In conversation with Roland Mouret, passionate provocateur, design fiend, and quite the nicest man in fashion. First published in ELLE Decoration March 2013
The first time I met fashion maestro Roland Mouret, he was furiously thumping a board room table and issuing expletives galore, which on account of his gloriously treacly French accent all sounded rather wonderful. The occasion was a meeting organised by Mary Portas, part of an initiative to inspire the Westfield Group prior to their Stratford launch. I was present with Tom Dixon to talk design matters, and Roland was there with Lisa Armstrong, then fashion editor of The Times, to advise, specifically, I recall, on staff uniforms. Except all I actually remember is him, to the increasing consternation of the suits, making it energetically clear that he was only interested in being involved if they really wanted to make a difference by commissioning new talent and being bold. He wasn’t going to be drafted in just to design bloody uniforms! I recount this tale because it turns out uniforms, and the loathing thereof, is something of a theme for Monsieur Mouret. “I’m a control freak, seriously, I hate surprises” he proffers by way of explanation. “I like to create out of the box. I don’t like to be trapped.” And by trapped he means feeling curtailed, or corralled in any way.
Growing up in the French village of Lourdes, his father, a butcher, assumed his son would follow him, profession wise. The young Roland had other ideas. Referring to the butcher’s apron, the first symbolic uniform he encountered, he says, “I realised how much an outfit could trap you.” He tells me he also refused to don Army fatigues and was “the first kid in school in platform boots, at 12!” So how was school for him? “Weird. I went to Catholic school. The nuns allowed me to draw, so I linked creativity and the church”. Is he religious then? “No! Religion, beliefs, they all start from a position of fear. Overcoming that fear allows you to be creative. But you need that notion of fear in life to express your creativity.”
And so, the crafting of clothes ultimately became his liberation. And today, he credits his father as a core inspiration, citing the experience of watching him skilfully section and skin meat as subliminal training for his distinctive technique of draping the human body in cloth. And he seems proud of the fact that he’s had no formal training, mentioning it several times in our conversation. Nevertheless, some of his frocks have become iconic, red carpet regulars with names like “Moon” and “Galaxy”. As he puts it, “My dresses are more known than me. I love this. I’m more puppeteer than puppet.” He’s also been quoted as saying he designs from the point of view of undressing and that he absolutely adores the female form. “I create clothes for women to be women. I want them to zip them up with the same attitude as they’d put on dungarees or a pair of jeans” he says. In person he is tactile, sincere and consistently charming, eagerly telling of the house he’s doing up in Suffolk, his love of the countryside, his husband and their dog, Dave.
But why am I writing about Roland today? His history is already well-documented, the it-dress success, followed by losing his name, going into business with Simon Fuller, buying back his name, the furore over did he/did he not design Victoria Beckham’s first collection and so on. However, what you may not know is that he was a vociferous supporter of our campaign to update the copyright laws with respect to design, bringing them into par with the cover offered to artists, musicians and writers. At the time of launching Equal Rights for Design, people asked me if I intended fashion to be included within my definition of ‘design’. I said no. While the arguments are similar, they aren’t the same, and besides, didn’t the fashion world have arms enough to fight their own corner?
And yet, taking Roland’s work as an example, with its distinctive, and his trademark va-va-voom fit, it is routinely ripped off on the high street without his consent or acknowledgment. The lack of protection he’s offered or recompense received, is a source of some fury. Cue more table thumping, this time at the 2012 ELLE style awards, as he applauded our efforts and hollered for action along the same lines in his own industry. Turns out, Roland may well be the champion fashion-land needs, someone brave enough to demand what’s fair, and provoke a shake-up that’s overdue in acknowledging originality. His solution? “Accept it, but send an invoice. Fashion is a business. if someone starts a trend, you have no right to just copy it. it’s like someone coming into your garden and cutting your flowers to make themselves a bouquet! It’s not acceptable!” He vows to galvanise the likes of Natalie Massanet, net a porter doyenne and newly appointed head of the British fashion council, Diane Von Furstenberg and even TopShop owner and high street mogul Philip Green to his cause. Now it’s my turn to thump the table, with glee. Go Roland!
Tell me five words to describe yourself… No. Stubborn. French. Control freak.
If you could change your nationality, what would you be? British. It’s a strong culture before religion. A land with such a strong past that’s still visible. Plus I love the aristocracy and royalty.
Are you religious? No. I was brought up a Catholic, but I’m closer to the Pagan religions.
What scent do you wear? Dior Homme. It fits really well with my skin.
What was the last book you read? I’m not really a reader. I prefer movies.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? Wow. I don’t know. I don’t think I’m perfect but the best journey as a human being is to accept ourselves.
What is the quality you most like in a man, and a woman? I love decisive people. I love men who enjoy having a personal experience of life, and women who love to be women.
What do you consider your greatest achievement? Making my father proud of me. He died three years ago.
Tell me something that annoys you? Women who keep the price sticker underneath their shoes. Oh my God, this is something that could make a serial killer of me! It’s an uncontrollable chemical reaction! How could they do this!
Do you have any pets? Dave, our dog. He’s a French Jack Russell. He’s really quiet, needy, and loves to run. My husband James walks him for two and a half hours every day.
Do you believe in love at first sight? No. I believe in day by day.
Can you dance. Yep.
Can you sing? No.
What do you think you might taste like? Meat. Red meat. Rare.
If you we’re an animal, what would you be? A gorilla because I like to define my territory. I don’t like change. I will face people.
What star sign are you? Virgo. There are lots of us in fashion. Karl Lagerfeld, Stella MacCartney, Tom Ford.
Do you believe in luck? I think it exists. I was lucky. If luck is purpose, then it exists. Although I visited a clairvoyant in my 20s who told me my career wouldn’t start until my 40s, and she was right.
Do you have a motto? Have no regrets.