Margaret Howell's unlikely champion

Less wasn't always more

Margaret Howell, with her no-fuss, utilitarian aesthetic and unfalteringly practical cuts, is something of a mystical figure in the fashion industry. After 40 years, she still retains creative control of her £100 million empire with unstarry astuteness. She doesn't court the limelight. She is as quiet and as cool as the designs with which she made her name.

However, it wasn't always so. Howell cut her teeth in fashion creating beads - and got her break doing so for none other than the high priestess of maximalism herself, Elizabeth Taylor.

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'The beads [which she was selling at Browns at the time] were noticed by a costume designer for films, and I got a request to make something,' Howell explains. 'I couldn’t believe it, and was terribly nervous because we had to go down and meet her at Elstree Studios.

'It was this awful thing I did for her — a beaded top — but it gave me a couple of hundred pounds, which in those days, was sort of something, and the encouragement to carry on.'

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The boost was particularly needed for Howell, who did not formally train as a designer - although in retrospect, she admits in an interview with the Business of Fashion, she's glad about that.

'For me, it was helpful to have not gone. I suppose my taste is quite conservative and I think fashion colleges can encourage madness. It was good for me, because I broke the rules in constructions and patterns: I used to start with a conventional pattern, but I would draw the sort of feeling I wanted to get into that piece of clothing, sort of like doing our own haircuts when we were teenagers.

'If you know what you want you can do it.'

Hear, hear.

Margaret Howell, a/w 2014

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