Many know 34 Wigmore Street, London, as home to British clothing designer Margaret Howell. Fewer know that the flagship store, which opened twenty years ago, also houses a design studio and head office – the workforce behind what is on display is active only a few metres away.
It was two years ago that Margaret Howell celebrated fifty years of her eponymous label, devotees of which span all ages and degree of celebrity. There are over 100 outlets in Japan, as well as shops in Paris, Dublin and Florence. To grow the studio space, Howell collaborated with architect William Russell, formerly of Pentagram, the multi-disciplinary firm (co-founded, incidentally, by Sir Kenneth Grange, who also redesigned the Anglepoise Type 75 lamp, a favourite object of Margaret’s) responsible for the flagship and several sites since.
Howell is a hands-on designer; references to nature meld with descriptions of fabric frequently. Born in Surrey, Howell also spent time growing up in the South Downs. Her appreciation for this outdoors childhood, sea swimming or being in her grandfather’s barbershop, revolves around the tactility of these experiences and lives on in her materiality. Just as a writer might follow the instruction of Strunk and White to omit unnecessary words; ‘the elements of style’ according to Howell would likely warn against dressing ‘up’. Her clothes are made to have life in them; they are designed to move, breathe and age well, without fuss. “I don’t care what the weather’s like when I go out for a walk,” she says, “I just dress appropriately and go.”
Howell still goes to the fabric fairs, despite having two principal designers well versed in what she likes. “It’s not set in stone: it’s intuitive, a response – usually to a sort of life or texture to the fabric. My fabrics are, on the whole, natural fibres like linen, cotton, silk or wool. Sometimes there’s a small amount of nylon in a cotton trousering, so long as it’s got that feel…” She continues, “Sometimes colour, how a fabric takes colour, or its purpose, dictates something to you.” Howell laughs, “Sometimes you just find the unexpected.”