For W’s annual The Originals portfolio, we asked creatives—pioneers in the fields of art, design, fashion, comedy, activism, and more—to share their insights on staying true to themselves. See this year’s full class of creatives here.
A lot of stylists approach clothes through the lens of elegance or beauty. But your work—which includes creating looks for Harry Styles and Emma Corrin—feels different, almost like you treat outfits as chapters in a larger cultural narrative.
Whenever I work with someone, I look at what they’ve done in the past, to gauge what their fashion parameters are and see if we can push them a little bit. There’s a sense of camp to everything I do, a sense of humor. I try to have a character-story kind of thing with each person, which goes back to when I was a kid taking drama classes on the weekends. For me, it needs to feel like everything has meaning. I try to never do something like, “Okay, this is the dress of the season.” It’s more like, “How does that dress fit into this person’s story?”
You work with men such as Styles and the English soccer player Dominic Calvert-Lewin, both of whom are in their 20s and are often praised for expanding the aesthetic boundaries of masculinity.
There is this new perspective on fashion and gender. When I was growing up in the 1990s, if you were into clothes, you were gay—that was just the automatic thing. For a new generation, fashion just means that you’re interested in the way you present yourself. But, obviously, I live in a very culturally diverse environment filled with forward-thinking people. In some parts of England, there’s probably still that old point of view. The world of British soccer can still be a very toxic environment for men. So it’s really exciting to work with someone like Dominic who loves wearing clothes and wants to have fun. He has an array of Chanel handbags. It’s just so fab.
How did you become interested in fashion?
As a boy, I never picked up Vogue or anything like that. I was just really focused on putting my own outfits together. When I was 16, I got a job at a clothing store called River Island, and I would ask the manager if I could dress the mannequins and head the visual merchandising. At the time, I didn’t really get that styling was a career. When I got to university, I initially studied photography. But I quickly realized that what I was really interested in was the concept and the narrative behind the photos. I loved everything around the image, but not the technical side of photography.
What were some of your early aesthetic references?
I grew up watching Madonna’s music videos. I’m obsessed with Britney Spears. I’m really into all those amazing moments created by the Spice Girls—stuff like that. I’m still very much interested in reality TV and celebrity. Pop-culture moments bring people together. It all comes down to humor and happiness, right?
Your vision has spawned several menswear trends: After Harry Styles wore a pearl earring at the 2019 Met Gala, suddenly pearls were everywhere.
Well, we weren’t really the only ones who were wearing pearls at the time, but we just helped make it more mainstream. I remember wearing pearls five years or so ago, and people would literally stop me on the street to stare at me like I was a freak. Now boys are wearing pearls as a symbol of coolness. It makes me realize how much things have changed in such a small amount of time. That being said, what I do is never politically or socially driven. It’s really about creating outfits that we think are aspirational.
Out of all the iconic looks you’ve created, which outfits received reactions that most surprised you?
When Emma Corrin wore a Loewe dress with a sculpted balloon bra at the Olivier Awards, I knew that some people were not going to get it, but we didn’t care. We were just obsessed with that collection and that outfit—the art of it and the camp of it. But I was still surprised by how strong of a reaction that look received, both from people who loved it and from people who absolutely hated it. I think that’s good. Like, if it’s boring, that means you’re doing something people already like, right? If people don’t like something, that means there’s an opportunity for a conversation. That is when it gets interesting. Take Björk’s swan dress. Now, that was very controversial—but we all still remember it.