Last week I met Wendy Dagworthy at her office in the Royal College of Art to talk career choices, doll house’s and silver shoes. Read on for the full interview…
After completing a pre dip at Medway College of Art and a foundation course, Wendy went onto study fashion at Hornsey College. It seemed that ever since she was a little girl creating soft furnishings and clothes for her doll house and dolls (which she still has today!), she had an enthusiasm for styling and design…
Were there ever any doubts?
“No I don’t think there were any doubts at all. The foundation and pre dip was fantastic, we did absolutely everything you could possibly do. Fine art, silversmithing, ceramics, life drawing, printmaking, photography. I mean we just did the whole lot, which they don’t anymore, which is a shame. Then at the pre-dip you specialised in the discipline you wanted to go into and I went into fashion. I think cause I always made all my own clothes and loved fashion that was what I always wanted to do”
But was this choice your own choice or did your parents have any influence?
“No just me. My parents were great as they never pushed you anywhere, they just let us do what we wanted to do. So that was great and I’m a firm believer in that as well, to not try and force your children into an interest”
At the tender age of 22, most of us are still in education,flying back to the nest, or experiencing a mid-twenties crisis. However you’d just become your own boss – how did you do it?
“I suppose it was slightly unusual, but I’d worked for another company [Radley] for about a year or so and as I started my own company I cut down on days. So I gradually phased out working for someone else. I started [the business] because I really wanted to do something I believed in, it’s very hard to do something that your heart’s not in. Plus it was a lower level of the market than I wanted to design for. I always used to make all my own clothes and clothes for friends anyway, I think at the time it was all glitter jackets and satin. One of my friends knew a shop on the Kings road and she wore one of my jackets there one day, the shop assistant asked her where she got it and she told her it was one of mine. So she encouraged me to go along and try and sell the stock to them. So I made all the jackets up on my sewing machine, which was present from my parents for my 21st. [laughs] I’ve still got it and I still use it. That’s where it all began really. I just rang shops up and asked them if they’d like to see my new collection”
Do they still do that sort of thing now-a-days?
“Well I suppose you could still do that, but there’s London Fashion Week now”
The most important week in the British Fashion calendar – London Fashion Week may not have been so important if it hadn’t been for Wendy and her designer peers…
“Back then there wasn’t really London Fashion Week for designer clothes, it was more ragtrade, held at Earls Court and Olympia, you know real ragtrade. A group of us through Annette Worsley Taylor got together, and we were selling at that point but just through shops. We were all designers, there were probably about 10/12 of us and we thought ‘let’s show together’. So we rented a hotel, had a little fashion show, where we all put 3 things in each and invited the press and buyers . It was all very democratic, it was run by designers not by anyone else as such.”
Now the current recession has affected us all, well Wendy’s been through two and is still firmly on top. I wanted to find out how it had really affected her…
“It makes you stronger, it makes you realise things don’t go on forever and things will change.”
Do you thinks it’s affected the fashion industry as a whole?
“I think it has, yes. I think in the late nineties there were a lot of students, leaving college thinking ‘oh I’m going to be a designer’ with no thought of who they were selling to or how they were going to get it made. All they wanted to do was have a fashion show. As the recession hit quite a few people, it was the stronger ones who survived and I think that’s been good for fashion week. [before the recession] Buyers used to come over, put an order in with a young designer and they didn’t deliver or it was badly made which didn’t do London any good really. Now we’re much stronger, the designers are more, what’s the word, savvy? Business minded? Or they’re working with business partners which is the ideal thing”
You said teaching was a natural progression for you…
“I used to set a lot of projects at colleges, not just one but I taught at practically every one in the country. I did quite a bit of external examining as well, so I was quite aware of education. When I closed by business [end of 1988] I was, at the time, an external examiner for Saint Martin’s and their course director resigned that Christmas so they asked me if I’d be interested in taking over. I was like, well ok, I mean at this point it wasn’t anything permanent but 10 years later I was still there”.
So it all fell into place really?
“Yeah, I think it did really. My son Augustus was about a year or so old and it was better for him as well as I wasn’t flying all over the world, which I did a lot. When you look back you think ‘god how did I do that?!’ We showed in Milan, London, Paris and New York, [reflects] so I must have been away quite a bit really. So yeah it worked well plus I enjoy it”
What about other aspects of your career?
“I don’t do so much consulting now since Betty Jackson stopped her main line. I enjoyed curating [Club to Catwalk at the V&A] that was great, I mean who knows, maybe?!”
Why did you make the change from Saint Martin’s to the Royal College of Art?
“I was headhunted for the job here and I thought oh ‘do I want to move?’ cause I loved being at Saint Martin’s, it was great fun, we’d built up a great team together. But then i thought ‘why not?’ it’s good to have a challenge. And it’s great working here cause it’s all post graduate, so it was just the next step up I suppose.”
What qualities do believe make someone a success?
“A passion for the subject, the right attitude, not having a huge ego either- that’s not great. It’s all about having the confidence to believe in yourself and just do what you really want to do”
Have you got any stars in the making that you’re currently teaching?
“It’s difficult to name names really, but we’ve got quite a few designers doing well at the moment and hopefully you know…We have a real mix of students, from those who go and work for someone else, like high profile companies such as Burberry, Chloe and Diesel, I mean practically every company has graduates of ours – which is brilliant. Then there’s students that want to go and do their own thing like Holly Fulton, Sophia Webster [footwear], Matthew Millar [menswear] who are all doing really well. So we’ve got quite a lot of names coming through.”
Apart from your bracelets what is your favorite item of clothing or jewellery?
“Apart from them? Well they are my favorite as my husband bought me them all. [pauses] Probably at the moment – silver shoes. [points to shoes] these! It’s great cause you can wear them with anything and they just brighten it up.
As we finished the interview off she gave me some parting advice, and advice I feel that after speaking with her is something she not only preaches but also lives by:
“Be yourself and enjoy what you do”.