Stuart Vevers doesn’t make a song and dance of himself. But the accessories designer was at the forefront of putting the bag on a pedestal (figuratively) or many a crooked arm (literally) in the early 00s, as the man behind ‘it’ bags for Givenchy (the Pumpkin), Luella Bartley (the Gisele) and Mulberry (the Emmy), a brand he turned from mumsy to hot property during two years as creative director. He also has experience at Bottega Veneta, Louis Vuitton and Calvin Klein. Vevers’s talent is in his ability to tune in to the ethos of a label, though his hits come intuitively, as big a mystery to him as it is to us.
In 2007 he went continental, becoming creative director of Loewe, and is now pushing ready-to-wear for the 166-year-old Spanish brand. In a synergy in leather between arm candy and supple outerwear, you can get a fancy, trickle-up MA1 flight jacket to match your luggage. Even before his Loewe appointment, Vevers was still enough of an industry name to have a House of Holland tribute t-shirt that read: “YANK MY LEVER STUART VEVERS”. Total Carry On, yes, but this Yorkshire-born designer clearly knows what creative buttons to push.
Dazed & Confused: You’ve been living in Spain since 2008. What do you enjoy about the country?
Stuart Vevers: Definitely the people. When I took the job I honestly thought I would commute between London and Madrid much more than I actually do. Being a Brit I had certain preconceptions of Spain that probably involved the holidays I went on in the 70s and 80s! But I’ve really explored the country and that’s made a big difference. I’ve made friends and spent all my time there. I’m quite social – I like going to parties or restaurants and I didn’t know that side of Madrid before I went, it’s really fun and young. Maybe because it’s a smaller city, there’s a clash of lots of different cultures. Sometimes I feel in London, because it’s bigger, you have little tribes and pockets. In Madrid you’ve got aristocracy with club kids with trannies. It’s very mixed.
Very different to where you grew up...
Stuart Vevers: Yes. I was born in Yorkshire to a really regular working-class background, then grew up in Carlisle. My parents both left school at 15. Even the idea of higher education was... I don’t want to overstate that, it’s just I remember when I was first talking about going to university, it was expected that because I’d done well at school that I would do something sensible. I always drew, but I honestly never expected that it would be fashion for me. Looking back, it makes a lot more sense. When I did my art foundation I tried fashion and was like, ‘Oh yeah, this is the one.’
What posters did you have on your wall as a teenager?
Stuart Vevers: I loved (British R&B popsters) Five Star. (laughs). Actually they just did some gigs recently, the first time in 17 years or something. I hope they do it again. I’ve only ever seen three of them, when they did G-A-Y once. It’s not quite the same, is it?
What led you to bags?
Stuart Vevers: I do all of the products at Loewe, but all my jobs have been bag-focused. I graduated in ’96 and I really wanted to live in New York. It was the time where it was the height of minimalism, and looking back my work just wasn’t Calvin – it wasn’t minimal or clean, it was quite decorative. But I got on well with the person who interviewed me, and she put me forward for a job in accessories. So I took the job and I thought I’d talk my way back into womenswear, which is what I’d studied. I saw very quickly around me that people were doing bags as a second-best thing, whereas actually I liked them as a first-best thing – and I knew that that gave me an edge. Not long after, I moved to Italy because everyone said, ‘You have to learn the craft, you have to see the way things are made.’ I got into bags through chance, really.
Working at Calvin Klein must’ve been a real learning curve…
Stuart Vevers: It was really good. I was 21, it was my first job and I’d never been to New York before! Calvin was still there too.
You had your own line, Vevers, in the early 00s. There was one bag that was a huge shoe and another was a bunch of bananas…
Stuart Vevers: Up until that point I had always been working for someone else’s vision and I was starting to feel like I wanted to do a bit more. I only did two seasons in the end! I just thought, ‘How can you stand out as a bag designer?’ So I made it quite bonkers and fun but with great quality. I got really amazing orders from stores.
What’s the secret of an ‘it’ bag? Or is it more mythical than that?
Stuart Vevers: I don’t know! I’ve spent hours and hours and hours trying to figure this out. It’s really instinctive and I don’t think you get to decide, it’s other people. You react to something and you feel something good about it. When you show it to other people you realise – people who are making the prototype will get excited about it, more than the other things they’re making. It doesn’t happen that often, and when it does it’s weird and takes on a life of its own.
The ‘it’ bag phenomenon is a signature of our time...
Stuart Vevers: And I think people have tried to look for the next thing. People say it’s moved from bags to shoes, but I honestly don’t think it has. There are very few things that are as universal and democratic in fashion. Not everybody wants to walk in high shoes.
How was working with Luella Bartley?
Stuart Vevers: It was important. I met a lot of the people who I am still friends with and even worked with around that time. I’d gone straight into working with massive companies and Luella kind of reintroduced me to London in a way – these small companies with a more creative, freer way of working. Everything was about having fun and using your instinct. It taught me to enjoy myself more.
Was it as rock’n’roll as it seemed?
Stuart Vevers: Yeah, it kind of was! Because we were in a really privileged position at such a young age, our mid-20s, and had all these things at our fingertips. We (Vevers, Giles Deacon, Katie Grand) worked hard, but partied really hard! It was like a gang, even when we were working at different companies. We were doing Bottega and Luella was showing the next day in the same space. Bottega just let her show there! They were preparing the show in one room and we were next door! Quite unusual.
How important is research to your work at Loewe?
Stuart Vevers: Exploring Spain has really become important. There’s only one Spanish luxury house, but there’s loads of French, Italian, British ones. I thought of it as a massive opportunity, tbut it’s taken a while to understand how it could become an aesthetic story, as well as talking about the country. That’s definitely started to come together in terms of traditional Spanish references or rural aesthetics. Those kinds of things are mixed with my own taste which is more of a contrast – I’m younger or more poppy, a bit harder. I think because I’m northern English, some things feel really exotic to me. You couldn’t get more contrast with some parts of Spain – it’s so different to what I have known or grew up with, the colours and patterns and even the personalities. So bold and passionate.
Photography Jeff Hahn