Fifteen years after she founded her women’s fashion line, Stella McCartney is delving into menswear with a collection that nods to British musical history. A few of her friends try on the new line
STELLA MCCARTNEY is sitting in a Notting Hill hotel pouring tea from a silver teapot into a porcelain cup. Behind sits a family decked out in all-white Gatsby-esque tennis attire for dinner. “I like this tennis family, by the way,” she says. “It’s all about tennis this season. Such a look. Sweater on the shoulder—very Bill Murray, Chevy Chase. You might see that in my next collection.”
It is early on a muggy July evening, and the sun is still out. We are near McCartney’s London design studio, but she didn’t come from the office. “I worked as a mum today. It was ballet watching and sports day for two kids,” says McCartney, 45. “How uninteresting is that on a scale of 1 to 10?” She is strawberry blonde and tan and wearing her own designs—“I only wear my own stuff,” she says—including tight jeans and an off-the-shoulder ruffle top with cropped sleeves that end in the crisp, buttoned cuffs of a men’s shirt. The blouse encapsulates her aesthetic: It is more cheeky than sexy, heavy on the English eccentricity and feminine with an underlying flourish of men’s tailoring.
Her self-named fashion line turns 15 this year, meaning it’s her oldest baby. With her husband of 13 years, Alasdhair Willis, the creative director for British outerwear brand Hunter, she has four children (Miller is 11, Bailey 9, Beckett 8 and Reilly 6). The family splits its time between London and a country pile in Wiltshire, two hours west of the city. “I don’t thrive on being insanely busy,” McCartney says. “But it does come with the territory at the moment, so I’m finding my way through it.”
Next month, she unveils her first full ready-to-wear men’s line, complete with accessories like bags, shoes, hats and sunglasses. Menswear is the latest category in a robust catalog for the brand, which was founded in 2001 in a joint venture with fashion conglomerate Kering. Besides womenswear, it includes lingerie, eyewear, a children’s line and athletic apparel with Adidas. Earlier this year, McCartney introduced swimwear and her latest fragrance, Pop. Her womenswear is sold in 77 countries at 852 locations, and this month she opens her 48th store, on Paris’s rue Saint-Honoré.
“I didn’t start out and go, ‘I’m going to do this, this, this and this,’ ” she says. “It all happened quite naturally, but I think I’m quite—I hate the word—but I’m quite lifestyle-y. I like to fill up the house. I see a drawer unfilled, I go, ‘I can fill that drawer.’ ”
McCartney has had a taste for men’s styling since she was young, thanks in part to her parents, Paul and Linda McCartney. “I was obsessed with tailoring because I had grown up with my dad’s Beatles suits and wardrobe. And my mum had men’s suits made for her by Tommy Nutter,” she says, referring to the ’60s Savile Row tailor. “It was that era of rock ’n’ roll. That’s what I was looking at and in love with growing up.”
With this new collection, McCartney delivers a casual, sexy romp through the chronology of British music subcultures. “It’s very much a journey through inspirations that have been in my life and a nod to Britain,” she says. There are Teddy Boy suits, PVC-style punk pants, massive Baja-style striped sweaters like those worn by the Stone Roses and rave-worthy oversize trousers and hooded shirts. There are also multiple references to Britpop (which in itself referenced many U.K. genres before it), such as soccer hooligan–style scarves, tracksuits and bucket hats.
Some of the designs reveal personal homages to her father. Light-blue collarless cotton tunics, for example, were inspired by a vintage photograph McCartney found of her father and clearly invoke the Beatles’ Maharishi period. “My dad had a tailored shirt on, and he had this hippie shirt over the top,” McCartney says. “That’s such a great approach—that idea of structured, quite masculine and classic, then softening it with transcendental meditation and music.
“Everything I do is quite opposing,” she adds. “When you look at my collections, there’s always something quite delicate and feminine, and there’s always something quite hard and sporty or urban.”
Menswear, as she envisions it, is an antidote to the lace-swathed androgynes currently dominating the European runways. “Oddly, there are very few women designing for men,” McCartney says. “The shaggable side of it came up a lot when we were working on it. It was important for us that it should be.”
MCCARTNEY’S MENSWEAR journey began when she was a student in the ’90s at Central Saint Martins, London’s preeminent fashion school. Her aesthetic at the time was more put-together glam than the grungy anti-fashion that was then in vogue—famously, her 1995 grad show featured supermodel pals Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell in lace-trimmed minidresses and pinup-style skirt suits. “The more weird, unconventional and out of the box you could be creatively, the better you were in this school,” she says. “But I wasn’t challenging myself technically. I felt that I had to learn the skills of pattern cutting and tailoring.”
At the end of a school day she’d go to Savile Row, the epicenter of bespoke suiting, and apprentice for master tailor Edward Sexton. (She met him through her father, who was a client and had sported a custom suit cut by Sexton on the 1969 Abbey Road album cover.) “I’d go into the basement,” she says. “We’d be smoking fags, drinking beer. I may as well have been on a building site with the best bricklayers in the world, because it was just guys doing a trade, taking three years to learn how to set a sleeve. I am still fascinated.”
Suiting was an early and ongoing component of her designs, whether the sharply tailored blazers that were a hallmark of her time at Parisian fashion house Chloé when she was creative director from 1997 to 2001 or the relaxed zoot suit–inspired pieces that have often come down the Stella McCartney runway. “When I started doing fashion, one of the first suits I made was a seersucker,” McCartney says. “My [maternal] grandfather was from America, used to buy all of his suits from Brooks Brothers. My American side, that more preppy side, is a real contrast to the more kind of rock, streety, urban thing.”
McCartney has made custom men’s pieces for some of rock’s elite—David Bowie (a suit), Morrissey (shoes) and the Rolling Stones’ Ronnie Wood. “I saw her in a wonderful overcoat once, gray with pinstripes, and I said, ‘Oh, I love that,’ ” Wood recalls. “She said, ‘Oh, this is my personal overcoat. I’ll make you one.’ Like a year later, I’d forgot all about it, I saw her and she went, ‘Look, I’ve got a present for you,’ and it was perfect. She said, ‘I made one for you and one for my dad.’ I’ve never forgotten that.”
For her own brand, “We started talking about men’s like six years ago,” says McCartney. “I don’t get nervous that much, but I’m a little nervous talking about a brand-new category. It’s a big deal. It’s almost like we’re launching a brand within the brand.” At present, nine staffers (five in design and four in development), including some members who came from her womenswear team, are dedicated solely to men’s.
The brand’s CEO, Frederick Lukoff, who has been at the company since 2009, thinks that the crossover to men’s is a natural progression. “There’s always been a masculine side to what she did in women’s,” he says. “We think the values that we have in women’s and what Stella stands for translate well into men’s. We’ve always tried to be a very inclusive brand and appeal to women of all ages, sizes. We have the same ambition for men.” The prices are analogous, with jersey T-shirts starting at $245 and denim at $370, and outerwear topping out at $2,155. “The Stella woman and Stella man are friends,” McCartney says.
Saks Fifth Avenue’s menswear fashion director, Eric Jennings, thinks the brand will be able to successfully cross the gender divide. “As a lifestyle brand, it makes sense to include men’s in that lifestyle,” he says. “When we launched Jimmy Choo shoes for men, I wasn’t sure if it was going to catch on as quickly as it did. I think the same is true for Stella McCartney. Menswear is the place to be right now—it’s an important and growing part of our business.” The line will also be carried globally in Stella McCartney stores as well as in Milan’s 10 Corso Como, Le Bon Marché in Paris and, in America, at boutiques including L.A.’s Just One Eye and New York’s Jeffrey.
There will not, however, be a show during the London men’s fashion week. Instead, the new men’s line will be incorporated into the women’s resort presentation in London on November 10 and available to purchase the following month. “We felt it made sense,” says Lukoff. “For men it’s particularly relevant. When men see something, they want it right away. I don’t know many men who postpone their purchase six months out and still desire it.”
McCartney’s men’s line is also as eco-conscious as her women’s designs. Stella McCartney is the only luxury brand that doesn’t use leather or fur—McCartney is a lifelong vegetarian, thanks to her parents’ influence. “We’re trying to solve a problem and give an alternative that doesn’t compromise. This collection is over 50 percent sustainable and organic,” she says.
Her efforts have been an inspiration to the British explorer and environmentalist David de Rothschild, who recently launched his own eco-conscious brand, The Lost Explorer. “It’s not easy finding factories that want to make products in a sustainable way,” he says. “You can only do that and push the industry when you’ve got the kind of clout that Stella has. ”
Meanwhile, McCartney is already working on her next men’s collection. “When I’m designing for women, I know exactly what I’m doing. I don’t even think about it,” she says. “I’m just like, ‘Yeah, bring it down two centimeters. That’s one millimeter too far to the left.’ I can do that in my sleep. When it comes to men’s, I’m like, ‘What would a man think?’ ”