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Alice Temperley: The Interview

Ahead of the launch of her new book, English Myths and Legends, Alice Temperley MBE discusses style icons, her love of Somerset and the changing face of the fashion industry

When Alice Temperley recalls her childhood, spent growing up on a cider farm in Somerset, sequin embellishment is not what springs to mind. Muddy wellington boots, tractors, rolling hills in verdant hues and rows of trees laden with juicy apples, certainly – but not the evening gowns, often heavy with embroidery and floral motifs, for which the designer is known. 

And yet, it’s to her home county that Temperley returns time and time again when creating a new collection, calling on the carefree spirit of the countryside for inspiration – the photo shoot for her A/W17 campaign even took place among the orchards of the cider farm itself. 

“Growing up in the countryside has given me a sense of freedom and this is visible in my work,” the designer tells me. “I want things to be real, fanciful and romantic, but wearable, no matter how decadent the design is.”

For the uninitiated, Temperley is the fashion designer recognised for bringing 1970s bohemia into the 21st century, combining dainty floral prints and peasant blouse cuts with lace, ruffles and embellishment and, in doing so, creating a uniform that looks just as much at home at Glastonbury as it does on the red carpet. Her fashion label, Temperley London, was founded in 2000, just a year after she graduated from the Royal College of Art and, in the 17 years since, the brand’s upward trajectory has been rapid. 

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In 2002, Temperley Bridal was launched, and a year later the designer’s first fashion show was held in Notting Hill. She was awarded an MBE in 2011 (“It was a real honour”) and in 2012 her high-street collaboration with John Lewis became the fastest-selling range in the department store’s history. The brand now boasts five standalone stores (Notting Hill, Mayfair, Bicester, Dubai and Doha) and a fan base that includes the likes of HRH The Duchess of Cambridge, Penélope Cruz and Thandie Newton. She describes her customers as “independent, free-spirited, confident and feminine”. 

As a student, the designer expected to “end up in interiors or photography”, but, when she regales me with the stories of her childhood, it would seem that fashion has always been her calling.

"I made clothes to fund my course and somehow ended up in fashion.”

“I used to try on all my mother’s clothes and cut up her fabrics and shawls to make other things – it didn’t go down very well!” she jokes. “I was always breaking her sewing machine and it was often hidden from me. My father wanted me to be a scientist, so I started by doing textiles and playing around with chemicals in the dye labs. I made clothes to fund my course and somehow ended up in fashion.”

The brand’s evolution is outlined in a new book, English Myths and Legends, a compilation of the inspirations and successes of the designer and her brand. She tells me that it “illustrates what we stand for as Temperley London today, as an independently owned brand”, adding that it summarises all that her and the team have created over the past 16 years. 

Spread across five chapters, the immersive tome also offers an insight into the highly skilled craftsmanship that is at the core of each collection, illustrated by editorial shoots and the label’s own campaign images. It’s a striking visual compendium of Temperley’s work, providing a window into her world and inspirations, which are drawn from “friends, music, films, markets and the countries I visit.”

For her A/W17 collection, Temperley looked at “the archetypal English woodland and the creatures that live within it”, focusing heavily, as always, on floral motifs, but also fruit and chickens inspired by Russian artist Andrey Remnev’s medieval paintings.  

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But for Temperley, the A/W17 collection is now old news; S/S18 will be unveiled at London Fashion Week this September. It has been nearly 15 years since she held her first show, debuting at a time when the British fashion scene was sparsley populated. Now, home-grown talent is burgeoning, with more Brits cropping up than you can keep count of. Seventeen years after she joined the fashion world, Temperley agrees that it has changed dramatically.  

“E-commerce and social media have changed the way brands communicate with their customers, and the way customers interact with brands."

“It is even more fast paced and continually evolving. Technology now plays a big role in fashion,” she says. “E-commerce and social media have changed the way brands communicate with their customers, and the way customers interact with brands. It keeps moving faster, and it is imperative to focus and be consistent.”

Indeed, Temperley admits she was intrigued by the recent ‘see now, buy now’ trend – but, she explains, her work transcends fast fashion. “It’s difficult for me to think about my collection as a product instantly available to buy, as a lot of work and craftsmanship goes into each piece,” she says. “I experimented with ‘see now, buy now’ for my S/S17 show, allowing our customers to buy three looks directly from the runway. It was a success – however the detailing and artistry that go into each Temperley London piece makes it unique and timeless, something our customers think is worth waiting for."

English Myths and Legends by Alice Temperley is available from 5 September, £45, published by Rizzoli, www.rizzoliusa.com