Preen by Thornton Bregazzi is one of the most established London Fashion Week, having shown on the schedule since 2001. The brand – which is loved by everyone from Cate Blanchett to Alexa Chung – is defined by a darkly romantic aesthetic and renowned for creating new and exciting contrasts each season. A week before their show on Sunday, we sat down with the married designer duo Justin Thornton and Thea Bregazzi to ask them about their inspiration, how they work together and their favourite fashion week memories…
How are you feeling with just over a week to go?
Justin: It’s quite intense, but it’s good. It’s the same every season – you think you’re ready ages before, but you never are.
Thea: We’re always pushing ourselves that bit more, which means that things quite often change throughout the process.
Justin: Yes, we reevaluate the collection over and over again. We begin at a certain point and with a certain reference, but as we start working it organically changes and so things that we did at the beginning might not be as relevant at the end. That’s what makes it exciting.
What are you working on at this stage in the process?
Justin: We’re nearly finished, and now it’s more about working on the final pieces, putting the overall outfits together and making sure the looks are as polished as we want them to be. Then it’s about adding the finishing touches. There are a few beaded dresses and the beading panels are still in India… but they’ll arrive in time.
Can you talk about the creative process of bringing a collection to the runway?
Thea: Each collection is different, because we’re not the type of designers who just draw things and then make them. We work through our ideas and research. These things can come from lots of different places. Sometimes we’re inspired by travels, or an exhibition, a picture, or someone we see on the streets. We’ll do sketches and talk a lot, do more drawings and research and then we will come together with ideas and debate what we’re going to do. Quite often we will get a model in and try some looks on to see what’s right for the silhouette.
Justin: It all happens in our studio. The pattern cutting is done in the studio and everything else is being made here as well, so we see everything as it’s happening. It might happen that they are making the top part of a dress first, it’s put on a mannequin and you decide you actually prefer it as a top. Having everything made here allows you to have that flexibility. Then sometimes you imagine what something is going to look like in a certain fabric but when you actually see it it might take on a different aesthetic and that can also influence the way you’re designing. We’re very focused but we need to allow new influences or elements to come in during the process.
Do you mostly agree with each other?
Thea: No. We disagree quite a lot – but that’s good! We come from different angles – male and female for one – and I’m very determined that things should always be practical as well as looking fabulous. It also has to flatter lots of different women. We’re always questioning each other, which makes it interesting and it pushes us harder to come up with something better in the end.
Justin: We challenge and push each other. And you know, just because I love something now it doesn’t mean I’m going to love it in five days’ time either. Sometimes when someone says ‘I don’t understand the relevance’ it challenges you to reevaluate it and to see it from someone else’s perspective, which hopefully will then make it a stronger collection in the end.
What’s show day like? Do you have any particular rituals?
Thea: The night before is usually always a late one and our show is quite early in the day, so we’re also up at the crack of dawn. That means we only get a couple of hours sleep.
Justin: Yes, we generally go to the show venue in the dark. In the morning you know the collection is ready so you’re just travelling to the venue. At the venue you talk to the lighting, the production team and the art directors to make sure the set is what you wanted it to be. Then the models start arriving, it’s time for hair and make up and we just let it all happen. When we do the rehearsal it just gets busier and busier – more people appear and photographers start shooting everything that happens.
Thea: And then all of a sudden it gets frantic and someone shouts ‘we’re about to start!’
Justin: Just after all that frenzy, when we’ve got all the girls dressed in their looks, there’s this lovely moment just before the show when the models line up to go on the runway. There’s just a couple of photographers there and we get another moment of calm. It’s nice to be able to scan along and see all the looks lined-up together and the models being really excited about what they’re wearing. That’s quite special.
Can you reveal anything about the collection?
Justin: It’ll be very Preen and it’ll have lots of decomposed, dark and romantic elements to it. We generally don’t really talk about it beforehand. The reason we don’t want to give too much away is that we don’t always want to be so direct with our influences. Everyone interprets something different in it, so even though our references are really important for us, it becomes less important to actually say what the reference is by the time we get to the show. We just want people to appreciate it for what it is. In the end, it’s just about whether people end up liking the clothes.
Thea: We want people to decide what they like about it themselves first. And then they might see the reference afterwards and realise what it’s all about.
How do you relax after a show?
Justin: We have kids, so we don’t really!
Thea: We used to just go to the pub and chill out. Now we’ve got kids they are really excited when we get back, so it’s not exactly calm.
Justin: We still usually go for a drink with the team and then go home. If it’s a nice day we might go for a walk with our dog and the kids and try to relax a bit.
What’s your favourite fashion week memory?
Thea: One that was really fun was when we did our Star Wars collection in 2014.
Justin: Before they launched the first of the new films (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) we did a collaboration with Disney and incorporated Darth Vader into the collection, which was so cool. But what was really fun was that we had organised a troop of Stormtroopers to come backstage without anyone knowing. We were on the Southbank and our venue had this brutalist staircase. All of a sudden you could hear this marching and then all these Stormtroopers appeared. Everyone was super excited. All the models were taking selfies with them, it was great.
Thea: The Stormtroopers weren’t allowed to do anything silly – a make-up artist tried to put make-up on them but they had their own security guards and they weren’t having any of it! We wanted to get them to pretend to iron the clothes backstage…
Justin: But we were told ‘they can only do Stormtrooper things’. It was so great either way. Everyone wanted to be the one on the floor with a Stormtrooper gun pointed at them.
Can you talk about the connection between Preen and Topshop?
Justin: When we were first starting out we did a collaboration with Topshop and that was great! What’s so great about Topshop is that they’ve always been big supporters of young designers and emerging talent. With our collaboration and our show they’ve been so helpful and you could always come to them for advice. Rather than just being a worldwide high street brand Topshop also gives a little back and supports people, which is such a positive thing to do!
Thea: The collaboration was fantastic! We also did shoes with Topshop and they were amazing.
Which iconic figure would you love to see in one of your designs?
Thea: Justin would probably say Lauren Hutton, but she’s already worn us!
Justin: And you would probably say Julie Christie!
Thea: Oh I love her, especially in Darling. Actually, her in the film wearing Preen would be the dream. Not to be too specific!
How important is London to your overall aesthetic?
Thea: I’d just say we are London really. We are eclectic, creative and diverse.
Justin: Even during the five years when we were showing in New York we were still living and working in London. We’d just get the team to New York for a week every season to do the show. We never felt ‘New York’. The great thing about London now is that the team behind London Fashion Week is so great. The designers and the success stories that have come out of London have made London Fashion Week the most inspiring fashion week for people to go to. That also shows in the people that visit – everyone from all around the world comes to London Fashion Week. And why wouldn’t you want to come? The shows are fun and exciting.
Thea: And there’s always new designers, and they have lots of support behind them. That’s great to see and so exciting.
Justin: London was always known as the young and creative. But by having brands like Burberry come back and other big brands like Armani and Tommy Hilfiger coming to London to do their shows over the past few years also shows that people see it as a place to do business now. It’s always going to be fun and the most exciting, but people take it seriously and see it as a business – but a really creative one!
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