'I think of myself as a hands-on designer. For me make is integral to my design philosophy. It is crucial how a piece of clothing feels when worn. I’ve always wanted clothes to be the way I drew them – relaxed and lived in, a natural look. I find men’s clothes interesting in their structure, feel and functionality. I started by designing men’s clothes, and then found that women wanted them.
I’m inspired by the authenticity I can find in nature, people and places, and I think it is the same quality I look for in the materials I choose. For example, the feel of hand-woven Harris tweed and the irregular slub of Irish linen. I feel passionate about landscape, and its connection with such fabrics and the skilled people who weave them.
I like to work with manufacturers who understand and share this passion for make and quality of fabric: specialists such as John Smedley in fine-gauge knitwear, Mackintosh and their part hand-made raincoats, and the Scottish knitting factories that continue their heritage of producing the best cashmere in the world.
I also find these qualities in other people’s work. In 1970 I was encouraged by finding – at a jumble sale – an old, yet finely stitched pinstripe shirt. Today I still find it exciting to hunt out objects I consider to be well-made and enduring. In particular, mid-20th century products such as Anglepoise lamps, Ercol furniture, and Robert Welch stainless steel cutlery, represent the best of our heritage of timeless functional design.
I enjoy pulling these threads of British tradition, quality and skill together in clothes that are meant to be worn in the real world, where good design is about living with thoughtful style.'
— MARGARET HOWELL
A SHORT FILM BY EMILY RICHARDSON AND MARGARET HOWELL
'I have been asked about my work many times over the years. And while some questions are easy to answer, others - especially those about inspiration - can be very hard. My work is personal as well as professional. Inspiration is the key, but it takes many forms: a memory, a person, the feel of a fabric, the place where it is made, as well as from an image in my mind. So much is down to intuition and a feeling of what is right at that particular time. Realising that inspiration is the work.
Such things are difficult to put into words that is why Emily and I have made this film. It looks back at my early days and the people, places, crafts and images that meant so much to me then, and still do. I hope that it conveys what has always mattered to me as a designer.'
– MARGARET HOWELL
Emily Richardson is an artist filmmaker and researcher whose films explore the nature of our relationship to personal histories and the spaces we inhabit. Her films have been screened at Tate Modern, BFI London, Barbican cinema and in galleries and festivals internationally.