Q&A

"There's no place for timidity," says fashion commentator Colin McDowell

27 May 2013  •  8 min read

Colin McDowell is an esteemed fashion commentator with an illustrious writing career spanning over 30 years. He was a jury member of the President’s Design Award 2008–2010. On his visit to Singapore in May as creative director of the Audi Fashion Festival, DesignSingapore Council spoke to Mr McDowell on fashion and his other passionate pursuits.

Mr Colin McDowell at the Asia Fashion Summit, Raffles City Convention Centre, May 2013.

The designers I would have loved to interview but never got the chance are Cristóbal Balenciaga, Coco Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent. 

The fashion business is very sales- and profit-driven. For all the work that they do, designers like Hussein Chalayan (the star of the closing show at Audi Fashion Festival) and Marc Jacobs still keep their artistic integrity. Some don’t. 

It is very difficult for designers to get to know each other. They work so hard and the pace is relentless and they are expected to take a great deal of care in the financial side of the business. But that’s the way fashion has gone. There’s a plentitude that is becoming excessive. 

For a “good” designer to become “great”, you have got to want to do it. You have got to have something to say. You have got to believe that what you want to say is important. And you don’t give up. 

I would advise the Singaporean designer to look at indigenous craftsmanship. You have a lot of incredibly clever people working independently and creating marvellous things. 

We are all waiting and wanting to see a Singaporean or at least an Asian look. The West is winding down, in my opinion. 

If I wasn’t a fashion critic, I would be an oil painter – but I have no talent! 

The greatest joy for me is to sit with intelligent people and exchange views. 

I bought an expensive house in Wales in the mountains and it is costing me a fortune! That is my indulgence. My accountant is going mad! 

My SoHo flat is London is utterly small, clean and pure. You are meant to walk in and feel the purity of the “cube”. We have Charles Eames and Le Corbusier furniture; and ultra-modern abstract paintings on the wall, all in blue and black: Howard Hodgkin, who is a great English painter; Robert Motherwell who is American; and Georges Braque who is French. 

The last gift I purchased was for my sister Audrey, who yesterday turned 80 years old. I gave her a beautiful silver Georg Jensen bowl. 

When I last looked into the mirror, “horror, horror, horror” was what I thought! The truth is, food and good wine are great pleasures to me. And if you like food and wine, you never ever lose weight. 

When I was young, I was slim. When I was 45, I could still wear the trousers my father’s tailor made for me when I was 17. Now I can’t wear a pair of trousers that I bought two years ago! 

Belief: It means everything. Otherwise, you become either timid or cynical. And there is no place for timidity or cynicism. 

If I were hosting a perfect dinner, I would invite Elizabeth I, the first truly powerful woman in Europe; Oscar Wilde, because of his wit; Picasso for his boldness; and a friend of mine, whose name I shall not mention, but a very special lady who influenced me with her humanity. I would listen to their conversation while I’m cooking for them in the kitchen.


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