Preen: Matches Fashion Interview

Again, I urge you, if you do not yet subscribe to MatchesFashion.com, then do so. Not only are you sent the most incredible new clothes to your inbox (if only they were tangible), you are also great articles. This article on Preen dishes out the thought process behind their latest collection and their choice to show in London Fashion week after four extremely successful years in New York. 

Justin Thornton and Thea Bregazzi make an unusual fashion pairing. Originating from the Isle of Man – the small, rugged island in the stormy Irish Sea – they met on an art foundation course, aged 18. But it was only later when they had both upped sticks (Bregazzi to the University of Central Lancashire; Thornton to the University of Winchester) and arrived in London years later that they became a couple.

After graduating, Thornton began collaborating with Bregazzi when his then-employer, Helen Storey, invited her to freelance on design projects. ‘We loved it,’ says Thornton. ‘We both liked similar things but we came from different angles and really enjoyed talking and working together. It’s just the same today. Sometimes when you design on your own you can become a bit blinkered.’ ‘You can become a bit lost in yourself,’ says Bregazzi, picking up where her partner left off.

Their sentences roll into one, the conversation flowing between two perfectly synched minds. Anecdotes are peppered with funny memories by one, while punchlines are delivered by the other. Their design process is similarly fluid, each fine-tuning the other’s ideas.

After five years of showing their collections in New York, the duo’s return to London Fashion Week in September 2012 was celebrated by the press and their Buffalo ’66-inspired SS13 collection was widely received as one of their most successful to date. Juggling the care of their two young daughters, Fauve and Blythe, with a design studio and six collections a year is no mean feat, but the pair manage it while retaining a semblance of normality and fun.

Justin Thornton: ‘For our Pre-AW13 collection, we had looked at David Bowie and watched the film The Hunger. The collection had a real New Wave influence, which we carried forward for the exclusive collection for MATCHESFASHION.COM with the red line that runs through the pieces and gives a broken graphic effect.

‘We always like to balance our tougher, masculine aesthetic with femininity, so we developed this floral embroidery and, to make it even more modern, turned it citrus yellow. We wanted to make sure the pieces all felt really easy. We worked with the idea of creating a great cocktail dress, a beautiful jersey, a special sweatshirt and razor-sharp tailored trousers that could be worn by any woman.’

Thea Bregazzi: ‘I think women want to be taken seriously at the moment. They want to feel in control but not trussed up, and they want to look relaxed.’

JT: ‘Effortless…’

TB: ‘They don’t want to look like they’ve tried too hard. Chic and sleek. Quite minimal. We start a collection with a kind of mood. We open ourselves up and think, “What do we like? What do our friends really want to wear?”’

JT: ‘There’s an edginess now, as well. We injected a harder, more punky edge into our AW13 collection, with leather and zips and side-split skirts. Pure femininity has ruled for a long time. Women have been through the whole process of embracing their femininity, but now I think they want to feel a bit tough. Women who wear their boyfriend’s or their husband’s clothes always look so cool. When we started designing, we were inspired by that Portobello-meets-Victoriana look. We would collect a lot of archive pieces for inspiration, but we were also developing a more linear, sporty side to the collection. We would mix all these elements together and use little frills to trim masculine pieces and soften them.’

TB: ‘We always incorporate an element of masculine suiting for women, too, which wasn’t really done when we started in 2000 – it was a really new concept then. It’s all coming around again.’

JT: ‘Keeping a sense of minimalism, a feeling of cleanness, in our collections is also important for us. Perhaps it’s a little bit science fiction-inspired and linear. That’s why we put the graphic white lines through the SS13 snake-print pieces, and mixed up all the prints with a crisp white shirt. It’s important to keep that sharp freshness, because otherwise it all starts looking a bit too hippy.’

TB: ‘A bit too Abigail’s Party.’

JT: ‘The Preen woman knows who she is and is quite strong minded. She’s hungry for new things, but she wants that classic element to what she wears. That’s why the idea of the white shirt is so important to all our collections. We always have certain elements that we keep – the white shirt, the classic blazer and the skinny trousers – and increasingly we look to our own archive for inspiration. That is what makes something a recognisable Preen piece.’

JT: ‘I think now, with online and the way the world is and the way people move around, there is no one person who wears a particular look any more.’

TB: ‘People used to ask us what age we designed for and it really doesn’t make any difference to us. Our customer ranges from her early twenties to late sixties – it really is broad. For us, it’s more about an attitude than age.’

JT: ‘Ruth [Chapman, MATCHESFASHION.COM’s co-founder and CEO] is really the modern woman, isn’t she? She dresses in a super-chic, modern way: almost how a twentysomething girl might do who works at Vogue, you know, but always appropriately. And I think that’s where fashion has changed. We try to design with this “world” woman in mind – for the desires of our clients in Asia, America, and the Middle East. The seasons blur now, too. We do six collections a year, so they all roll from one to the other.

‘Fashion is a cycle that rotates and comes round with new ideas, and it feels like it’s very much all about London again now. When things are in flux worldwide, people look to new and innovative ideas and that is why London has really come into its own. If people have less money to spend, they want to buy something original that you won’t see everywhere.

‘When we left London in 2007, it wasn’t as great as it is now. What’s happening at the British Fashion Council is really amazing, and their support for younger designers is so much better than it was when we started out. I think that’s part of the reason that London has become stronger, as well as being partly to do with a core group of designers here.’

TB: ‘Showing in New York has been really great for us commercially; within the second season we had doubled our business. We very much go with our instincts and we just felt we needed a change. We needed to challenge ourselves and New York seemed like a good fit, but we had started to miss not showing in London. Plus, our second baby was on the way. We had done a show in New York when we had our first baby, Fauve, and I had to stay behind at home, which was just unbearable. I never wanted to miss another show again, and so for SS13 it was time to come back. When we first started the label it was all very ad hoc, just making things from our little shop in Portobello, and we learned as we went along, not really taking things that seriously. We’re self-funded and we’ve always grown at our own pace. We’re very organic and we like the way we grow. If it feels right we do it.’