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Patrick McDowell takes Marie Antoinette to Liverpool

By Danielle Wightman-Stone


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Fashion |Interview

Image: Patrick McDowell

On Monday night, London Fashion Week 2.0 kicked off with Patrick McDowell and his debut designer-in-residence collection at Jimmy Choo’s JCA | London Fashion Academy, which saw the sustainably conscious designer merge the world of Marie Antoinette with his own Liverpudlian roots.

The show, postponed from September due to the Queen’s death, took place at JCA’s stunning refurbished Georgian house on Hanover Square, London, which has a Bridgerton-style vibe about it rather than a traditional fashion school, with its sweeping staircase and pastel-coloured moulded ceilings.

McDowell’s ‘Marie Antionette Goes to Liverpool,’ was a fabulous display from the emerging designer, combining his family heritage, growing up in Liverpool, and his commitment to sustainability with the collection featuring recycled and sustainable materials, including a collaboration with Lenzing’s textile speciality brand Tencel and upcycled shoes with The Restory.

Image: Patrick McDowell

“Making collections that are deeply personal is a labour of love,” said McDowell told FashionUnited ahead of the show. “I feel like a part of me is inside each and every one of these pieces. As ever, I have doubled down on what fashion means to me, who I am and where I come from.”

McDowell added: “Some of my earliest memories are watching scouse women dress up, like when I was five my mom wore this dress with a train for a Millennium party in our little semi-detached pebbledash house, and I just thought it was so amazing, and that’s why I have trains on things.”

Patrick McDowell hosts catwalk showcase at Jimmy Choo’s JCA | London Fashion Academy

Image: Patrick McDowell

That glamour and dressing-up culture of both Liverpool and Versailles is at the heart of this collection, with McDowell explaining: “If Marie Antoinette escaped the guillotine and ran away to Liverpool, I like to think this is what she would wear.” This translated into 30 looks blending Marie Antoinette’s opulent style of corsetry and bouffant skirts with modern Liverpudlian twists, including tracksuits with basque waists, bedazzled football boots, and oversized padded parkas. There were also hoodies featuring the brand’s signature ‘PX’ logo combined with the ‘Let them eat cake’ slogan, all designed unencumbered by gendered constraints.

The opening number set the tone with model Kyle De’Volle flamboyantly strutting down the catwalk in McDowell’s lightweight printed hooded parka with corset detailing, complete with hair piled high in Velcro hair rollers, and bright green football boots. Other playful touches of his hometown included models wearing sunbed goggles.

Image: Patrick McDowell

There was also a strong sense of family, which is very important to the designer, and his connection with Marie Antoinette on having fond memories of her childhood. He realised this into a special print made up of pictures of him, his mother and his grandmother as children that he superimposed onto gowns, jackets and track pants. The print showcases McDowell’s unique personal storytelling, with his sustainable design practices, as they were created by Esce-tex, which uses sustainable printing sources and techniques, including using 40 percent less water than traditional printing.

“It is difficult to try and find a way to grow, in a way that isn’t harmful to the environment, or that has less impact on the environment,” said McDowell. “Like with the prints, it isn’t a natural ink, so in that sense it is bad, however, it was the vibrant colour I was after, and it does use less water, was printed in the UK and I do make everything in London – so the carbon footprint of the pieces is reduced dramatically.”

Image: Patrick McDowell

Patrick McDowell on combining sustainability with creativity

McDowell, who is also the sustainable director at Italian fashion label Pinko, has ensured that his collection was as responsible as possible, without restricting his creative vision. This season he worked solely with recycled and sustainable materials, including Tencel lyocell fibres and Tencel Luxe filament yarns, which feels a lot like silk. While the knitwear has been hand knitted by Wool and the Gang with sustainably sourced and chemical-free yarn and will be available as a DIY kit after the show.

Other pieces utilise deadstock fabric and finishings, including vintage British military buttons, reclaimed Swarovski crystals, Manteco wool, vintage Italian Taroni silk, Eco interlinings and recycled plastic bottle wadding. The Central Saint Martins graduate also planted a tree for each show guest in partnership with Ecologi.

Image: Patrick McDowell

While sustainability is important, McDowell also added that it shouldn’t be the only thing that matters: “I think it's really important that first and foremost, you see an amazing piece that you either love and want to try on or hate but have a reaction to it. All the sustainable stuff is there, but I never want that to be the main selling point because the top line should always be about feeling great and looking great.

“I’m a trained designer and part of sustainability for me is to make clothes that people want to wear. Making an emotional connection with people is really important and I don’t think you can do that if the main point of the clothing is that it's biodegradable. These are, but they also, I think look great.”

McDowell added: “Sustainability is built into my business model, we don’t over produce, use the best fabrics, and so far, we’ve been a made-to-order brand. But I’m always looking at how to rethink how we do things, such as using shoes restored by The Restory and creating the knitwear with Wool and the Gang, where if you order, you get the yarn, needles and pattern to knit yourself.”

Image: Patrick McDowell

Patrick McDowell collaborates with Tencel and The Restory

His collaboration with luxury aftercare specialist The Restory placed the spotlight on how restoration should be part of any circular fashion approach. McDowell sourced and redesigned 25 pairs of second-hand shoes, including vintage pieces designed by Jimmy Choo himself. All the shoes from stiletto boots to kitten heels and even football boots were then executed by The Restory with bows, ruffles and crystals.

McDowell worked closely with The Restory’s team of artisans to create opulent and unique made-to-order shoes, such as transforming silver and green football boots with reclaimed Swarovski crystals. Each crystal was hand sewn onto the boot, with the left and right shoes differing in crystal placement. Other designs included a pair of black satin slingbacks with an added pleated silk taffeta ruffle and diamante upper and a pair of blue mesh heels with an added enlarged pink padded bow.

Commenting on the collaboration, Thaís Cipolletta, co-founder and head of Atelier at The Restory, said in a statement: "We are honoured to work with Patrick on restoring, reviving, cleaning, repairing and redesigning the shoes for his new collection. Circularity is at the core of what we do at The Restory, so it's such a natural fit to work with Patrick and his team who embody sustainable fashion.

“We are hugely excited to be a part of this trailblazing moment and fashion week first, where a couture made to order show uses entirely second-hand shoes that have been repaired and restored. It could not come at a more crucial time, with such a huge emphasis on the importance of circular fashion."

Following the show, McDowell and The Restory will be offering a redesign service available to clients inspired by the themes from the collection, such as adding crystals, bows and ruffles to shoes to give them a new life. Prices start from 500 pounds.

"This collection is a big step forward for me as I take my brand into this new chapter," added McDowell. "In many ways the show title reflects my own journey as a queer working class scouser to 'The cake'; the affectionate term we have given to the incredible Georgian town house at 20 Hanover square where the JCA is located."

Image: Patrick McDowell

McDowell has been the JCA's designer-in-residence for the past year, working on this collection from the upper salon and mentoring the first JCA masters graduates, who also showcased their final collections on Monday night.

Speaking about McDowell’s collection, Stephen Smith, JCA | London Fashion Academy chief executive, added: “Having Patrick McDowell as our designer-in-residence and sustainability ambassador this year has been an honour. Watching him grow as a professional in our incubation space, and for the students to see him develop his new collection at the Academy, has been extremely rewarding.

“Our iconic campus at 20 Hanover Square is a space that inspires us all, and I love how Patrick has taken inspiration from working in this space and integrated it within the core of this collection.”

Image: Patrick McDowell
Image: Patrick McDowell
Emerging Designer
JCA | London Fashion Academy
Jimmy Choo
Patrick McDowell
The Restory