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Join Date: Jan 2009
Location: in the gutter, looking at the stars
By Tim Blanks Photography Craig Mcdean
There are people who are utterly galled by the good fortune of others. Then there are those who feel uplifted by it, walking away with a smile on their lips, and a song in their hearts (preferably something in the vein of The Beatles). Stella McCartney's sane, human response to a life that has been anything but ordinary is some kind of model of how to thrive in the lowering shadow of a legend.
It's easy to say that, at 40, McCartney has it all: the fabulous legacy (the product of one of music's most famously loving and lasting unions, between her mother, Linda, and her father, Paul); the handsome, accomplished husband (Alasdhair Willis is a design guru in London); four adorable children; and a fashion business that has grown by leaps and bounds, creatively and commercially, since she founded it in 2001. But you have to balance that against the loss of her mother to breast cancer in 1998, an emotional catastrophe that brings her to tears even now. And considering the insane pressures and prejudices that are attached to her name, having it all seems less a birthright and more a hard-won trophy.
McCartney works hard for the money. It helps that when she signed her deal with Gucci Group (now PPR Group) more than 10 years ago, she had the smarts to demand that it be an equal parternship. It's an ethically minded business, founded on her mother's vegetarian principles, which makes her something of a Trojan horse in the luxury-fashion industry, more so because her collections—Spring's short, supersexy graphic prints being a case in point-press so many of-the-moment buttons.
This year sees McCartney hoisted high as creative director of Team Great Britain for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, overseeing every single look that every single athlete will wear in competition. Thankfully, she has a gift for high-performance athleticism. There's her longtime Adidas collaboration to attest to that. There was also the show McCartney staged during London Fashion Week this past February, where she presented a special collection of eveningwear with an extravagant display of supermodel hyperkineticism. Bodies were thrown every which way like gorgeous rag dolls. It was one of the most unhinging, exciting things I've seen in years. It was also a valuable reminder that the art of surprise is one of fashion's most valuable assets.
We sat down over lunch a few days after her London show to talk about life's other surprises.
TIM BLANKS: One thing I love about fashion is that there is still this capacity for amazing surprises. Do you feel like that about what you do?
STELLA MCCARTNEY: My biggest surprises in my everyday job have to do with the challenges of trying to be slightly more responsible as a brand. My big surprises are when I say, "That fair-trade knitwear we did last season in Peru, I want to do it again," and someone else says, "Okay, it rained for two months and that factory sat on a mountaintop and it doesn't exist anymore."
BLANKS: What's your response to something like that? You find another way to do it?
MCCARTNEY: It's normally out of your hands. To use that exact example, we did organic fair-trade sweaters one year with that factory, and the sweaters were a big success and everyone loved them. So then we were like, "Okay, we'll do a new style next year with you guys," and something happened where they just couldn't deliver. They couldn't handle our production needs. You just have to be very agile. When you're trying to have moments of responsibility in the fashion industry, it's not as easy as just doing the same old handbag every season with the same old factory in the same old materials.
BLANKS: So it's a battle between good intentions and realistic expectations.
MCCARTNEY: Yeah, exactly. For me, that's modern. It's how life should be. I'm reacting to realities. You just don't try to pretend that life doesn't have its ups and downs. I think that the fashion industry, like a lot of industries, has a way of falling into patterns. Our company has to react in a more proactive way because of what we believe in, and I find that really interesting. The interesting thing for me is that you learn. And for me that's what fashion should be about. You should be changing every season and learning, and to me that's what becomes modern and exciting about it. It's not just about the shape of a sleeve or the silhouette of a skirt.
BLANKS: Is it easier now than when you started?
MCCARTNEY: You would think it's always easier than it really is. Rule number one: We're not perfect. That's the most important thing to get across. Each season I naively think, Oh, it's gonna get easier and easier. But, you know, it's very much driven by the economy. So one season I can say, "Where's that organic yarn that I used last season?" And next season I'll hear, "Oh, that place went out of business because nobody ordered that organic yarn apart from you."
BLANKS: Can you see long-term solutions?
MCCARTNEY: Yeah. You have to be hopeful that people will be more educated in how they buy things, and hopefully more luxury brands will start to think that way on a longer-term basis. But it's not all about that for me, you know? For me it's about just doing the best that we can. My job at the end of the day is to design timeless, desirable, beautiful products. It's not about just designing a bunch of organic jumpers. I have a balance within the brand. If you try to create something people enjoy, and it happens to be made in a responsible way, then that's when you can really strike an incredible balance.
BLANKS: It feels to me that there's been a shift over the years towards just quietly getting on with things, where once there was a lot more noise. But did you feel at the beginning you had to try hard to be noticed, maybe even shock people?
MCCARTNEY: Maybe. I didn't feel that I needed to do anything intentionally. I was just younger and a little bit more irreverent, and I was quite "**** you." You know, I was quite angry at the beginning of my life.
MCCARTNEY: I guess I felt the eyes. It was just . . . I don't know. What do I think? I haven't had a great deal of time to reflect on it. I just think it was the irreverence of youth, and I was just a London girl who was really trying not to pay too much attention to everyone else's issues.
BLANKS: But given that you were brought up so well—
MCCARTNEY: Yeah, what happened? [
BLANKS: I mean, you hadn't grown up in public, but that whole thing inevitably intruded. There was no way around it.
MCCARTNEY: I find it interesting now to think about. I probably didn't have permission to be a fashion designer because I had a famous set of parents, even though I'd done the exact same training as every other fashion designer I'd known. I didn't grow up in public, as you say, but people knew who my dad was when I came out. I mean, I didn't go, "Hi, my dad's Paul McCartney."
BLANKS: But everyone else seemed very happy to do it for you. I'm wondering if that's what you meant when you said you were angry.
MCCARTNEY: I wasn't massively angry . . . It probably looks great on paper, the fact that I was angry. But what's the right word for how I was? Maybe
is better. I'd had a lot of my life before I became a public fashion designer. I mean, imagine everyone in this restaurant is your school, and everyone knows who your mom and dad are, and they know something about you and you don't really know anything about them or who they are. So you get a little bit defensive and you sort of want to go up to them and say, "Hi! Who's your mom and dad?"
BLANKS: But I never felt you pulling back from those associations. You always seemed to head straight into it.
MCCARTNEY: It's more when I was at school. But I was a fairly sociable girl, I guess.
BLANKS: Was there ever a moment where you thought, Actually, this is a useful thing in my life?
MCCARTNEY: No, I never intentionally thought to use it. At the same time, I didn't shy away from it. I was just kind of quietly up-front about it. My first show, I used famous models, and my thinking about that was other people in my situation would probably use those models if they knew them, so why would I go out of my way to not use them? Because I did think maybe I should not do that. But in the end I decided that's a bit strange—I'm not doing something I would naturally do because I'm worried that some people are going to make a negative judgment about me. So I didn't knowingly promote it, but at the same time I did try to react to it in a realistic way, which is that sometimes it helped, and sometimes it didn't.
BLANKS: But now this fabulously ironic situation has arisen where Paul is your dad, rather than you being his daughter.
MCCARTNEY: I wouldn't go that far. I think that people are probably just more used to me now. My mom's dad always used to say it was important to have staying power. And I've always really believed in that. My main thing with the brand, and as a human being, is to have staying power. To not disappear.
"Nem melhor, nem pior, apenas diferente."
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