Matthew Williamson talks red carpet dressing and his new high street occasionwear line

Matthew Williamson is launching an occasionwear line for Debenhams

Matthew Williamson, London’s beloved boho authority, is extending his reach on the high street, launching a capsule collection of occasionwear with Debenhams on 15th May. Here he tells us what to expect from the line, why he’s no longer showing on the runway at London Fashion Week, and what glamour means to him in 2016…

Your label is about to turn 20, so how has glamour changed in the last two decades?
‘I know, I can’t believe we’ve been going for 20 years! But I don’t like the word glamour on it’s own as I think it has certain connotations, I always preface it with the words laid-back. I think becoming glamorous has never been about wearing diamonds, jewels and glitter. I think it’s about being relaxed and ethereal. I think these are the core principles of what women come to me for, and they are the same as they were 20 years ago.’

Do you enjoy seeing who’s wearing what on the red carpet?

‘If I’m really honest I don’t really look at what other designers are doing. I don’t show any more on the runway so it’s even less relevant to me and I’m very comfortable in my skin and doing things my way. So on the red carpet I don’t look, my business partner tells me. He’ll say did you see so and so an hour ago…!’

What about when someone like the Duchess of Cambridge wears Matthew Williamson?
‘Well I’m aware of that, yes! I have my Instagram where I suppose if I press a button and search, I can see what Kendall Jenner’s wearing. But I refrain if I can, there’s just a lot of noise out there.’

Pictured, Matthew with Savannah Miller at his collection launch party. See all the pieces from the collection in the gallery above.
But when celebrities wear your clothes on the red carpet, does that still excite you?
‘Of course, yes there’s excitement in the office! But my approach to celebrity dressing is different to lots of designers in that I don’t court it. I don’t have an agency who are touting my designs trying to make celebrities wear them, so if they’ve chosen to wear something then it’s even better because they really did choose it for themselves.’

What styles had to be in the new Debenhams occasionwear line, for you?
‘It was about bringing the DNA of my brand and our rich archive to life and injecting some colour, intricate details and craftsmanship. I’m too eclectic in my taste to be formulaic and decide we need this many maxis, this many bobby dazzler party dresses… this first collection is an experiment, but it feels like a really natural step to move into this category that I think we’re known for and that’s been missing at Debenhams for us.’

You took your label off the London Fashion Week schedule two seasons ago, and now many more designers are discussing whether the fashion week format is working as it is…
‘Yes, I’m quietly pleased with myself! I think what might happen is a fractured next step. I don’t think the formula of showing to press and buyers, twice a year is right for everyone. It certainly wasn’t right for me for a whole load of reasons, so we jumped off that wheel, because it is a wheel and you are a hamster. What I’m doing isn’t right for every brand though. And what Tom Ford’s doing isn’t right for everyone. So I think you’re going to see this mixture of approaches and it’ll be less formulaic.

Why wasn’t it right for you anymore?
“I think it works when you’re young, hot and cool, and it works for really old big brands. You want to be at Burberry or Chanel, and you want to spot the next best thing on the rise. But 20 years in, it’s a different story, when you’ve established your loyal customers and you’re doing really well, but you’re not picking up new press or new buyers off the back of this show, which costs so much to put on.’

Matthew Williamson’s Butterfly occasionwear launches at Debenhams on 15th May.

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