Text by Jonathan Yee | Photos courtesy of Weekend Max Mara
Kate Phelan

Known for her feminine-masculine remixes, fashion editor Kate Phelan sought to create a capsule collection that would remain relevant even a decade later. She now has a chance with Weekend Max Mara. Her design blueprint for the capsule came from a fashion spread shot by Bruce Weber in British Vogue in 1982. After 30 years, the tomboy-styled imageries are still relatable. This collection compromises a range of everlasting wardrobe essentials, namely the Max Mara hero item - an oversized coat with Donegal tweed fabrication. Meanwhile, a suit jacket is rooted in Savilla Row tailoring and a Crombie coat and parka reflect a British mod influence. Solid and earthy palette choices reign supreme via wintery off-whites, ink blacks, and dusty greys. Also, The Face magazine's graphic inspired print makes a cameo. Outerwear numbers layered with easy-to-wear separates and colour-blocked slip dress also offer a day-to-night versatility. 

MANIFESTO: What was the outline for this collection and how did it all began?

KATE PHELAN: So, I’ve consulted and styled on an advertising campaign for Weekend Max Mara and I really enjoyed working with the team. And at some point the team explained to me about how they collaborate with different people from different creative fields for their Signature collection. And they were asking me whether if I knew anybody who would be a good fit for this project. Then a few weeks later, I got a phone call from their team asking me if I would do it. I was quite surprised about this offer and I definitely had a brief moment of dead air on the call. But I replied, “Yeah. Sure, why not?”.

M: How surprised were you?

KP: I was very confused and puzzled, but then I thought it through why they invited me to do this. I’ve worked in fashion my whole life. I love fashion and I still love fashion. I’ve been in this industry for a long time and it still excites me. And I thought “Well, why not?” I do feel confident that I have a certain taste that even I would be intrigued by. Whenever I’m working on a shoot, I always seem to fall back to the roots of what I love. Whenever I’m thinking about an idea, it’s not always rooted in the classics, but I always love that everlasting quality of certain pieces of clothing. It’s like a tuxedo jacket, it’s never not in fashion. And how denim has become an important part of the daily wardrobe. And also the high-low world; it’s like seeing clothes and wearing clothes that exist not just for one particular moment which has a life expectancy. So they can be worn throughout the day into the evening. They can stay in your wardrobe and exist for a length of time. 

M: And it keeps evolving as well. 

KP: Exactly. And I’m trying to get away from that sense of everything being just a trend. Over the years in fashion and identifying the things that I love in fashion, I always root for something that can last forever. And I think most of the great ideas in fashion always come from something quite classic.

M: But trends are still part of the fashion ecosystem. 

KP: You’re absolutely right. And I think it’s about finding that mix. As a fashion editor, we’re always playing with the juxtaposition of masculinity and femininity. And I think they become my toolbox of styling and design. So, I’m trying to bring new elements but using the old elements to keep them rooted in certain direction. Also casting is such a crucial element for us because different talent casting can translate the looks completely. So, I always feel that clothes is a language and we are literally saying something – talking through clothes and images. 

M: What sort of images or vision pops up in your mind when you were developing this Signature collection? 

KP: When I was really young, my mom used to buy Vogue. I remember an issue that was dated back in 1982. I stopped on the page of this story photographed by Bruce Weber, I was absolutely fixated with the way that the models looked, the photographs, the clothes and everything about it because I’ve never seen anything like it before. And I’ve never seen that type of relationship between men and women portrayed in a magazine like Vogue in that way. The girls had their hair cut off and boys and the girls looked equally beautiful. They were equally heroic. I love the clothes – the sensual satin long skirts layered with a big overcoat. The sense that was almost like sharing their wardrobe – this ambiguity... the masculine-feminine world almost overlapping between the two sexes in the story. I still remember that I went to the charity shops and found something that looked close enough to this story. I literally copied every single look to wear. It’s still crisp in my mind today as it was then. And Weekend Max Mara is about these clothes that have their own lives. The brand is Weekend Max Mara but they are not just for the weekend. The collection is geared towards more informal pieces, presenting a sense of escapism. It is more about what influenced me before I started working in fashion. The masculine tailoring from the Savile Row where British men’s tailoring was born. Then, the influence of Japanese designers arrived in ’80s London with dark denim and Donegal tweed.

M: The collection looks timeless and is also relevant for today's wear.  

KP: That’s what I really wanted to achieve with this. I wanted it to feel like how I feel about clothes. The familiarity of these clothes shouldn’t be something that makes them feel irrelevant; it should make you feel comfortable. Most of my clothes have been with me for over hundred years.

M: Are there particular items that are dear to you? 

KP: If I’m being honest, I love the navy trouser suit. I think that concept of having a black jacket, which is the ultimate wardrobe epitome that you wear over an evening dress or with T-shirt and jeans in the weekend, the versatility of the black jacket is important. So, I take this concept and make it into a navy suit. Another thing that I’m dying to take home with me is the tweed jacket because interesting enough that I haven’t got one. And that’s what I would really love to have in my wardrobe.

M: Any interesting stories or challenges in developing this collection? 

KP: The hardest part for me was introducing colour. The team were saying that everything is great, but we need some colours in the collection or it will look a bit gloomy. And this was difficult for me because I’m not a colour person and I don’t know what to do! So then, I was inspired by all my old issues of The Face magazines. I used to love all the graphic designs and typography of the magazine. Neville Brody was the art director of The Face at that time. And I was just obsessed by the way he worked because I like the fonts and the way he used colours. He could be able to turn some mundane images to be extraordinary because of the art and design input. So, I used that as starting point and work on the idea of using graphics to bring colours in. Like the dress in a bold blue palette. To me, the colour is about making a bold statement.

M: Working as a fashion journalist, fashion editor, stylist and also a fashion designer, where does this collection rank in your extensive CV and career trajectory? 

KP: I’ve explored quite a lot in the industry over the years. When you’ve worked with so many wonderful creative people and fed off so many people, it’s such a rewarding environment to work in. There’s so much to learn from others and I still learn something new every time I do a shoot. I studied fashion design at Central Saint Martins because I didn’t know a stylist job even existed. So, I thought I have to be a fashion designer if I want to work in fashion. Then, I had the opportunity to work for Topshop. That experience working in a retail environment helped me understand what’s it like to be on that side of the fence. That down and gritty retail space. I learnt an awful lot about selling clothes at that point. When I started going back to work on editorials, I felt like I’ve learnt so much about what is the real view of fashion from a retail perspective. When we are in a magazine, you’re in an ivory tower and you think everybody sees the world just like the way we see it. But when you’re down in the gritty retail scene, you immediately know it’s a completely different world, more like a reality check. So, I’ve never been shy of doing something like this because I always felt like I had it in me. I feel comfortable working with fabrics, shapes, and ideas. And styling sometimes is an element of design. You might not actually be making the clothes but you’re editing and curating how they go together. I vision the clothes how they would look like in photographs; this is the way that helps me envision the result.


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