Fashion designer Matthew Williamson comes back to Manchester

Janet Reeder and Matthew Williamson

Janet Reeder and Matthew Williamson - Credit: Archant

Manchester-born fashion designer Matthew Williamson was back in his home city for the launch of his new activewear range for USA Pro. Janet Reeder went to meet him.

Matthew Williamson

Matthew Williamson - Credit: Archant

Remaining at the cutting edge of fashion for more than 20 years is no mean feat but as one of the world’s top designers Matthew Williamson has honed his skills so that his brand is always on the zeitgeist.

Not only does he design glamorous clothing that has been worn by everyone from Kate Moss to Kylie Minogue but he is now diversifying into other areas such as interiors activewear.

Which is why I get to meet the Manchester-born designer in Flannels, Spinningfields, where he is launching his second collection for the sportswear label USA Pro.

I have met a few designers during my writing career but I can hand on heart say that none have been as adorable as Matthew Williamson. He’s so lovely that as soon as I get home I am on his website wondering whether I’d look good in a beautiful gown from his new Belvoir collection (and whether I can actually afford the £1,500 price tag).

USA Pro Matthew Williamson track top, £140

USA Pro Matthew Williamson track top, £140 - Credit: Archant

Luckily for me, I can also buy into his brand through the affordable designer collection of gym and yoga wear that he has created for the USA Pro label.

Chorlton-born Matthew, admits it was initially a task which took him out of his comfort zone.

‘I’m always looking to develop my brand and move things on. Activewear taps into the wellbeing trend and the fact that we are all trying to lead healthier lifestyles now. I wanted to do something that’s out of the Williamson comfort zone - we’ve never done sportswear, ‘ reveals the boyishly slender 46-year-old designer.

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‘USA Pro are experts in the activewear field, so it’s great working with a team that’s so knowledgeable on the technical side: from the stretch to the stitch. Both collections are very well made. I focus on the print and colour. This time, we centred on two iconic prints from the archive: Flamingo Club and Palm.’

USA Pro top, £100, and leggings, £100

USA Pro top, £100, and leggings, £100 - Credit: Archant

The prints are favourites from an archive that has earned him his reputation for bold colourful design - very much the opposite to what he experienced when he was growing up, as a Loreto College pupil in south Manchester in the 1980s.

‘Manchester influenced me as a child here. Even when I was young, I was conscious of how grey it was, with none of the colours I craved,’ he explains.

‘At school, I was keen to bring colour into my life with art or textiles because, around me, there wasn’t any. I loved Gustav Klimt, that art-nouveau period of decorative arts, the pre-Raphaelites. I was fascinated by the romantic painters, the otherworldly painters. I learnt how to draw and paint in Manchester and was able to creatively express myself in school and college, which was a great start for my career that lay ahead.’

Matthew and his business partner, Joseph Velosa, have a second home in Majorca which is where they’d flown from on the morning of the launch; it’s a place where he can indulge his love of colour and find inspiration.

Belvoir campaign: skirt, £495, and shirt, £395

Belvoir campaign: skirt, £495, and shirt, £395 - Credit: Archant

‘It’s the opposite of the life we have in London. It’s that typical escape: beautiful scenic walks, luxury, of course, but I love having a slower time there when I can,’ he says.

When at home in London, he enjoys walks on Hampstead Heath with his dog, Plum, and mixing with a tight-knit circle of friends but he does get back to the north west quite often to see his sister, Andrea, who lives in Timperley, and his mother Maureen, and father David, who live in Altrincham.

He admits his mother would have been at the launch but she was in the Lakes celebrating her forthcoming birthday.

‘She’s the big 7-0 so I’m throwing a party for her in Spain in a couple of weeks for all friends and family,’ he says.

‘I often go up to see my family who live in Altrincham and friends I still know in nearby Bowdon. ‘I was born in Chorlton and mum and dad moved to Altrincham maybe 10 years ago. I love that area. We come as often as we can.’

He doesn’t make it into the city centre very much so is impressed by how much it has changed over the years .

‘Manchester was a great city to grow up in. I have such fond memories of it for many reasons. I grew up there in the early 70s and remember it being a vibrant city with a cosmopolitan feel to it, which has since been revitalised and regenerated over the years. When I visit now it’s hardly recognisable. Back in the day, I used to hang out in Afflecks Palace near Piccadilly on the weekends with all the goths, punks, mods and retro fans who would come together under one roof to buy from the vintage stalls and vendors. I think this really helped me to understand being different was a positive.

‘As an early teen the music scene was strong with the Happy Mondays, the Smiths and Oasis all making their mark. I’d visit the Venue nightclub on a Friday and the Hacienda on a Saturday, underage, but was allowed in for my outfit efforts which I’d love to plan days in advance. I used to make outfits for my girlfriends as a teenager in Manchester. There was definitely a gold ra ra skirt!’

Matthew moved from Manchester aged 17 and headed to the prestigious Central St Martin’s in 1994 and debuted his collection ‘Electric Angels’ at London Fashion Week in 1997. A star was born!

He says his parents and business partner Joseph have been a ‘tremendous support’ over the years but it is no doubt his ability to make women feel fabulous, whether they are wearing a USA Pro pair of leggings or an amazing gown that has kept him in the forefront of fashion.

‘We have a strong brand DNA which has been at the heart of all the designs since day one: colourful, printed, feminine clothes, imbued with a sense of bohemian glamour.’ he explains.

‘ More recently, we have expanded into lifestyle: we now offer a full world of Matthew Williamson, from furniture and wallpapers to fabrics and stationery. My next goal is to spread out into that arena. I feel that it has got lots of similarities. It’s still design. it’s still about making lots of things beautiful and I’ve always loved rooms and buildings and environments. It seemed to me like a natural extension. It feels right.

‘I’d love to get some commissions. I’ve done a couple of small projects. I’ve done a small courtyard in Blakes Hotel in London, I’ve done a hotel suite in Oxfordshire and I’m now doing a cocktail bar in Deia.

‘Maybe I could do one in Cheshire? That’s on my wish list. My bucket list. To come back home and design a gorgeous room in Cheshire. If you hear of anyone... let me know.’