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Cover Story: A flair for fashion's in the jeans; Life's exploding for designer Andrew Mackenzie, who come a long way from Llanelli, writes Catherine Jon Italy is good for my work. They love designers over here.

Byline: Catherine Jones

FOR so long Julien Macdonald has been t Welsh king of the catwalk but he has a preten to the throne: not a young upstart but established designer who has been quie wooing fans with his pricey designs and ero continental fashion shows.

Llanelli-born designer Andrew Mackenzie is t Julien Macdonald of the jeans world - and more.

Now based in Italy, he has been one of Wales's be kept fashion secrets.

Inspired by the mines and steel factories of h homeland, Mackenzie designs clothes which are stock by cutting edge international stores, worn by celebrit and featured in the edgiest of magazines.

His jeans cost between pounds 180 and pounds 280, maybe mo and dresses start at pounds 800. A leather coat will set y back at least pounds 1,000.

Pop diva Anastasia had him do her tour wardrobe a uber chat show host Graham Norton wears his stuff, b Mackenzie - known as AMK in the industry - says doesn't especially court a celebrity following. They j happen to like his stuff.

Welcome to the high-gloss world of Andr Mackenzie where catwalk shows cost around pounds 200,0 and feature models in wedding outfits strapped in cag as smoke swirls provocatively.

In the front row of these extravaganzas, you'll fi some of the most prestigious names in fashion such Manolo Blahnik, the creator of the shoes favoured Sex and the City's Carrie Bradshaw. In the backgrou there might be 12 erotic dancers.

His jeans - Mackenzie describes them as ``design top of the top range'' - are a sell-out in London and It and are sold in the trendiest stores in Japan, Ameri Russia and Germany.

``People know about me. They think I'm Scott because of the Mackenzie but I'm Welsh,'' he says.

``I think it's amazing and so cool that so many fashi designers come out of Wales. I have been working aw from Wales for a long time but I am still basica Welsh.

``It's great that people like Julien Macdonald a coming out of Wales. I don't really know him but I friends with some of his friends.''

His long career - ``I am well over 40, not a ba designer'' - has been a learning curve.

Mackenzie went to college in Carmarthen and mother, Valerie, still lives in Llanelli and ha photograph of her son with Tom Jones at a Pavaro event.

He arrived in Italy at the start of the 1980s after doihis fashion apprenticeship in London, Paris and New York.

Based halfway between San Marino and Rimini - he also has a house in Bologna - he studied at what he remembers as Dyfed College of Art.

``I was accepted in a couple of London colleges,'' he says, ``but there was a cash flow problem for my parents.''

There was a short spell ``making Mini motor cars because I haven't got any A-levels'' - until a phone call to his parents.

``I left school and next thing my art teacher phoned saying they were looking for students at a fashion college and was I interested? ``I wanted to do graphics. I was always arty, drawing all the time, so I started a fashion course in Llanelli.''

He completed his studies in Carmarthen before attending the London College of Fashion for a year ``just to get to know the big city''.

``I was in London for three years in the 1970s, working with Bill Gibb.

``He was very big. It was Zandra Rhodes, Ozzie Clarke and Bill Gibb was at the top. I was his assistant doing academy awards outfits for Olivia Newton-John for Grease.

``Billy was the boy in haute couture. We were based in his studio in Old Bond Street in London. He was up and down, spent years financially crashing and coming back.

``His work was very ethnic, very Kaffe Fassett. For me coming out of nowhere, it was fantastic. I was doing some stitching for this lovely lady, just meeting twice a week and she put me in touch with him.''

Mackenzie, who sports a rockabilly blond quiff with thick black glasses, recalls his time in London in the late 1970s as fun.

``I was living in a bedsit in Notting Hill Gate but when Bill crashed again we found ourselves out again. I had friends in France and they invited me to Paris. I was hanging around there doing freelance work.''

In Paris, Mackenzie started working with leather. He designed a collection for a tiny label with only four shops but top pattern cutters.

``I don't like Paris at all. It wasn't my sort of town and in the early 1980s it wasn't really buzzing. I had lots of problems going on and anyway, I got bored of going and asking for croissants three times a day.''

When he was asked to work in a design studio in Bologna, Italy, he went, designing shoes for the likes of Sergio Rossi as well as coming up with designs for Benetton.

``I started enjoying it big time and then I got my own design studio and started working in jeanswear.

``I was doing jeans for Aldo Civata, who has a factory down the road and produced Katherine Hamnett. I didn't really want to start on my own: even at 31, I didn't have the experience to do that. Af working three years with him, he said, `Let's do yo line.' Wow! Great! I looked for my assistant.''

It turned out to be the right decision to stay in Ita In the late 1980s he was back and fore to New Yo having interviews with Calvin Klein - ``Will you com and work for us?'' - and Donna Karan the same.

``I love New York but I needed a challenge.'' He is now involved with a production compa called Gild and started producing his brand nam Andrew Mackenzie, five years ago.

At first, it was a straightforward collection, ``arou 25 to 30 pieces of denim: jeans and T-shirts, ve simple things''.

His jeans, especially the ``bandy'' version with distinctive U-shape, quickly became a must, admir for their technical execution. Mackenzie loves den and its colour, which he says becomes more beauti with age and evokes images of rain, of the mines a factories of Wales.

People started taking an interest as Mackenz showed his clothes at presentations and more recen at full-blown fashion shows. Last season his Goth style spectacular, featuring men's and women clothing, caused a stir in Milan.

``I have arrived at that point. My work is challengi still, less jeans and more high fashion.''

Francesco Saccomandi, Mackenzie's PR consulta describes his client's designs thus: ``His creations are distillation of the hi-tech metropolis of the next millennium, the digital computer age, the synthesised sounds of the clubs at the moment, the iron and steel factories, cartoon and rockabilly heroes.''

He says the designer's look is also influenced by cinema images.

Mackenzie's June show centred around 60 to 70 outfits, and he emphasises the toil involved.

``It is not a gilded life. It's really hard slog. I just do it.

``It isn't so glamorous. You've got to have eyes everywhere.

``I am being myself and thinking don't lose your head. I just work on each collection. There is a killing mentality, just kill, and a lot of people don't survive and I've seen that in experience of 20 years.

``The money I make goes straight back into the business. I am not a multi-millionaire.

``Italy is good for my work. They love designers over here. Fashion is a massive part of the economy here and is taken very seriously. If you want something done, it's done.

``Everyone is very fashion conscious. I see the hooligan boys in my jeans and think, oh right, how can you afford them?''

For his shows he favours Superstudio Pu, a huge warehouse space, as a venue.

``I use the biggest; the Italian designer Roberto Cavalli uses it as well. They have fashion shows in there all the time.

``The shows are about money: there's business behind the posing.''

In his many years in the business, Mackenzie has learned there is a tough side to such an apparently glamorous world.

``It's difficult for young designers to break into because who will back them and launch them without financial feedback?

``They say, `I am 26 years old. I need a back-up.' It's not easy. People won't risk it. It takes three years to develop a rapport with your clients and three years for people to know in shops if your things are selling. It canexplode after three years.

``It's been five with me and now it's exploding. I don't want to explode too fast. I don't want to burn out.''

He describes his current designs as ``pretty aggressive stuff''. ``Very glam and very rocky. The first time I showed womenswear, that was pretty aggressive too.''

``For spring/summer 2003, it's very rich: a lot of lam and lots of embroidery.''

As he increasingly attracts the attention of the fashion media, Mackenzie has had to become used to giving television interviews for international stations.

He says he can be quite shy and gets nervous and edgy. ``You have got to prepare yourself for this. I enjoy creating much more.''

Autumn/winter comes into the shops in September. An only child, he has uncles and cousins in Llanelli and tries to return to his home town when he can.

He has friends in London - ``I have friends in common with Julien Macdonald and I knew the ex-boyfriend of McQueen. He's a cool guy'' - but enjoys the glamorous club scene in Italy.

``Totally different to the UK,'' he says. ``An evening in a club starts with a huge dinner. It's like wow, nothing like going to a club in Britain. It's really fun and you can have a private table with bowls of fruit and lots of champagne. ``We are seeing a new style of clubbing. Belly dancers and the music starts when they collapse the tables at 12.30.''

Andrew Mackenzie cites the likes of Mickey Rourke, Christine Aguilera, English pound coins with Welsh dragons on them, bedsits and his own contribution to theinternational fashion scene as some of his favo things.

He says he ``just wants to have fun'' with fas because it's not really him. Fashion, he say superficial and about selling yourself. ``But the m you sell, the more you can do certain things in sh and the more designs you can put into collections.'' nAndrew Mackenzie stockists include Selfridges and Question Air in London, John Anthony in Bath and Drome in LiverpoolCELTIC CONNECTION

WHEN Mackenzie met up with another Celt, Gibb, he was to become an assistant to one of most renowned designers of the 1960s.

Born in Scotland in 1943, Bill Gibb is regarde one of fashion's most talented and innova designers. He studied at St Martin's School of and the Royal College of Art in London and reputation quickly grew after his nominatio Vogue magazine's Designer of the Year in 1970. In 1975, with Kate Franklin, Gibb opened a s Inspired by the richness of ethnic costume Scottish Highland dress, he created layered clo often in contrasting patterns, colours, and mate with ornate trimmings.

Gibb also collaborated with Kaffe Fass designing a range of machine-knitted separates. signature motif was the bee (B for Bill) which o featured in his daywear and fantasy evening clo Late in his career he introduced a haute couture li He was a casualty of the recession in the 1970s, but continued to work for private clients on small-scale projects until his death in 1988.

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STYLE GURU: Andrew Mackenzie and his winter collection
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Title Annotation:Features
Comment:Cover Story: A flair for fashion's in the jeans; Life's exploding for designer Andrew Mackenzie, who come a long way from Llanelli, writes Catherine Jon Italy is good for my work.
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUIT
Date:Jul 27, 2002
Words:1939
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