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When considering this issue’s cover star, we thought long and hard about who really resonated with us during this challenging time; whose perspective struck a particular chord and whose philosophy marries with our own ethos that now, more than ever, is a time to slow down, consume less and buy better. Alex Eagle was the answer.
To say that Alex has redefined the concept of retail is no overstatement. After cutting her teeth in the magazine and PR industries, she opened Alex Eagle Studio in 2014. The space has become a celebrated destination for discerning consumers seeking timeless designs.
Known as much for her editing eye as her own impeccable wardrobe, Alex has channelled a deep-rooted belief in quality and longevity into an eponymous fashion label. Launched in 2015, the brand is centred around beautifully made staples that will stand the test of time.
When we catch up in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak, Alex is self-isolating with her husband and two young children, Jack and Coco, at the family’s Berkshire home. Over a relaxed morning phone call (and cup of coffee) we discussed her slow-fashion ethos, the importance of embracing nature and the valuable lessons she’s learning from the current global situation.
We’re certainly living in very strange times, how have the last few weeks been for you?
Strange is definitely the word. But, to be honest, I’ve been positive. I feel like the world is talking to us and forcing us to listen, so I feel like that is something to take from the situation. It’s teaching me about how much things were necessary, or not. I am feeling super conscious about waste; food, what I’m getting delivered, what I need in terms of help and what I can do for myself. I guess it’s a matter of editing things down to what we really need, reconsidering what the new essentials are and enjoying that; thinking about the bigger picture and what that might be, and giving up that feeling of trying to control something, because we can’t. I’m taking each day as it comes and trying to find the pleasure in that.
You’re currently staying in the countryside. Is being surrounded by nature proving a tonic for these challenging times?
I’m such a Londoner; I was born in London, I live in London – we’re really an urban family. But, like any kids, my children love being outside and it’s definitely keeping us sane. Lots of people are stuck in cities, but even if it’s a window box, I think now is about taking time to smell the roses – literally. Feeling the sun on your skin and having that vitamin D. We’ve been taking all of that for granted.
It’s also seeing nature taking over somewhat; feeling the oxygen coming from the trees, feeling the need to walk in the park with the earth beneath your feet. The nurturing and healing aspects of trees, oxygen, clouds, grass – you feel it much more instinctually.
I feel like the world is talking to us and forcing us to listen.
As well as using ethically sourced fabrics, what other measures are you taking to make the label sustainable?
It’s always been the same; we make pieces in England (the majority is made downstairs from my studio in Soho). We produce in small batches so there’s not a lot of wastage, because we’re not making loads of things in the hope that people will buy them; we’re making them and then once they’re almost sold out we’ll make more. Pieces are non-seasonal, so they never go on sale. A linen dress that is £500 now will be the same price in one, two, three years. It’s the longevity of that – they are investment pieces.
Because pieces are always being produced, you can also bring something in to get it fixed. We’ll always have the button or fabric to bring a piece back to life. And we don’t wholesale – we’re in the luxurious place of selling it in my own shops, so we’re not under pressure to make things cheaply and have huge margins. We’re not perfect but we strive to be better and better all the time.
Which other brands do you admire for their sustainable credentials?
My dad still wears Missoni from before I was born and my mum has Cerruti and Costume National pieces from the 1990s that she still wears. To me, it’s about looking at the things that are made to last. The Row does that well because pieces aren’t really changing every season. We sell it in my shop in Berlin and it never really goes on sale. I think Savile Row, where they make bespoke suits, does it well, too. Veja is a brilliant brand, but again, it’s choosing things you can wear to death. Sometimes we buy things because they’ve been made ethically, but then we’re still buying multiples of them. To me, being sustainable isn’t about taking the guilty conscience away from shopping, it’s more about thinking, how much am I going to wear that and is that thing already in my wardrobe?
Speaking of your wardrobe, what are your go-to staples?
We make 100% linen T-shirts and I wear the round-neck, sleeveless styles; they get better and better every time you wash them because they get that little bit softer. I love Agolde jeans – jeans are the perfect thing that get better with age. I adore OAMC menswear and wear a lot of my husband’s pieces. I live in my Charvet slippers and shirt. I’ve had the shirt for about 10 years; they measure you and make it bespoke, it’s a great experience. I wear the leather slippers for everything – when I’m indoors, for yoga and Pilates, or as sandals in the summer. As a real special treat, I love mid-century vintage Cartier jewellery, and I love Hermès, it just lasts and lasts. I’ll wear the menswear because I have size 41 feet and I don’t mind wearing things slightly oversized, plus the price is a little nicer. I’ve got a 1970s Hermès weekend bag that I bought from Les Puces in Paris – it’s as cool as anything. I’ll buy vintage Celine and Prada from The RealReal, Vestiaire Collective and Jerome Vintage. There’s an amazing vintage shop in Sienna called Aloe & Wolfe, which is run by a friend of mine.
I hope we will begin to really treasure what we have. And that trends will change to become less about what’s new and more about personal style and how we wear things.
You’ve done several design collaborations over the years, how do these come about and is there a collaboration you haven’t done that you’d love to?
At the beginning, the collaborations were because I wanted to have products in my shop, and I thought, why not look to the people who have done things for decades and work with them? I can’t claim to know how to make gentlemen’s slippers or beautiful silk dressing gowns. I also wanted to create exclusives and limited editions so that pieces weren’t seasonal and on sale in another shop. I could have control over it feeling like a future classic. I worked with Swaine Adeney Brigg, who makes beautifully crafted umbrellas, and New & Lingwood, a great gentlemen’s tailor. We tweaked pieces so that they worked for women as well.
Now it’s really just friends who I love and admire. It would be great to do something with artist Tom Sachs and I’d love to do a jewellery collaboration with Tiffany or Cartier. I’m also really into Holland & Holland and Purdey – all the great equestrian brands. I love the way Hermès isn’t seasonal and never goes on sale, that really speaks to me. You never know!
Your stores – both brick and mortar and online – are made up of an edit of not just fashion, but furniture, ceramics, art and beauty. Why have you decided to combine these fields?
I think the way we are and the way we shop is across all of these different things. I take pleasure in the cup that I’m drinking my coffee from, as much as I do a really good face mask or a pair of sunglasses that makes every outfit look that little bit cooler. That’s life, isn’t it? Luxury is a John Prouvé daybed, but it can also be a great yoga mat or KeepCup or some lovely pink salt. Luxury is anything that makes life better, and my stores are an edit of that. I love trying out 10 things to work out what my favourite is and making my team do the same. Things are whittled down to what we think is the very best and that’s what we’re always striving to do. We have done the edit and put in the work, so the consumer gets to enjoy the shopping experience. It’s all about saving people time, so they have more time to go and have a long meal with their friends or a walk in the park – or all those things that we have taken for granted!
What are your hopes for the future?
From a business side, I hope we get through this. I’m really happy with what we’ve created, so I hope we get to do it more and more. The fabrics part of it is super-important to me. I just want to keep on making clothes and furniture that become part of people’s everyday lives. There’s a lovely film called Jiro Dreams of Sushi, about a sushi bar in a Tokyo tube station that’s got three Michelin stars. The owner uses the same recipe and menu again and again and takes pride in perfecting the rice and fish – that really inspires me. I don’t have wild hopes to grow and expand – it’s not about doing loads of new stuff, it’s about finessing what we already do; doing things as well and with as much goodness and health as possible. It’s building something over time that’s hopefully got longevity because it’s been designed with longevity in mind.
We’re speaking just before Earth Day, which supports environmental protection and promotes sustainable practices – something that informs your eponymous clothing label. Can you tell us more about the ethos behind the Alex Eagle brand?
When I launched it five years ago, I had a sense that I didn’t want something that was constantly changing; I wanted to take the seasonal thing of always wanting and always desiring out of the equation. I think people feel this need to always wear something new and different – it’s a headache and it’s gone a bit bananas. I wanted my brand to feel slower and comforting; if there’s something you like, we’re always going to have it, there’s no pressure to buy something that very second.
As a girl going from my twenties into my thirties, that’s how I wanted to shop and dress. And I wanted to help my friends, clients and customers build a lasting wardrobe that can always be replenished in a different colour or rebought once it’s worn out. Basically, provide the bones to your wardrobe.
Where does your design inspiration come from for each piece?
It always comes from thinking about pieces you can wear in multiple ways. One of the first pieces we made was our scarf-neck top – it was made by me, my friend [stylist and fashion director] Tamara Rothstein and a pattern cutter – and it was based on something you could wear underneath a suit that would look super-smart, but would also help if wearing high-waisted jeans and a belt. We’ll try pieces on lots of different people; my mum is in her sixties, I’m in my thirties, my stepdaughter is 17 – I’ve got a really good cross-section. You can’t always make something that everyone wants, but that’s what we’re striving for.
I’m also inspired by how men dress. I am always looking at what the components are that mean men can get dressed in five minutes flat in the morning; the chicest thing is being able to get up and get dressed without fuss. So I’m always looking at men’s tailoring, and I’m obsessed with the way menswear hangs. I like that androgynous look; a T-shirt under a blazer, a shirt with jeans.
Can you tell us about the manufacturing process – where are materials sourced from and where are pieces made?
We work a lot with [Italian fabric company] Loro Piana. They are just the best and it lasts and lasts, so we know we’re giving our clients something that is really well made, really beautiful and won’t go out of fashion. Fabrics are natural and organic wherever possible. My costs are pretty transparent, the fabric is the main cost. That’s why someone would send £300 on a top – it might look like a really simple raglan-sleeved grey jumper, but it’s actually made from cashmere and silk.
My next project is to develop my own fabrics; we are working more with mills in the north of England. It used to be the place to make clothes and I want to keep that craft alive. It’s important.
As we become more aware of the impact that over-consumption of fashion has on the planet, do you think trends and the idea of seasonal collections will become redundant?
I mean, it feels really silly right now. It definitely feels like the madness and travel of all the shows and the endless new, new, new is being thrown into question. We’ve all been buying madly and thinking that’s okay, because that’s what we’ve been told to do. But it’s up to us, the consumer, to buy in a different way if we’re going to change things. I hope we will start buying less throwaway fashion and really treasure what we have. And that the trend will change to become less about what’s new and more about personal style and how we wear things.
What else do you think this time is teaching us about consumption?
People used to take much better care of their clothes and I think this moment will really teach us about that. My grandma, who is exquisitely sophisticated and chic, grew up in a generation where you didn’t have a bulging wardrobe, you had a collection of nine pieces and you made that work over decades. She wore the same beautiful dress my grandpa bought her in Paris for years – that was her smart dress.
Also, people didn’t over-wash their clothes. I normally put all my stuff in a laundry basket and clean it all, but I’m now thinking that I don’t want to be putting on endless washes; I’m thinking about the water use, the energy use and the time I could be spending with my family instead. That’s really interesting. We can spot-clean, or steam – cashmere jumpers can be hung up by an open window and aired. While everyone is stuck inside, we’ve got a little more time to be conscious about things.
What is your earliest fashion memory?
My whole childhood was about dressing up in party dresses and fancy dress. My nannies would complain that I’d get changed three or four times a day, I just loved dressing up me and my brother. As I got older, I’d spend all my pocket money on fabric and draw these crazy designs. I can’t pattern cut or sew, so I’d rope in my mum and her friends to make them for me. There’s a shop, called VV Rouleaux, that changed my life. This was the 1990s, so it was Tom Ford at Gucci, making jeans with feathers – it was a moment of creativity and embellishment. I’d walk down Sloane Street every day to get to my school and look through the windows of Tom Ford and Christian Lacroix. I knew the ins and outs of Harvey Nichols aged 12 – I don’t know if that is something to be proud of, but I’ve always loved fashion and expressing myself through clothes. Now I dress and design in a super-pared-back way, but it’s not that I don’t admire and love the crazier pieces.
You opened your luxury concept store, Alex Eagle Studio, in London, in 2014. Where did the inspiration for this venture come from?
I had left Harper’s Bazaar and was working at Joseph at the time. I loved Joseph, it taught me all the things I didn’t realise I wanted to know; I thought I wanted to style and be a magazine fashion editor, but actually, I really loved being in retail. The creative director was Louise Trotter, the CEO was Sara Ferrero, the communications director was Imogen Crosby and the buying director was Sirlene Di Santolo, and I was in my twenties, sitting in meetings with these amazing women – I couldn’t believe my luck! It gave me half a chance being around all of them.
But I still craved doing my own thing. I’d style friends and actresses with young designers in my tiny flat on Walton Street. At the same time, I was into interiors and selling pieces to friends and clients. My then boyfriend, now husband, said, ‘There’s a shop on Walton Street opposite the flat, take the chance. Make it look like your flat and sell the things you love: clothes, jewellery, records etc.’ So the inspiration came almost accidentally. I opened the shop on Walton Street and then got the opportunity to move to bigger premises in Soho, and it’s gone from there.
You also have spaces in Soho House Berlin, Soho Farmhouse, Oxfordshire and London’s The Strand. What have been the challenges of expanding?
You can’t be everywhere at once, so you learn not just to delegate but to give up on trying to control everything. I’m not in Berlin nearly as much as I used to be, so I have to trust in the people who are there. That’s the trouble with expanding, you can’t be everywhere at once so it’s learning to really value and trust the people who work for you. Relinquishing that control came at the same time as I was pregnant, so everything happened at once. But you ultimately benefit from it.
What people might not know is that your mum is the director of your company. What’s it like working with her?
The thing about working with one’s mum is that you can trust them innately – even more than you can trust yourself. They do tell you things you don’t want to hear, they do annoy you, but the pros totally outweigh the cons. She works even harder than I do, she cares about the business so much and is so trustworthy and loyal. She’s also brilliant, she was a TV and film producer, so all those skills really work when running a business like ours. It’s really hard not being with her every day at the moment. We’re doing a lot of Facetime and staying connected, but I took for granted how much she was hands-on with the business.