Fashion designer Matthew Williamson discusses his new furniture collection with Duresta, his clothing line and his bohemian home in Belsize Park
“I feel like Alan Sugar,” Matthew Williamson quips as I walk into the interiors department of Harrods, where he’s sat at the end of a long boardroom-like table. “You’re fired!”
Perched under a gold and coral peacock feather lampshade with a glass of champagne in his hand, Williamson is a world away from Lord Sugar’s The Apprentice, although I bet the businessman’s aides Karren Brady and Claude Littner wouldn’t object to a staff reshuffle.
But starring roles in reality TV shows will have to wait. Williamson has his plate full running his fashion and lifestyle brand. He’ll celebrate 20 years in business in September, but plans to slow down are few and far between. When I ask him what he would be if he weren’t a designer, he draws a blank. He mentions possibly being a gardener, but it’s clear that design is all he has ever wanted to do, having discovered his love for fashion at an early age.
“My mum was the reason I wanted to become a fashion designer. She had, and still has, an impression on me and when I was a child she inspired me. She just really cared about her appearance and it didn’t feel like a vain thing. It felt empowering, if you like,” he explains. “She would spend what little money she had on making herself look the best she could and in doing so people flocked to her."
"I remember thinking ‘that’s so powerful, and it’s making her feel good’.”
Williamson left his hometown of Manchester at the age of 17, moving to London where he studied fashion design at Central Saint Martins. After graduating he worked for Monsoon, but was there for only three years before leaving to set up his own business. His bohemian prints and exotic designs caught the eye of Vogue’s then-fashion assistant Plum Sykes, and shortly after being featured in the fashion bible, retailer Browns bought 75 of his dresses and Jade Jagger was photographed wearing one of his designs on the cover of Tatler.
Since then Williamson’s clothes have been sported by Sienna Miller, Poppy Delevingne, Lindsay Lohan and Blake Lively, to name a few, but it’s his first fashion show that he cites as the pivotal moment in his career. “It just changed everything that I was doing, largely because of who wanted to wear my clothes,” he says of the show that saw Kate Moss, Jade Jagger and Helena Christensen walk down the catwalk in his designs. “The next day I thought: ‘OK, there must be something in what I’m doing’. That was a big moment.”
He’s since ditched the fashion show format, embracing the digital age and closing his bricks-and-mortar store in favour of an online shop, where he plans to expand his offering to include lifestyle collections. “I think my strength is in lifestyle,” he confesses. “I’m keen to design products – my passion is for colour, pattern, textiles, travel, culture and those exotic elements. I love bringing my DNA to whatever product I’m working on.”
Over the years he’s dabbled in interior design – a cushion line for Debenhams and a wallpaper range for Osborne & Little – but he calls his most recent collaboration with Nottingham-based sofa manufacturer Duresta “a dream project”.
“Interior design has been a not-so-secret passion for me,” he smiles.
“This was a straightforward no-brainer ‘yes I’d love to do it’. I have a box of images at home that I’ve collected of things that have caught my eye, so putting the collection together was quite impulsive. I knew what I wanted to do because I had already formed ideas in case I ever worked on this kind of project. I’ve just done what I love and I hope other people love it too.”
The collection has put Duresta’s team of artisans to the test with hand-carved boudoir chairs, silver leaf day beds and the label’s signature sofas upholstered in Williamson’s vibrant prints. Traditional lounge furniture is covered in electric blue marble butterflies, fuchsia florals and pinwheel prints. They brighten up the Harrods’ showroom (where they are available exclusively), arranged next to pink tray tables with whimsical flamingo legs and turquoise console tables with peacock feet.
“My taste is eclectic, as you can probably imagine,” Williamson says. “My good friend Kelly Hoppen and I laugh all the time about our styles because they’re polar opposites. She has this beautiful white and black marble home and it couldn’t be further from mine. She must be like ‘what is all this’? But I think there’s room for a bit of both, a balance between the two.”
He says his Victorian townhouse in Belsize Park has “good bones”, with parquet floors and big French doors, but he doesn’t mind scrimping on homeware. “A bit like my clothes, I prefer to make something poor look rich. I think that comes from my work ethic and from my parents. I’m not about glitz…” He breaks off and gestures to the peacock lamp next to him and laughs.
“I think there’s a glamour to what I do, whether it’s home or fashion."
"There was an article the other day where I apparently said my style was ‘organised bohemia’, which I quite like. My mum comes to my house and she thinks my lounge is a little busy, but what she doesn’t know is that everything is in its place, to my eyes.”
Williamson loves Harrods and Liberty for homeware if he’s “feeling flush”, but says he can pick pieces up from anywhere. “It could be Homebase! I could spend hours in Homebase,” he laughs. “You heard it here first: any aisle, I can be in there for hours. I love it.”
He jokes that if somebody broke into his house there’d be nothing worth stealing. His most treasured items are inexpensive, sentimental pieces: a necklace with charms picked up on his travels and a bowl of rocks collected from the beach. “Oh, and the peacock; he was quite expensive. My dad called him Wayne,” he deadpans.
If anyone were to have a pet peacock it would be Williamson, but it turns out that the designer discovered Wayne on a shoot with ELLE Decoration. “I asked the stylist where it was from and she said London Taxidermy, so I had to have him,” he smiles. “He sits proudly in the lounge.”
The seats of his new Duresta sofas are still warm but Williamson has already got more projects in the pipeline, namely a colouring book due for release later this year and a potential tableware collection. He jokes that in ten years’ time he’ll be “lying on a beach,” but that looks unlikely.
“If it wasn’t fun, I wouldn’t do it,” he concludes. “I have a rule: if I get out of bed three out of five days a week feeling happy, then that’s good. And I will keep on designing for as long as I love it.”