Fashion fit for a princess. When it comes to London-based bespoke designer Katherine Hooker (right), the idiom is not far off. As Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge’s (the former Kate Middleton) go-to outerwear designer, Hooker is one of the most in-demand clothiers in the U.K.
Hooker truly is a worldly woman. Born in Cyprus, she spent her formative years in Africa, growing up in Kenya, Nigeria, then off to a British boarding school at ten. She later split her time between London, Paris and New York, working mainly as a set designer for films. Until the summer of 2001, when Hooker hopped on a plane for Kerala, a coastal state in India dominated by lush greenery, backwaters and heavy tourism, armed with little more than a suitcase stuffed with tweed. Hooker spent three weeks, with the help of a local tailor, creating and designing her classic winter coat, the Braid coat. Upon heading back to London, she had six original coat designs, thus beginning her eponymous line.
Specializing in made-to-order outerwear, ready-to-wear, a handful of accessories heavy in knits and fantastic fabrics, and a duo of men’s coats, all of Hooker’s designs take cues from fabric choice, with each textile playing a subtle role or simply standing as a bold, standalone design element.
“I can’t get enough of beautiful fabric,” says Hooker.
For any given project, a customer can come to Hooker’s studio and look through more than 150 swatches of fabrics, from tweeds and linens, wools and felts, to silks and cashmeres, each offering its own unique quality and voice.
Since the royal wedding, in which Hooker dressed fifteen attendees, Katherine Hooker London has upped the number of trunk shows in the States, where, along with her brisk online shop, the bulk of her U.S. business is generated. Naplesillustrated.com caught up with the designer to get the goods on her latest collection and what inspires her designs.
NI.COM: How has your upbringing influenced your design?
HOOKER: I grew up in North, West and East Africa until I was ten. There were not a lot of rules and I spent most of my time either up a tree or in the sea. The last country we lived in was Kenya and from there I went straight to an English boarding school, which I actually loved. I think by that time I was craving structure. My timing was very fortuitous; I was young enough not to rebel and old enough to make the most of it. You could say that my designs are like my upbringing in that they are quite structured but they have a natural elegance.
Tell us about your design process.
Because the business is rooted in a made-to-order service, which enables the customer to choose her fabric combinations, the collections are as much about new materials as about new styles. I introduce between two and four new styles a season and a wide variety of new fabrics. The best-selling styles then go into the ready-to-wear/online shop, which we opened last September, and it's doing fantastically.
Twice a year, for about a month at a time, I’ll immerse myself in designing the new styles and putting the collection of materials together. This entails sampling both the styles and the fabrics until they’re right. The time in-between is spent thinking about the new designs and materials, which markets they’d be suitable for, and what to offer for the ready-to-wear collection.
Where do you draw inspiration?
It’s impossible to be specific about this one…life! My customers, the girls who work for me, friends, my boyfriend, my dog, the street, the sea…
I can’t say that flicking through fashion magazines madly inspires me; I’d rather look at a book on architecture. My boyfriend is an architect and I love looking at his plans; it’s strangely similar to what I do, we both design things for people to live in.
What is your fabric of choice?
It totally depends. I love the line of linen herringbones that we’re doing at the moment. But it’s not for everyone; some people can’t deal with the creasiness of linen. But I love that we’re all so different. I love Harris tweed too, and I love cashmere-merino blends that we have developed with Johnstons of Elgin.
What makes the perfect coat?
A coat that is flattering, comfortable, functional, special and reflects who you are.
What are you working on now and what can we expect down the line?
On a non-apparel note, we’re working on a bag and a home collection starting with cushions and quilts. On an apparel note, more than anything, I want to keep things essential and constantly refine the art of tailoring.