“Dreamer. Never let it be said that to dream is a waste of one’s time, for dreams are our realities in waiting. In dreams we plant the seeds of our future.” Nice, huh? It’s a quote lifted from Alice Temperley’s Instagram. Though someone else’s words, they could easily come from her own mouth. Dreaming runs in the designer’s DNA; from her magical upbringing on a family cider farm in Somerset to her romantic designs seeped in nostalgia, often drawing inspiration from photography to vintage finds and films.
@temperleylondon / AW20 COLLECTIOn
In person, the designer is what I’d describe as a BBB (British Brigitte Bardot). Today, sitting in her Mayfair flagship store swathed in a three-piece velvet suit (“the waistcoat is one of the most under celebrated pieces in the wardrobe. I had a leather one once that got nicked out of the back of a car, 8 or 9 years ago, and last week I found a brown version. It’s second skin to me”) and wearing a slick of orange-red lipstick - Charlotte Tilbury’s Tell Laura, for those curious.
Instead of a conventional 'up and down' catwalk for AW20, she’s transformed her store into a swing music salon, with dancers invited to perform and model her retro-tinged collection. “I love the 1940s,” says Temperley. “I was always obsessed with dancing and I’ve been YouTubing a lot of swing music with my son.” Translated into the clothes: think a delightful mash-up of swing skirts, boots, knitwear, lurex dresses and tailoring. “The three-piece suit has always been key for us,” she adds. “When we first started doing them people didn’t really get it and you just thought ‘come on!’ And now they’re everywhere - you just have to stick at it.” Now celebrating 20 years of her eponymous label, Temperley talks career advice, JOMO and the art of slowing the fuck down.
I was making stuff from the age of 11. My parents have a cider farm [in Somerset], and so I would come up to Covent Garden, with my grandad’s girlfriend and buy beads and bits, and we’d put them together and make jewellery. Then my mum used to take me to a person’s house up the road, who used to sell off old Liberty scraps of fabric, and I’d make clothes out of those scraps. From there, I started selling them in a shop on Endell Street [in Covent Garden]. I just figured out that I could get more beads if I sold things that I made, so I guess I just wanted to create things. Growing up on a farm there’s not much else to do [laughs]. I used to lock myself away for hours and hours. I think if I’d have been in a city, I would have got myself into trouble a lot earlier. But [fashion] was an escape for me. Always has been - no matter what trauma I’ve been going through in my private life, I’ve always been able to escape into my work.
I’ve just built a studio for myself in the countryside, to work on my collections without distraction. My routine is usually the same - first I go to a sweet little café that’s near me to get an oat milk latte, I then go into the studio and whack on Radio 4, close the door and then I’m there all by myself. I’ll write a little list of things I’ll need to achieve that day – whether it’s sorting through swatches for embroidery or thinking of a sleeve reference; I write lists all the time in my notepad. Normally, I try to stay off my computer so I can think clearly.
Although I loved making clothes, a career in fashion wasn’t the main aim. I wanted to be a photographer. I used to take pictures of everything - but I remember when my dad asked me to write down all the shutter speed settings and lighting; I just froze and thought I could never do it professionally. I still want to do photography though, and I will when I have time. As a designer, these interests all feed into one another. It’s like reading a book after seeing a film – you’ve got the visual in your head.
When I first launched my brand [20 years ago] I was pulled in all directions. Sometimes you can hire too many people and everything gets diluted. At one point we were doing fifteen collections. And more is not more. Less is more. I’m doing that more now, bringing it right back with everything I’m working on – like, slow the fuck down! I used to work around the clock. But life is too short. I think making sure you’re happy in your work and life outside of work is a sign of success - it’s not about being minted. Although that would be nice! It’s about enjoying what you can do and having a good team - that’s the most rewarding part.
I’ve got a pile of books by my bed, like Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway. They are good to read if you’re going through a big transition phase in your life or career. It can be scary, but sometimes you’ve just got to do with your intuition: you’ve got to feel it, believe it, and listen to it. Because without a vision you’re not going anywhere, and without commitment to that vision you won’t have focus. I used to find those kinds of [self-help] books really hippy-dippy and like they were a waste of space, but really they’re just so good and useful to read. It would be unnatural not to feel anxious at some points in your career. Even coming back from half-term recently I was thinking ‘there’s just so much to do’ - you can get overwhelmed. But you’ve just got to think, ‘OK, one foot in front of the other.’
images | shutterstock