Our blog writer, El Berwick, caught up with world-famous designer Jonathan Saunders to chat about teaming up with Thomson, how Jamaica inspires him, and the less glamorous side of fashion…
My first thought when I was told I’d be interviewing Jonathan Saunders about his collaboration with Thomson was the same any girl would have: what on earth should I wear? Jonathan is the prince of prints and bold colour, and since my wardrobe is as devoid of colour as a wet weekend in February, I threw on my brightest statement necklace over jeans and a white tee, and hoped for the best. It was probably more Woman’s Weekly than Women’s Wear Daily, but the intention was there.
So, what did I know about Jonathan Saunders before our chat? Well, he’s won a number of fashion industry awards like the British Designer of the Year at the Elle Style Awards in 2008, and the list of designers he’s worked with reads like Vogue editor Anna Wintour’s little black book. He’s dressed British royalty (the Duchess of Cambridge), American royalty (Michelle Obama), and pop royalty (Kylie). All very impressive.
I dropped by his studios in Islington, togged out in Topshop’s finest, to quiz him on how he went about designing the limited edition range of sarongs and beach bags for women and men – not forgetting a bespoke pool area – to celebrate the opening of Sensatori Resort Jamaica. Even though Jonathan had shown at London Fashion Week just days beforehand, he was still full of energy as he chatted to Vogue then Harper’s Bazaar on the phone before turning his attention to me. Tough acts to follow, but here’s what happened…
El Berwick: We’re very excited to have you collaborate with us on the new Sensatori Jamaica, designing beach bags, sarongs and the pool area. What was your inspiration behind the designs?
Jonathan Saunders: Well, it was really important to me to capture the feeling of the place we were designing for – the feeling of relaxation and the free spirit that radiates from Jamaica. I wanted to create a luxurious space that also feels lived-in, warm and relaxing, which is what we all want from a holiday.
EB: What comes to mind when you picture the Caribbean, and Jamaica in particular?
JS: It’s all about the food, the culture, the music – everything about the place focuses on relaxation. There’s also a real beauty in the surroundings, where things feel sun-bleached and worn-in. Nothing in Jamaica feels too polished or sterile, and I really wanted that to infuse the Sensatori pool area by using terracotta pots instead of stainless steel, and eclectic mixes of colours for the cushions and the lounge areas, so it feels homely, like you’ve almost done it yourself. Print and colour are really important, so we’ve used ‘optimistic’ tones within the collection, like Klein Blue, citrus tones, jades and aquamarines. All of those colours are simply replicating what’s around them. What better backdrop to have than the beautiful sunshine and the Caribbean Sea?
EB: You originally enrolled in the Glasgow School of Art to study product design – how does it feel to be involved in a project that includes an interior design element?
JS: It’s something I’ve wanted to do for such a long time. I love working on interiors and I loved working on furniture design when I was a product designer, but because we do six collections a year – men’s and womenswear – I just have no time to develop it. It’s something I actually want to do in the future for myself, so I jumped at the chance to be able to work on a project like this. The team at Thomson have been really supportive in terms of working together to figure out the balance between having a creative idea, and one that’s going to work for the holidaymaker. We’ve come up with something that does feel designed, but is also sympathetic to the experience people want to have on holiday.
EB: Do you feel you’ll be reaching out to an audience that isn’t as familiar with your work?
JS: Definitely. As a designer you really have to really immerse yourself in the person, because you’re providing a product at the end of the day. You can come up with a concept, but it’s not a piece of art – you’re not putting something out there just for people to look at, you’re putting something out there for people to use and become part of, so it’s really important to understand what the consumer wants from their holiday experience. Hopefully we’ve been able to do that.
EB: Did you face any challenges within the design process?
JS: Always. Everything goes wrong, all the time. You have an idea, then you have to allow yourself the freedom to rework and revisit it. The challenge is always having the foresight to know what will physically work. Anybody can come up with an idea, but it’s working out the practicalities that make it happen.
EB: How would you spend your ideal day on holiday?
JS: I like to lie down! [laughs] We all live such hectic lives, that a holiday really needs to be a holiday. It gives me time to think about things and have new ideas. I often come up with ideas for the next collection when I’m on holiday because I’m not bogged down with the practicalities of daily life. And so, for me, I just love to lie down and relax. That’s my goal.
EB: No books or anything?
JS: I try to read, yeah – sometimes I can do a bit of drawing when I’m on holiday as well.
EB: If your suitcase got lost, what would you replace first?
JS: Funnily enough as a fashion designer I don’t have that many clothes. I think you get so saturated by new clothes every time you do a collection, and there are always several collections dotted around the studio, so you get visually overwhelmed. Basically I have a grey T-shirt, a white T-shirt and 2 pairs of jeans, so it wouldn’t take much replacing, to be honest.
EB: Are there any fashion trends that make you angry?
JS: [laughs] Never angry – I like the way people make choices. I don’t like it when people start to look like clones, when you see things happening too often and there are no individual choices. They look like they’re dressing exactly from a fashion look book or a fashion shoot. But that’s it, really.
EB: You’ve worked for the likes of Phoebe Philo and Christian Lacroix in the past – what’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever been given?
JS: The best one was actually from my tutor at Central Saint Martins who really pushed everybody. She doesn’t care what you do or what your taste is, because she’s surrounded by different designers coming through who think they’re the best thing since sliced bread. She always said, “Whatever you do, do it to the nth degree.” If you’re going to be a colourist then be the best colourist you can possibly be. If you’re going to be a tailoring designer, then make it the best tailoring you possibly can. There are so many different designers out there, the most important thing is that you have your own identity – something you bring that nobody else can or does. And I think that’s probably the best advice. Not everybody wears colour or print, but people that do and want to buy into that – I want them to come to me.
EB: My cousin also attended Central Saint Martins and for her art course she once sat in a cage on the Charing Cross Road dressed as a circus freak…
JS: Okay! [laughs]
EB: …What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done in the name of art?
JS: I remember a few nights before a show – in the early years – I was still printing and making fabrics so late at night. We were screen-printing fabrics, the show was in three days, it was maybe 6 ‘o’ clock in the morning and we’d been working since 9am the previous day, and a nest of wasps dislodged and invaded the print studio. We found ourselves covered in printing ink with three days to go before the show, stung head to toe by wasps, thinking this is not glamorous in the slightest. What happened to a fashion designer being glamorous? There have been lots of things like that that have happened to me, that nobody really sees…
EB: You should write a book about it…
JS: I should write a book.
EB: What did you wear to college? Was there a trend at the time?
JS: I’ve always been pretty scruffy – I was even scruffier years ago. I used to wear my printing clothes. I’m probably the least glamorous fashion designer there is…
EB: Thank you very much, Jonathan.
JS: Thank you.