those crazy and innovative outfits that many could appreciate, but not many would buy or wear them. Fashion is a very changeable environment and I would just like to know what is your opinion about it.
J: Really honestly? I just want to make sh*t I want to wear.
B: That’s a really great answer! Another thing that I would like to ask you is related to the importance of school to young talents. Before you started your own brand, you had worked for such brands as Paul Smith and Burberry and also you had a degree in Fashion Design from Kingston University.
Do you personally believe in the importance of school for fashion designers?
J: Yes, absolutely. Of course, you can find the way to industry without having a degree from university, but anyway I think that school/university is a very valuable experience that comes from the lessons that help you craft the beginning of your career.
Even just talking from my own experience - not the university, but the high school helped me to find what I really wanted to do in my life. I always loved making things, design, I was always making models, sculptures and objects from as long as I can remember, so in the end it seemed to be quite natural to do fashion design. However, it wasn’t that clear when I was young and only after I had a chance to study fashion design module in my high school – I finally understood that this was what I wanted to do in my life.
B: That’s interesting… But don’t you think that sometimes a school or university can limit young people in some way? For example, I know that many fashion design students are given the directions and themes for what they have to do. Isn’t it quite annoying sometimes when you have to create something that your lecturer wants you to do, but not you personally?
J: Yes, definitely I have been in such situations, when I wanted to create totally different things from what I actually had to. But that is important, because to be a designer you can’t just do things you want to do all the time. Especially, not in the beginning… And not everything was according to my rules when I started. I had to earn it. You have to do the things you don’t like doing to learn that skill so you would have it. It forms you as a better designer for the future and school does that. However, self-teaching or working for someone else - doesn’t necessarily. That’s why I think that school is important because it teaches you flexibility.
B: I can tell that fashion is your life – I can see it from your social media, from the way you look like and from your lifestyle. Anyway – don’t you have those days when you would truly hate fashion and you would want to run far away from this world for a day or a month?
J: Ammm… Not really… I think that I created my own world and I live in it. And I created it how I wanted it to be. Also, my world is not just a “fashion world” – in my world everyone has different experiences and I think we have only two employees who have graduated from fashion only - in a business of twelve. So there are people with external skills, different personalities and I’m sort of teaching them to do things I want them to do. Generally, I don’t see myself as a very “fashion” person and I don’t really respond to it as well if that makes sense.
B: You mentioned how important it is to have a wealthy experience before taking another step. Do you personally take people here for training? Do you accept interns?
J: Yes, definitely. Now we have two graduates that work for me and a third intern - all of them work in design and development for fabric products.
B: I liked it a lot when you said that you created your own world and you don’t want to escape it. For an outsider of your business, it might seem like all your dreams have come true. You have your own brand, you dress the celebrities, you have your own fashion shows, your own brand, you have a store in a prestigious location in Central London and you are the boss for yourself – sounds like all the biggest dreams that a designer could have – all of them came true. Anyway, I am wondering if you still have a dream that would be related to fashion?
J: I think it’s all stepping-stones and one leads to the next. If we would’ve had this conversation six months ago, I would’ve said “Hey, I have this big dream – I want to do the biggest ever attended London Fashion Week show in the theatre no one has ever been able to book before, because it’s the biggest and the most prestigious in Central London location and I want to mix ballet with live music, and men’s and women’s fashion, and I want a live audience, sell tickets and do the first ever show in London that members of the public could come to – not just press, not just VIP, not just the celebrities, not my Instagram followers – just the members from the public could come and enjoy it” – if I would’ve said this just six months ago, you would’ve said “Well, that’s a really great dream.” But that was that and it came true. Now I have other dreams, other goals that I want to achieve.
I would say that every designer is a dreamer, so am I.