Christopher Kane cannot help but reel every time he visits the Versace headquarters in Milan. It’s not just the legions of “miracle workers,” as he calls the staff, who are there at his disposal. Or the “amazing” white coated couture seamstresses, whom, he says, “you just want to plug into your computer and download.” Or even Gianni’s spectacular apartment, which Donatella has kept like a shrine since her brother’s death in 1997, with his favorite candles burning and beautiful flowers throughout. It’s also the staff lunches: the plates of melon and Parma ham, the light-as-chiffon lasagna that Donatella claims has hardly any calories, the seafood. “Omigod, the seafood!” Kane tells me on a muggy July day in East London’s edgy Dalston neighborhood, adding that he and his sister Tammy “are like two wee piglets with the seafood. You almost want a paper bag to take the leftovers home!”
Sitting in the middle of his studio off the Kingsland High Road, Kane is wearing tight black jeans (women’s size 28), a black volcano-print T-shirt of his own design, and Prada sandals; Tammy, his muse and business partner, has on a blue gingham frock from Kane’s spring 2010 collection and men’s brogues from Church’s. White and spacious, with an espresso machine in the kitchenette and 15 staffers toiling away upstairs, their current headquarters is a big step up from the ramshackle place the pair worked out of until three years ago. In those days they shared their tiny living room with two seamstresses; outside, empty Jack Daniel’s bottles piled up by the front door. Today the empties neatly stacked by the garbage are white wine bottles. “Yes,” Tammy says with a twitch of a smile, “as you can see, we’ve pro-graissed.”
Although the atmosphere is eerily quiet, you could call it the eye of the storm. Kane’s spring 2011 collection will debut on the runway in six weeks, and so far he has neither a venue nor acceptable fabrics. (When the textile samples came in, says Tammy, he absolutely hated them.) Six days after the Christopher Kane show, the two will be in Milan, where Kane’s Versus collection will be shown on the catwalk for the first time. It’s a lot for a 28-year-old designer to navigate—even one widely acknowledged to be the biggest talent to come out of London’s famed Central Saint Martins design school in the past half decade. His nails, not surprisingly, are bitten to the quick.
“Meteoric” is the word most often used to describe Kane’s rise in the fashion world. Just five years ago he was a stringy-haired working-class kid from suburban Glasgow. At his first show, in September 2006, he debuted a conga line of jangling fluorescent bandage dresses that Browns in London, Maria Luisa in Paris, and Milan’s 10 Corso Como immediately picked up. Business, Tammy says, has “quadrupled” in the time since.