People probably know you mostly as a fashion designer. Is architecture a new interest for you?
I’ve never pigeonholed myself really. I didn’t train to be a designer; I didn’t know what I wanted to do. All I knew was that I was not interested in having a ‘normal’ job. When I was growing up I was always dressing up - one minute I’m a Northern Soul Wigan Casino kid, next I’ve got a long, floppy fringe, (you wouldn’t believe that now), the next minute I’m a Punk and then a New Romantic, and all I ever wanted to do was play in a band or do something that was stimulating; more stimulating that just going to work, and so I just fell into being a fashion designer.
I met my wife Gerardine and, while still at University, we emptied our wardrobe onto a market stall in Camden, and we realised we could make money out of it. We sold a combination of second hand clothes and stuff that Gerardine was making. Within about four weeks we had sixteen stalls and called the company Red or Dead. But we never felt part of the fashion industry, even when we went on to win big awards. We were always outside the industry because we were totally against a lot of its values. Red or Dead was always trying to be as affordable as possible and the first to openly sell to Top Shop and Miss Selfridge, even though in the mid eighties that was definitely not seen as the thing to do. Now obviously it’s proved that we were right, but it held us back for a long time because the industry wouldn’t accept us. They wouldn’t let us be part of London Fashion Week, but we thrived on all that.
Throughout our lives we’ve always felt that we can improve things. That’s what a designer is to me, it’s not someone who can sit all day and draw pretty pictures, it’s somebody who can visualise change and it’s about ideas. If there was a name that describes somebody who has ideas, I would rather be called that then a ‘designer’, because I think sometimes designers can have a bit of a negative connotation. Gerardine and myself are able to think of new ways of doing things which are hopefully better, and then put them into practice. And that’s more than design; a lot more than just design.
So you didn’t have formal training in fashion?
No, I’ve got a degree in Geography, focussing on town planning, believe it or not. So I suppose I’m now doing what I was trained to do, but the last thing I ever wanted to be when I was twenty and at UCL, London was a town planner or geography teacher. I like the idea of dressing like a geography teacher but not actually being one.
Gerardine left school at fifteen. I think she took one CSE in art, and she was working in an office by the time she was fifteen and just knew she didn’t want to carry on in education. She just wanted to earn a wage, have some money, and then decide what she wanted to do with her life.