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Interview with Fashion Designer Stella McCartney.

Aired June 7, 2013 - 05:30:00   ET



STELLA MCCARTNEY, FASHION DESIGNER: My name's Stella McCartney and I'm a fashion designer.

MONITA RAJPAL, ANCHOR, CNN INTERNATIONAL (voiceover): And not just any fashion designer. She's among the most well know in the world. Recognized for her sharp, simple tailoring and feminine flair, the daughter of the former Beatle, Sir Paul McCartney, is most definitely a star in her own right.

McCartney's first leap to fame was succeeding the fashion heavyweight, Karl Lagerfeld, to become creative director at the French design house, Chloe. And despite initial trepidation from some, her collections won her critical acclaim.

MCCARTNEY: I think I went college and went, "Ah, somebody wants to buy my clothes. What do I do?"

RAJPAL (voiceover): Today, some 15 years, 60 collections, and 573 outlets around the world later, her popular designs bear her own name. Along with her ethical animal-friendly, and sustainable take on what fashion should be.

MCCARTNEY: Hey look. It's that Stella McCartney store.

RAJPAL (voiceover): This week, on "Talk Asia", we're with Stella McCartney in Beijing for the opening of her flagship store. And follow her to Shanghai to hear what advice she has for the next generation of designers from the East.


RAJPAL: Stella McCartney, welcome to "Talk Asia".

MCCARTNEY: Thank you.

RAJPAL: Thank you so much for being with us. And welcome to Beijing, where we're going to be seeing the grand opening of your flagship store here, in the Chinese capital. At what point did you realize that Asia was where you needed to be?

MCCARTNEY: Asia has always been a really exciting part of the world for me, personally. And it actually was the first part of the world that bought my brand, strangely enough. When I left college -- I'm really excited to be here.

RAJPAL: You have a presence in about 60 countries. When you look back at the brand that you started 12 years ago, what kind of ambition or hopes did you have for the brand?

MCCARTNEY: I think I always dreamt of having a brand that really was represented globally. That had a voice - that had a clear voice and a clear vision that made women feel great about themselves. That really spoke to women on a personal level. And that women could wear. You know, that's really important to me. And, at the same time, that it was responsible - a responsible luxury fashion house is quite rare to come by. It's always just been very important to me to grow slowly and surely and have the correct foundations. And from that, to then build on that.

RAJPAL: And building on that, what do you think are the key ingredients to that staying power? To making sure that Stella McCartney -- the label, the brand - stays on for decades and generations to come?

MCCARTNEY: Oh many things. I think being true to myself is very important. Not trying to be anything that I'm not. And therefore, it's quite effortless. It comes quite easy, you know. The process is not easy, but if you can at least be true to yourself creatively and in business, I think that you are sending the right message for yourself and for the people around you. And therefore to your customer.

Always respecting your customer is really important to me. I feel, as a female designer, I understand women and I am really proud of that. And I'm a great admirer of women. So I think that that, hopefully, will give the brand longevity.

RAJPAL: One of the interesting things I've found - I read about how you negotiated your deal back in 2001 - was that you held on to your stance that you wanted to retain 50 percent control. And when Gucci Group, PPR, and now Kering - the umbrella company - they agreed to that. That's not something that they would normally do. What gave you the confidence to do that?

MCCARTNEY: You know, I am very aware of my family name. I'm very aware of the legacy that that kind of carries with it. And I think that I didn't want to lose any kind of hold of that. And I think once you're born into something that you're proud of and that you're aware of, you don't take it lightly. So, in creating another McCartney brand, if you like, I was aware that I needed to have a certain amount of control in that. And in where that would be taken in the future.

And also I just think it's very important, as a creative person, to feel that you have a lot to do with the business side. I think this industry's so full of incredible creative minds, that a kind of distance from business. And it can sometimes create a void in between the relationship. And I just don't find that healthy in creating a brand.

RAJPAL: So what was that like, then? When you first saw your name, "Stella McCartney", the label, on a piece of clothing. And then your name on a storefront. It wasn't your father's name, it was your name.

MCCARTNEY: It's never really sunk in. I think I separate myself, probably, from the brand mark and myself as a human being and my name. I think it's a strange one - it's an interesting question. But actually, now that I do so many products and I literally - every part of my life is -- my lingerie is Stella McCartney, my bags are Stella McCartney, my sunglasses are Stella McCartney, my kids' clothing is Stella McCartney, my sportswear is Stella McCartney. So everything I wear, head to toe, has my name on it.

And my kids kind of joke about it. They're like "Mummy, we don't need to put your name in your clothes when you go to school, because you have it in there already". So it is interesting how you sort of distance yourself from that. It's a really humbling thing, though.

RAJPAL: You literally wear your heart on your sleeve?

MCCARTNEY: I wear my heart on my sleeve.


MCCARTNEY: Step into my office. How do you say "waistband" in fashion?

RAJPAL: I didn't know you were so funny, Stella.

MCCARTNEY: We've been thumping funny. Really good luck to rub the nose of the bull.


MCCARTNEY: Not really. I totally made that up. Hey look, it's that Stella McCartney store.

RAJPAL: Pretty impressive, there. That's yours.

Tell me about the choice of actually being located in this place. Because, I mean, it does represent what you're about.

MCCARTNEY: Yes, well that was the choice, really. Having the opportunity to work in an incredible sustainable building in China - it's incredible. I'm really excited.

RAJPAL: On a day-to-day basis, what keeps you excited and hungry for it?

MCCARTNEY: I think, you know, when you're creative, you're just excited to start a new collection. But I'm so lucky in that, being the creative director of my own house, I get to work from A to Z. So I get to work on the birth of a collection. I get to sit and design the fabrics and the colors and the textures and the silhouettes. So I get all of that side of things, and then I get this amazing moment when you start to realize that you fit in. And then you show it. So then I get to go, "OK, where should we have our show? What kind of music should we have? What should the models look like? What should the hair and makeup be?" So then, you get to sort of do that part of the industry. And then I get to meet people like you, which is really great - you know, really exciting.




MCCARTNEY: I have a six-year-old girl, too.




RAJPAL: I think one of the first times, perhaps, women - I know I did - recognized your name in fashion was when you were at Chloe. And it was those trousers that everybody talked about. The low slung but -


RAJPAL: You know, it flattered pretty much every shape.


RAJPAL: When you're designing a collection - now, we're not all six foot tall, you know, size zero. How do you manage that kind of look so that it flatters everyone?

MCCARTNEY: I'm a miracle worker. What can I say?


MCCARTNEY: No, you know, I think I'm a woman designing for women and I'm a working woman designing for women. And I have a great sort of sympathy toward that. And I hope I have a great understanding towards that. I wear everything. When I fit it, I try on everything with my team, which - a lot of women in my team. We try on everything. We debate the finest millimeter of where a pair of pants is going to sit.

So I take every single factor into account and I - I've had four children, so my body has changed a lot over the years. And so I have - I think I have an understanding. And also creating timeless pieces is really important - pieces that will not come in and out of fashion. You know, it's really important to me that I'm creating design that can stay with you for your lifetime, your children's lifetime. And to me, that's the idea of luxury.

RAJPAL: And is that from your Savile Row training days? What was that like for you? I mean, that was the old boy's club.

MCCARTNEY: Yes, it was great.

RAJPAL: Great?

MCCARTNEY: I loved that. I loved that it was a bunch of beer drinking sort of, you know, guys just in, you know, in a workshop environment. I loved it. It was amazing. I was at Saint Martins in the heart of London, in SoHo. And surrounded by true fashionistas. It was very interesting to me. I grew up on an organic farm in the country. I wasn't really surrounded by that kind of fashionista thing. So it was a real eye-opener. And then I just realized I wasn't learning the technical skills, perhaps, that I really felt I wanted to learn. And I was obsessed - and I still am obsessed - with bespoke tailoring and Savile Row and the history of that in Great Britain.

So yes, I went out of hours outside of Saint Martins hours, and I went into that surrounding. And it was amazing. It takes you three years just to set a sleeve in Savile Row. And it's the couture of fashion in, you know, in London. And it's been totally - a life-changing thing for me.

RAJPAL: And it all paid off. You were named as creative director of Chloe after just two seasons. Two collections, right?

MCCARTNEY: Yes. I mean, I don't even think I had collections. I think I left college and went, "Ah, somebody wants to buy my clothes. What do I do?" And I kind of made it in my garage. And, I mean, it was barely - it was like a bit of a - you know -


MCCARTNEY: It was great.

RAJPAL: There were those who were not too sure about your appointment. Let's just leave it that way. But how did you manage that kind of criticism? How did you manage those expectations? The bar was set so high by Karl Lagerfeld.

MCCARTNEY: It came as no surprise to me whatsoever. And I - you know, for me, it's always inspired me and pushed me to prove people wrong. You know, it's always been a good feeder. That you know, always somewhere at the back, there's somebody going, "Pfft". You know. You know, "Why she got there or how she got there".

So you know, I did everything every other fashion designer did. I went to college, I studied, I went at 15 to Paris and worked for couture houses. And I've done - you know, I certainly did my time in a conventional way. So I just try and kind of get on with it. You know, I have a clear vision of what's right for me on a personal level and what's right for the brand.

RAJPAL: And that vision includes an ethical stance - sustainable stance on your brand.


RAJPAL: That can pose some challenges?


RAJPAL: And opportunities.

MCCARTNEY: I'm kind of shocked and surprised that I'm the only one doing it and thinking that way. But at the same time, it's my point of difference, which is great on one side and then kind of a little disappointing on another, because I wish more people would join me in the luxury sector of fashion.

I find, you know, for me, the most important part of my job is designing incredibly desirable, luxurious, stunning pieces that women want in their life - that's my job. And then the thing I do when nobody's watching is I don't make them out of leather or fur and I don't use PVC, which is unheard of in the luxury area of fashion. I try and be sustainable as I can. You know, I question everything.

RAJPAL: But you see, what's interesting is that people will attach a lot of value on materials like fur.


RAJPAL: So then how, then, do you come up with a price point that is a luxury label price point for something that is -

MCCARTNEY: Yes. It's so cheap now - the price on an animal's head - that it's actually the opposite. It's more expensive for me to make my shoes. I don't use animal-based glues or fish-based glues. So that costs me more. And, you know, like anything in life - mass marketing of anything - mass manufacturing of anything costs less. So I'm actually in a much smaller place. I'm working with artisans, handwork, handcraft - different machinery, different mindset, different materials. So it actually costs me more, weirdly enough. And I don't put that on my customer. I suck that up in my margins. And you know, over 50 million animals are killed for fashion a year. And it's a lot. It's a lot of animals and it's very unsustainable.

RAJPAL: And yet, here we are in China, where sustainability, environmental practices are and have been questioned. How concerned are you, now that you have a major presence in this country?

MCCARTNEY: Oh hugely. I think that you have to be really aware of where you're sourcing your materials on every level. Where you get your fabrics from, how you make things - I mean, everything. From everything to how you build your stores. And I've always believed with infiltrating from within. I've never been one of those people that believes in preaching and standing on the other side of the road and going, "You are bad. You are - ".

But you know, I'm the kind of person that believes that something is better than nothing. If you can just soften a mindset, you can have a huge difference. So just coming into China and talking about this stuff and opening up a conversation - not ramming it down people's throats - and just engaging in another way of looking at things, I think is a really positive thing.





MCCARTNEY: Ni hao. Everyone needs to have a dream. Believe in your dream. Have your dream and hold it in your heart and take it with you. You know, don't ever give up. Believe in yourself. And be true to yourself. Because that's - you know, that's how you start things in life. You have to have the love and the enthusiasm and the creativity inside you. You know, you're all individuals. It starts with you.


RAJPAL: What do you look for in a young designer that you want to bring on as an apprentice?

MCCARTNEY: I think you have to look for something in common. I also really think it's important to get people that I think I'm going to react well with on a human level. You know, I think that everyone that comes to work with us, "Wow, it's really nice here". You know, we tend to create a family atmosphere and hopefully touch where people tend to stay.

RAJPAL: Tell me about growing up on that farm. That idyllic place in Sussex. I mean, it means something out of a Famous Five book, right?

MCCARTNEY: Yes, it was. I grew up on an organic farm in the middle of nowhere.

RAJPAL: Your parents, as you mentioned, they put you in a public school. Understandably, they want you to have this normal childhood. But how difficult was that? How was that managed at home? Because your dad -- this rock legend.

MCCARTNEY: I think they just got on with it. You know, I don't think that there was a huge amount of over thinking involved. I think that it was a conscious decision for us to be away from the limelight and to be away from the - you know, the private education - and just to have the peace and calm and quiet away from it all. And then, you know, at other times, we were off jetting around the world, watching dad play stadiums with 200,000 people screaming. So, you know, it was kind of a surreal upbringing.

RAJPAL: When you look at the clothes - or when we look at your clothes - there is this unpretentious, very easy, free flowing type of feel to them. Who are you - I mean, I imagine that's probably what your mom was like.


RAJPAL: After what I've read about her. Is that who you envision when you're designing a collection?

MCCARTNEY: Yes, you know, my mum is a big inspiration to me on every level, actually. It's funny - not just in her sense of style, which, to me, was pretty groundbreaking. I mean, she was ridiculed when I was a kid. She was made fun of a lot. She never wore makeup, she cut her own hair. She had a great, I think, a fantastic sense of style. But you know, at the time, it was pretty cutting edge. For me, that inspires what I do on every level.

RAJPAL: It's interesting. I think I heard in an interview, you were describing your mum's photographs, because she was a photographer.


RAJPAL: It was her way of speaking to you - talking to us - her voice. Are your collections - is your label your way of speaking to women?

MCCARTNEY: Nice question. I hadn't thought of that. I guess so, yes. Yes. I mean, it's my main stream of communication to many, many people.

RAJPAL: Let's talk about Adidas. What's it like for you, working with a sporting giant?



RAJPAL: How does that opportunity - how has it challenged you, in terms of enhancing your spectrum and widening your spectrum of what you can do with material?

MCCARTNEY: It's amazing. You know, I was very insistent, when we first started working together, that I wanted to work on sports performance and not just kind of casual lifestyle stuff. It's amazing to have the ability to learn and work with some of the best athletes in the world - to see the technology. I mean, it's incredible. It's groundbreaking, the things that we can do there.

I'm working currently on projects that have, sort of, really tried to get the least waste that you can in making a garment. So they're engineered, they're woven, and they have very, very little waste. So, you know, environmentally, they're really efficient. Working on injection dye process, so there's no water needed in printing. I mean, it's just amazing what you can do. And I love it.

RAJPAL: It would seem only natural, then, that the Olympics people would call - the committee would call and ask you to design their uniforms and the clothing for Team GB.


RAJPAL: That was, what, a three-year commitment?


RAJPAL: three-year project?

MCCARTNEY: Yes. And it was amazing, though. It was like the biggest honor of my, you know, my life. Incredible to be able to represent your nation in such a tiny way. And work with those athletes - the paralympians as well - that were just so impressive.

RAJPAL: And the pressure, thought. Because -

MCCARTNEY: A lot of pressure.

RAJPAL: Athletes - you know, sometimes the millisecond of difference and sometimes that uniform and the fabric will either enhance or detract from that.

MCCARTNEY: Well, you know, one of the first questions I asked was, "What can I do for you?" You know, "Tell me how to serve you, because this is a big deal for me. I cannot mess up. You need to tell me what you need from me". And a lot of them were just like, "Just make me look cool". And I'm like, "Really? You just want me to make you look cool?" And then I said, "But when you workout - when you perform, do you feel like when you look better, do you feel like it enhances your performance?" 99 percent of them said, "Yes".

They said, you know, "When I feel that I'm looking at my best, then I perform that little bit better". And it's a lot of pressure. Not only to get it right for the athletes, but to get it right for the nation. You know, I was like, "Oh my God, if I don't get this right, I'll never be forgiven". So I hope I got it right. Who knows?

RAJPAL: Well, you obviously did get it right. And you have been getting it right. Because then you were awarded an OBE earlier this year. What did the queen say to you? Because we know that she's a wit.

MCCARTNEY: I was about to meet her, I was like, "Oh my God, I've really got to remember what the Queen says to me. People are going to ask me". Like, please don't forget that. She said to me, "You seem very busy". And I swear to God, I was like, "Oh wow, I did not expect you to say that". Like of all the things I was sort of trying to prepare myself that the Queen might say to me. And I just looked at her and I said, "Well, not quite as busy as you, ma'am". That was our conversation. She said that she loved the kit for Team GB.

RAJPAL: Ah, that's all the validation you need. If the Queen of England -

MCCARTNEY: Thank you, your Majesty.

RAJPAL: It certainly, perhaps one would think, that when you think back to that 12-year-old girl who designed her pink bomber jacket -


RAJPAL: It certainly - you've come a long way since then.

MCCARTNEY: Yes. Yes. But I'm, like, young at heart in this one. I mean, it's so funny. Because, yes, and then, when you think about on a work level everything you can still do when you're just a brand that's 12 years old. You're like, "Let's go".

RAJPAL: Stella McCartney, a pleasure.

MCCARTNEY: Nice to meet you.

RAJPAL: Nice to meet you, too.

MCCARTNEY: Thank you so much.