Sylvia Smith meets one of Britain's hottest new fashion designers, Gavin Douglas
We meet at the National Portrait Gallery near Trafalgar Square in London to look at the Faces of Fashion exhibition. Gavin's got his locks caught up in a ponytail and is wearing a jacket and mismatched waistcoat. He certainly isn't a peacock, and if it wasn't for his astute comments about the fashionistas featured in the exhibition, it would be easy to mistake him for someone in a less creative industry. Gavin is curious to know who has sponsored this exhibition, which showcases some of the iconic shots of a young Kate Moss - a sign, I feel, that he has no illusions about the nature of the fashion industry. Gavin is also curious to see that there is a prominent black British fashion stylist featured of whom he has never heard - Edward Enninful of i-D magazine. 'There are only two black faces here,' he comments. 'Naomi Campbell and this man. But why should there be more of us? What else can you expect? We're only just beginning to get into the fashion business.'Unique talent
With professional qualifications and training in the fashion and textile industries, Birmingham born Gavin Douglas, 23, has become one of Britain's leading design talents. As a dynamic young designer who carefully researches and crafts each individual piece of clothing to ensure its uniqueness and quality, he's following in the footsteps of the likes of Alexander McQueen. He's very hands-on. The concept for each of his collections is systematically developed through sketches, before patterns are cut and the final piece emerges from his preferred range of fabrics. The turning point in his success came last September when he won first place in the prestigious Fashion Fringe 2006 Designer Awards. It was a competition originally set up by Sunday Times fashion writer Colin McDowell. When Gavin won, the star-studded panel included Tom Ford (known as the 'saviour of Gucci') with Sarah Mower, Hilary Alexander, Nick Knight and Hamish Bowles. The award has given Gavin lots of publicity and he now gets business legal and technical support as well as a year of free PR on top of a sizeable financial sum to help him set up. Grounded
But Gavin has kept his feet very firmly planted on the ground. 'I want to take my time to establish my client base and develop my own style,' he says. 'I am in this for the long haul.' And when you look at his track record you see the success already achieved by this level-headed young man who doesn't do gimmicks, but instead borrows and adapts silhouettes from other eras. After leaving university he completed an eight-week Prince's Trust Business Start-up Course that taught him the basics of running a business, from accounting and taxes to writing a valid business plan. With help from the Prince's Trust, Gavin's label was launched.Inspired by the past
So what gives Gavin his inspiration? His award-winning collection sprang from theInspired by the past exhibition, Black Victorians, that was shown in Manchester and Birmingham. 'I was surprised to see so many ordinary black people living in Britain long before the Windrush,' he says. 'They were there in the photographs and paintings [including Crimean War heroine nurse Mary Seacole]. And when I got over the surprise of seeing them there, I started to look at what they were wearing.' He saw crinolines, corsets, silks, taffetas in hues of blue and green and body-hugging sihouettes. The clothes gave Victorian black women added elegance and subtle femininity when sexuality could only be alluded to.
'There was luxury at the time. And fabulous fabrics,' he adds. 'I've just taken some of the outline shapes and brought them up to date. They work very well today.' Museums and galleries seem to be close to Gavin's heart. He exhibited work at Black British Style in Birmingham last year and the exhibition, which was put together by London's Victoria & Albert Museum, was considered a great success. He seems fascinated by how well-to-do women in the past managed to look glamorous without resorting to the brash or tawdry. And his latest inspiration is the return of luxury after World War II at a time when consumerism began to raise its head.Nipped-in waists
Gavin is particularly struck by garments with nipped-in waists and rounded hips. He loves slinky fabrics that go hand-in-hand with the 1940s silhouette. Don't be surprised, however, if the next collection is entirely different. 'My parents come from the Caribbean, but I haven't used that influence directly in any of my work,' he explains. 'But it is a part of me, so I expect that at some time in the future, the West Indies will feature more prominently in a collection.'
For more information on Gavin, contact Blow (Tomomi McMaster), 15 Percy Street, London W1. Tel: 020 7436 9449.
For more information on Gavin, contact Blow (Tomomi McMaster), 15 Percy Street, London W1. Tel: 020 7436 9449