Printed Matter

Growth continues for emerging designer Jonathan Saunders, with his new menswear range rivalling his existing womenswear. I met the Scottish master of print and pattern on his visit to Sydney.

Fashion has always been dominated by men designing for women. One might postulate that the great masters of couture – Charles Frederick Worth, Paul Poiret, Christian Dior, et al – could see something in women, a sense of beauty, that they women might not see themselves, and thus highlight and accentuate their best features. But with the shifting landscape of the industry in recent years that has seen menswear as a category experience phenomenal growth, it makes sense that new generations of male designers should turn their attention to the clothes they wear every day.

“I was very self-indulgent in starting it just for me,” says London-based Scottish designer Jonathan Saunders of launching menswear following the popularity of his women’s collections. “Womenswear is very specific, and when you’ve been doing it for a few years you develop a signature or formula that you have to follow,” he explains. “I studied furniture design before I did fashion, and like menswear it is more about the detail. The form is simpler, and I missed that.” Since presenting the range in 2011, menswear has quickly come to account for a quarter of Mr Saunders’ business with his clothing filling a gap between classic suiting and more avant-garde fashion.

“At the end of the day they’re very simple clothes,” says the designer, noting that the aesthetic variety is the result of colour, print and textiles which, he adds, “works for me in terms of my naivety. I mean, I’m not a men’s tailor. I’m learning it as I go along.” The designer may not have trained on Savile Row, but his womenswear has always been defined by a certain aptitude for cut, which Mr Saunders differentiates with the use of printed textiles, having studied at Glasgow School of Art and, later, at Central Saint Martins, where he graduated in 2002 with an MA, winning the Lancome Colour Awards upon graduation.

Mr Saunders’ background in art is plainly evident in his work, but the layers are deeper than straightforward prints on fabrics. Indeed, for his spring 2014 menswear collection, the designer was thinking about the notion of artificial and manmade, such as the aesthetic of New Order and Pet Shop Boys record covers and Peter Saville florals. What that translated to sartorially was a homage to American Psycho and the items that categorically represent menswear [pictured]. “It’s not my world, so I was drawing on my impressions of what menswear is: a grey suit, a striped tie… they’re not necessarily cool things, but it’s what I think of when I think of menswear generally.”

With his penchant for colour and print, it stands to reason that at the time of writing, it was announced that Mr Saunders had been recruited to consult on the women’s collections of British designer Paul Smith, whose clothing shares similarities with that of Mr Saunders. While the young designer will inject the Paul Smith business with renewed energy, the consultancy will provide further financial support to Mr Saunders’ growing business. But beyond that, it’s pleasing to see the sense of camaraderie amongst London-based fashion designers, with the industry experiencing something of a revival in recent years. Indeed, there has been a band of emerging talent (Mr Nicoll, Jonathan Anderson of J.W. Anderson and Christopher Kane alongside Mr Saunders) establishing significant businesses beyond creative play – ably assisted, no doubt, by the phenomenal growth of online trading. It is with thanks to that the designer was brought to Sydney last October, with fellow British designer Roksanda Illinic, as part of a press event promoting two of the online store’s star performers.

Mr Saunders now employs close to 30 staff to assist in production his six collections (four women’s, two men’s) per year, which is considerable given that beyond Burberry, British fashion was never lauded for its professionalism. “I think British designers were always known for innovation because we always started with no money, and from that comes innovation,” says Mr Saunders. “That has all changed in the last five years, and I think commercialism is no longer a bad word. At Saint Martins we all had a real snobbery about wearability, but you learn quickly that that’s nonsense at the end of the day, and there are lots of ways you can push creativity without alienating the person that’s going to wear it. When you learn that skill you become something people want to invest in rather than just look at.”

Jonathan Saunders is available from 

Portrait: Jonathan Saunders photographed in Sydney by Romain Duquesne.