Of the many adjectives used to describe the past 12 months, joy rarely figures.
Certainly, it’s not an obvious choice to summarise a period defined by political uncertainty and a devastating climate crisis — unless you’re Christopher Kane.
‘It started with a T-shirt,’ says the Scottish designer, widely considered to be London’s greatest contemporary fashion success story. ‘Now joy has become our mantra.’
Kane is referring to More Joy, the Instagram-friendly spin-off label and global fashion talking point that became his brand’s superpower last year. We are meeting to discuss it at his company HQ, on Dalston’s Shacklewell Lane. Kane, a long-term Hackney resident, lives within walking distance with his partner Massimiliano Di Battista (founder of creative talent agency Management Artists) and his dog Bruce. Both are ambassadors for Kane’s joyous new movement, which uses typography borrowed from Alex Comfort’s generation-defining The Joy Of Sex book to spread the word on sweatshirts, scarves, towels, knickers, Christmas baubles and more.
The range (which also showcases the words ‘sex’ and ‘special’) has grown tenfold since it was unveiled on the catwalk in 2018. With prices starting at £30, it is intended to reach a younger, less affluent demographic for whom Christopher Kane’s luxurious main line — with its high fashion clientele and £1,200 dresses — is unattainable. Tapping in to an appetite for luxury streetwear, More Joy has surpassed expectations, with everyone from skateboarders to fashion stylists now enjoying the ride.
It is the latest in a long line of successes for Kane, the youngest of five siblings, who set his sights on becoming a fashion designer at the age of 13 and never looked back. Having swapped Scotland for a place at Central Saint Martins at the age of 17, Kane made short work of realising his childhood ambition. Fourteen years on from his London Fashion Week debut and his name has come to represent a generation of designers who forced the world to take London-reared fashion seriously.
Today, like every other time we’ve met, he is dressed all in black. He is in good spirits but the pressure is on: his London Fashion Week show (where he’ll unveil his new collection for his established Christopher Kane line) is less than two weeks away. ‘There’s always so much anxiety attached to the show and that gets harder with every season, but I thrive on it,’ he says.
This season there’s also increased financial pressure on Kane and his business partner Tammy (also his sister) who bought back a 51 per cent stake of their business from fashion conglomerate Kering last year. Along with four ready-to-wear collections, the reintroduction of menswear and the More Joy line, Kane has an ever-revolving roster of projects on his plate.
If he feels cowed by the pressure, he doesn’t show it. ‘The Debbie Doubters are always telling us something won’t work, but I love to prove them wrong,’ he says.
At the age of 37, Kane has endured his fair share of emotional turmoil — most notably the death of his mother and greatest supporter who passed away three days before his show in 2015 — and yet he radiates optimism. In fact, side-step the west coast Scottish accent and filthy laugh, and his talk of affirmations and wellness suggest he is more in tune with Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop brigade than the working class mores of ‘concrete’ Motherwell, where he’s from.
Undoubtedly, Kane is poles apart from a previous generation of fashion designers, among them John Galliano and Alexander McQueen, both of whom struggled with the demands of the fashion industry and poor mental health. ‘The fashion world can be a pressure cooker but I’m extremely lucky to be close to my family. Tammy and I live it all together so that alleviates some of the stress.’ He looks after himself by going to the gym and spending time with Massimiliano and his family, which includes Tammy’s two young daughters and his sister Sandra, who is a keen ambassador for the Kane label.
Kane isn’t without his worries. ‘London is not the place I thought it was,’ he says, when I mention the current political climate. ‘I loathe the rise in hate crimes. I think Brexit has made people aware of the differences between people. Be trans, be gay, be fluid, be whatever you want.’ Britain’s departure from the EU is a headache for the wider company too. ‘It’s far from ideal but we’re working hard on practising positivity,’ he says.
Avoidance of criticism is another coping strategy. ‘I don’t read reviews. I find them irrelevant. Part of that is me protecting myself but it’s honestly just not important. My clients don’t read them and it’s their opinions that put bread and butter on my table,’ he says.
Kane credits Louise Wilson for teaching him the importance of sidelining bullies. The formidable Central Saint Martins professor, who died from breast cancer in 2014, was one of his greatest champions. ‘This industry is hardcore enough: it’s positivity that’s needed, not picking on people. As Louise said, “There’s no such thing as good or bad taste. There’s just a difference.”’
Kane feels a similar disregard for women who criticise other women. ‘Everyone is entitled to be who they choose to be.’ His admiration for women who follow their own path has long infiltrated his work. He is far more inspired by the strong women who populated his childhood than by any celebrity. Consequently, his aesthetic is sexually empowered in a unique way — with everything from biology diagrams to seat belt straps among his design signatures. ‘No one does sex like us,’ he says. ‘We design clothes for women who dress for themselves, regardless of age. Women who have the confidence to know what makes them feel good. It’s so respectful and it’s smart.’
This approach has been lauded by Christopher Kane customers — the label is stocked at department stores across the globe as well as in the brand’s Mount Street boutique — and his contemporaries who voted him the Designers’ Designer at the Fashion Awards in December. ‘In some ways that award means more than any of the others because it’s voted for by people who know how hard it is. You might present this amazing show but the backdrop is another reality. My fellow designers understand that. They’re the people I want respect from.’
Despite the recognition, and a host of close-knit friendships within the London fashion scene, Kane says he still feels like an outsider. ‘I’m from a working-class Scottish family. I’m always going to feel like I had to earn my place at the table. But I don’t see that as a disadvantage — if anything it’s made me work harder.’
Does he believe in leaving the ladder down to enable the next Christopher Kane to succeed?
‘Definitely. The door is open,’ he says.
Kane has also been trying his hand at mentoring, having played a cameo role as a judge on Netflix’s new talent show Next In Fashion, presented by Alexa Chung and Tan France. ‘We shot it in LA; it was quite terrifying’ he says. But he has no plans to ditch the pattern-cutting table for the bright lights of Hollywood anytime soon, although he is focused on the future.
And what does that look like? He gives no teasers as far as his new collection is concerned. ‘It will be more of the same,’ he says, smiling. Knowing his reluctance to stand still for long, I doubt it — but more joy seems inevitable.
The More Joy Valentine collection is available at the More Joy pop-up, 100 Shoreditch High Street, E1, until 29 Feb, and at christopherkane.com