A Working Space

Margaret Howell celebrates 20 years at her flagship Wigmore Street store

34 Wigmore Street, photograph John Hooper

“There’s a strong sense of a family all under one roof,” says Margaret Howell, referring to the central home of her eponymous company. In 2020, the acclaimed British designer marked the significant anniversary of 50 years of business, and now, is celebrating two decades at the brand’s headquarters at 34 Wigmore Street.

The London locale sandwiched between Marylebone and Mayfair is a far cry from Howell’s beginnings, in which she designed and sold her finely crafted shirts out of her flat in Blackheath. In 2002, Howell worked closely with former Pentagram partner William Russell on the shop’s design, which also needed to act as a studio and office. Russell was chosen to work on the flagship space after Howell saw his handsome house on Brick Lane.

34 Wigmore Street, photograph William Russell

Tasked to help translate her aesthetic into a physical interior, a clean palette with natural materials was used throughout – and remains largely unchanged since its inception – its dark plywood timber flooring accentuating the ample height and light that floods in from above. Inevitably, given her measured and enduring designs, complimentary pieces such as mid-20th century ercol furniture and Anglepoise lamps continue to live side by side hanging garments.

Margaret Howell, still from A Working Space

“I remember standing in the space when we got the property and thinking, I wanted something that was more than just a retail space,” Howell recalls. “I wanted it to be alive: to have a sense of activity, to acknowledge the whole company, and the workforce involved in producing what is on display. I felt that it should be a place in which the customer could feel at ease and comfortable.”

 

To commemorate the many years the space has acted as a central foundation and doubled as a home to seasonal collections, events and exhibitions, Howell has once again collaborated with filmmaker Emily Richardson on a brief film that shows how the building and company harmoniously work with one another. The duo’s short builds on their wonderful body of work together – MH50 – 50Years of Design, Affinities, The Making of a Shirt – and delves behind the scenes of the retail front of house to illustrate the modest bread and butter of 34 Wigmore Street: measuring trousers, holding meetings, making a cup of tea, Howell diligently raking their small slice of garden.

Released today, the film will be shown in-store alongside a display of photographs and quotes from long-standing customers, collaborators and members of staff. Here’s to another 20.

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The Persistence of Memory


BORSALINO X AMI

LOUIS VUITTON

BURBERRY

GIORGIO ARMANI

CELINE

NANUSHKA

BERLUTI

DIOR

HERMÈS

PRADA

STEFAN COOKE

SAINT LAURENT BY ANTHONY VACCARELLO

MARGARET HOWELL

HUGO BOSS

Photography Joe Lai 

Set design Jade Boyeldieu d’Auvigny 

Styling Lune Kuipers

This article is taken from Port issue 30. To continue reading, buy the issue or subscribe here

The Making of a Shirt

Margaret Howell details how to craft a staple

A shirt is deceptively simple. However, constructing its components – the placket, pockets, gauntlet, hem, yoke, collar, cuffs – is anything but. Its ubiquity is total, history, fathoms deep (the world’s oldest preserved garment is a linen shirt from a First Dynasty Egyptian tomb, dated to c. 3000 BC), and for Margaret Howell, how it all began.

Having recently graduated in fine art, in 1970 the now acclaimed British designer chanced across a finely stitched pinstripe shirt in a jumble sale. She had always enjoyed making her own clothes from paper patterns as a teenager, but the shirt had always posed a unique challenge with its complex craft. It was a test she embraced two years later, designing, making and selling shirts from her flat in Blackheath. Over half a century later, it is arguably the item her much celebrated eponymous brand is synonymous with.

Continuing the collaboration with artist filmmaker and researcher Emily Richardson that initially marked its 50 year anniversary – MH50, Affinities their latest short focuses on the making of a shirt. From the ‘lay’ of cutting to finishing and checking, many hands make light work putting together the numerous pattern pieces that are stitched together to make a Margaret Howell shirt. “When you’re producing or making something,” notes Howell, “everything is important, every last detail has to be thought about. People are conscious of how they feel in a piece of clothing. The quality comes through the fabric and the make, and then the comfort [of the piece].”

Shot at the brand’s Unit 7 workroom in Edmonton, North London – which produces a selection of styles each season – each finely woven cotton shirt is individually made by skilled machinists. Offering a succinct glimpse at the care and time taken to make a timeless staple, the film will be available to view in Margaret Howell’s Wigmore Street shop. 

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Affinities

Margaret Howell creates a short cinematic paean to Japan

“Simplicity in life is the guiding principle though it may be the hardest thing to achieve,” notes Margaret Howell. It’s an ethos clearly embedded in her deftly tailored apparel – with its keen attention to detail, fit and fabric – and a value practised throughout an island in the northwest Pacific Ocean. An aesthetic hangover from its Zen Buddhism, much of Japan’s traditional design employs natural materials, clean lines and straightforward construction – a geo-specific minimalism that is singular in its beauty and control. This can be traced back as early as the 6th century through architectural sites such as Hōryū-ji, the ancient wooden temple in Ikaruga, but its artistic offshoots – Noh theatre, ikebana flower arrangement, karesansui gardening – truly flourished hundreds of years later. Chronologically running parallel, yet in stark contrast to Renaissance design, Japanese arts and craft focused on “subdued pleasure, subtractions of elements, ambiguities, decay rather than vibrancy, and asymmetries.”

The acclaimed British designer first visited in 1983 and has travelled back many times. It was one of the first countries to sell and manufacture the label outside of the UK via Washo Co Ltd during its rapid expansion that decade, and at the time of writing, there are over 120 Margaret Howell outlets in Japan. Howell’s cultural, visual and spiritual affinity with the eleventh-most populous country in the world has recently been brought to life in a wonderful short, celebrating the brand’s 50th anniversary there this May (which was delayed a year due to the pandemic). The film follows on from MH50 – 50Years of Design, released by Howell and artist filmmaker and researcher Emily Richardson in 2020, and the duo have reunited once more for this meditative offering.

 

Personal photographs, snatches of film, and objects that have appealed to Howell on her numerous visits gently enter the frame, the sound of waves scoring the images. Copper vessels, artisans patiently making paper, block Geta sandals, misty hills, bundled twine and rope – for anyone who has visited Japan, these images will instantly transport you back, and for those who haven’t, give a brief glimpse into the great care taken with everyday objects, as well as its natural splendour.

In addition to the film, a display of clothing, drawings and personal memorabilia from the Margaret Howell archive will be on show in Daikanyamachō, Tokyo, from 15 May – 30 May, and in the ROHM Theatre, Kyoto, from 4 June – 13 June.

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Play Time

Margaret Howell celebrates modernist designers Paul and Marjorie Abbatt

Photography Matt Ford

When asked why he gave up teaching, Paul Abbatt replied, “to break through the barriers that separated me from life.” Initially intending to set up a progressive school with his wife Marjorie Abbatt, a trained child therapist, the couple travelled to Europe on an extended-honeymoon-research-trip in 1931. Armed with a tent, two rucksacks and a letter of recommendation from the president of the board of education, the newlyweds began in Vienna, witnessing the methods of the Haus Der Kinder and the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts, which championed, above all, intuition, appropriate discipline and co-operation. Returning to Bloomsbury, London, with a renewed understanding of the necessity of play and the role for experimental toys, the Abbatts continued their research and later that year held a summer exhibition of toys in their Tavistock Square flat. The modernist toys designed and showcased by the couple were so popular that they were able to set up the now infamous Abbatt Toys.

Carefully crafted for different ages and stages of development, with little attention paid to gender difference, the brightly coloured toys were a mix of abstract shapes and representations of the real-world, whether in the silkscreened play tray jigsaws that were one of their most enduring product lines, or the simplified boats and trains designed by their friend Ernö Goldfinger, the acclaimed Hungarian-born architect who also created their child-friendly showroom on Wimpole Street. Their collective impact led to mainstream producers enlisting designers to pay real attention to the needs of children, and to celebrate the designer duo’s educational innovation and timeless vocabulary, Margaret Howell is holding an exhibition in their Wigmore street store titled Abbatt Toys: The Right Toy For The Right Age, from 24th October to 24th December.

Photography Matt Ford

“As a grandparent able to observe young children at play it soon becomes clear they are most absorbed and happy when they feel in charge of creating and constructing,” notes Margaret Howell. “Paul and Marjorie Abbatt were part of that pioneering generation that changed attitudes to play. They designed toys to stimulate the imagination as well as physical skills. Self-learning hand in hand with fun!”

In addition to the exhibition, the brand have released a 2021 calendar – featuring a selection of 12 Abbatt Toys – complimenting their special MH50 bag that marks their half-centenary this year.

Abbatt Toys: The Right Toy For The Right Age – 24th October to 24th December

Barbour x Margaret Howell AW19

In a second collaboration the design duo re-imagine staples from the Barbour archive for the new Menswear AW19 collection

“It’s about finding a lasting style – not a fashion thing” 

– Margaret Howell

It is perhaps Margaret Howell’s unwavering design ethos that makes her a perennial part of the fashion industry today. From sewing her own clothes in early childhood to studying Fine Art at Goldsmiths University in London, to next creating her own range of beaded accessories and then a fashion line, she has always been committed to the architectural comfort, durability and ultimately, the lifespan of each and every one of her pieces.

For Howell, style outweighs fashion. In fact, the term itself, alongside others like ‘brand’ or ‘trend’ bear negative connotations for the designer, almost ‘dirty words’, imbued with a sense of the throwaway. Where Howell remains an indelible part of the design world, is her faithfulness to style, to comfort and to tradition. Working within famed British tailoring and heritage cloths – Irish linen, Harris tweed and Scottish cashmere – she re-configures traditional workwear and uniforms within a more quotidian and contemporary gaze.

Barbour A73 Heavy Waxed Cotton Navy

Beginning her journey into fashion first with a collaboration with the brand JOSEPH and then creating her own menswear collection in the 1970s, she quickly saw a gap in the market where women’s clothing was concerned not as yet similarly catered to movement, practicality and feel, and so began her own women’s collection in 1980. “I started by designing men’s clothes, and then found that women wanted them.” 

Barbour A7 Waxed Cotton Black

Now available across 100 stores in Japan and 10 in Europe, Margaret Howell’s sepia-toned, clean tailoring unravels a nostalgic vision catered to a contemporary audience. And it is this indelible craftsmanship and timeless androgyny that weaves itself perfectly within Barbour’s own timeline of British heritage and fashion. Beginning in 1894 as an importer of oil-cloth, Barbour quickly developed as the world’s leading brand of wax-cotton motorcycling suits, alongside standardising a Navy submarine uniform during the war and becoming the Royal favourite for waterproof and protective clothing in the 1970s. It comes as no surprise, then , that the collaboration between Margaret Howell and Barbour is a symbiotic one. Following the success of her A/W 18 Womenswear collection with Barbour, Howell has developed three new styles for the Autumn/Winter 2019 Menswear collection, taking inspiration from Barbour’s own fashion archive dating back 125 years.

Reinterpreting the Spey, Wax and Haydon jackets, respectively from the 1910s, 1960s and 1980s, Howell presents her contemporary re-imaginings, ever faithful to Barbour’s own history, yet evolving the look within and towards the future. 

Barbour for Margaret Howell  

Prices range from £399 – £499 and the AW19 Men’s capsule collection will launch in all mainline shops in late August this year.

 

Made In Britain

Fashion designer Margaret Howell selects vintage prints from The Council of Industrial Design  

Established by Winston Churchill’s government just before the close of WWII, The Council of Industrial Design (now known as the Design Council), placed design education for Britain at the top of its agenda. Principally supporting economic recovery, it also offered specialist courses and seminars for designers, educators and manufacturers, and produced design folios – black and white snapshots of the latest design that ranged from dinner-trays to dinghies. 

Originally available – subscription only – to schools and colleges, contemporary British fashion brand Margaret Howell has recently selected vintage prints from The University of Brighton Design Archives for its 2019 calendar.

Discussing the photographs, Ms Margaret Howell believes that “These evocative images are from another era but their message is clear and modern in outlook. They recall a time when a devastated post-war Britain had to be rebuilt and it was thought important enough to promote the public awareness of design for its own sake.”

Profits from the sale of the calendar will be donated to Open-City.

Inspired by the prints from The Council of Industrial Design, we take a look at a pair of home-grown menswear brands

Light and Dark: Jack Davison

Port speaks to one of the most exciting young photographers working today about Flickr, being self-taught and shooting the AW campaign for Margaret Howell

Jack Davison’s photography has the wry, spirited edge of someone who understands the rules but has never felt compelled to follow them. Though he studied English Literature, rather than photography, at university, Davison has always been always been motivated most by working with his camera. At first a hobby, photography gave Davison access to an online community that transcended the limitations of his rural upbringing, his Flickr account becoming a portfolio and social platform where he could freely experiment and learn.

Now based in London, Davison’s first stop after leaving his native Essex in 2013 was in America’s flyover states, where he spent six months. Suddenly free and in a fresh environment, he met several of the photographers that he’d been speaking to online and shot the documentary series ‘26 States’ that first made his name. The images – intimate portraits and expansive, expressive landscapes – reveal Davison’s willingness to experiment, and speak to his empathy for isolated and remote living.

Davison’s earliest commission was a fashion story for Port in 2014, for which he was given freedom to explore his own style, and it would herald the start of a long list of fashion and editorial work with publications like British Vogue, The New York Times Magazine and I-D or brands like McQ by Alexander McQueen, John Galliano and Burberry.

Most recently Davison has shot the Margaret Howell AW18 campaign at Black Lake in Farnham, Surrey. Styled by Beat Bolliger, the clean lines of the clothes are paired with the off the cuff ease of the two models. One of Davison’s trademarks is an ability to capture spontaneity, producing images imbued with a lively authenticity; with his lens on fashion this serves to establish an alluring sense of moment.

How did you come to photography?

I was always drawing and wanted to be a painter as child, but later in my adolescence I realised I wasn’t as good as painting as I’d hoped. I started borrowing the family camera when I was 15 or 16 and haven’t really stopped taking pictures since.

You were influenced by Flickr – what role have digital platforms had in building your own profile?

Digital platforms have always been really crucial to me, I was stuck in the Essex countryside and, while idyllic, it wasn’t easy to find much photographic references or to engage with other photographers. Flickr was first, then Tumblr, then numerous others – they allowed me to see interesting work and helped push me to be making and photographing each day.

They also remove the necessity of publishing work in traditional formats like print, as you suddenly had access to thousands of pairs of eyes all over the world. For me it was hugely thrilling that suddenly someone on the opposite side of the globe could see a picture that I had taken the same day.

When I post on Instagram I still get the same little thrill I got when I was 16 and posting a picture. It still allows you to have a dialogue with the wider world and create your own work without necessarily having to wait to be commissioned or asked to shoot something. 

What was the process of self-educating that you went through?

I’ve been described as self-taught which, while technically true, is unfair to all the important people who helped me out and shaped the way I think. The internet was my first tutor, and meant I had access to millions of images that I absorbed almost carelessly. It was hard to know whose image you are looking at – so often I would be gorging myself on Walker Evans, Man Ray, Manuel Bravo, Francesca Woodman, Picasso, Ernst Haas, without ever really realising who they were and the broader bodies of work that those photos were part of.

The internet also introduced me to many photographers who helped me out and expanded my country bumpkin sphere to London, or allowed me to meet other photographers from American and Japan.

The crucial point was meeting Brett Walker through Flickr – he was the first to slap me on the wrist and tell me I was doing certain things wrong, and I’m indebted to his early influence. His Portobello flat was my semi-formal education in exotic cameras, in how vital casting is, and the importance of the strength of conviction in everything you do. That concoction of taking vast amounts of images, direction from Brett and shooting everyday was my bootcamp for learning about photography in its purest sense. The self education has never stopped though. It’s important that I remember how little I know, and that I can always be trying to learn more and get better.

You work many different genres of photography. Do these require something different or do you think you can bring the same approach to all?

I try and approach everything in the same way, whether it’s street or portraiture, it’s important to me that it has a sense of urgency and emotion to it. It’s usually me turning up with a bag of cameras, already overheating and sweating and trying to keep everything as grounded as possible. 

What was the concept behind the Margaret Howell AW18 campaign?

I don’t know necessarily if there is a concept to the shoot. It has very naturalistic and simple approach, where we take two people, a girl and a boy, and shoot them in a location close to Margaret’s heart. The Margaret Howell campaign is one of the few campaigns I’d seen that I thought tied quite closely to the kind of black and white work I like to do, so I always thought it would be a good match. I guess as concepts go, I wanted to try a bring a lightness and playfulness to the shoot that I felt could maybe shift the feeling of the pictures. The campaign is always beautiful but I wanted to just try and imbue it with a bit more mischief and freedom.

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Margaret Howell’s Tate Edit

Five objects from the fashion designer’s collection for the Tate Edit shop

The clothes of Margaret Howell are striking in their straightforward simplicity. Never too reliant on ornament, the emphasis lies on cut, shape and composure. Typically, the clean lines of a blazer or a trench coat might be tempered by the billow of a loose shirt or the offhand addition of lace-up shoes, and her products slip seamlessly into other worlds of design and art. It is fitting, then, that Howell has been invited to curate the Tate Edit shop at Tate Modern. Beginning this month and running to September, visitors to the iconic Bankside gallery will have the chance to browse Howell’s favourite design objects and homeware, as well as selected pieces by her own hand. Each item has something of her timeless, understated aesthetic yet is nothing if not utilitarian. 

The Tate Edit series has been inviting artists and designers to select a unique series of limited edition products. For Howell, the Tate Modern is the perfect location, with its sleek conversion of the former power station into a temple to modernity, not only by housing the works of its makers, but through its own stark architectural presence. Howell describes Tate Edit, a small space by the museum’s riverside entrance, as “pared-down, calm, reflective… a gem of minimalism perfect place to display a selection of my favourite design”. 

Here Port presents five specially chosen objects from the collection.

Yellow Anglepoise Lamp – Margaret Howell

 

Stacking Glasses – Toyo Sasaki

 

Cornish Indigo Smock – Margaret Howell

 

Green Vase – Fresco

 

Stool – ercol

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