Estimated reading time: 10 minutes.
It’s a wet and grey winter afternoon when Campbell and I ring the doorbell at Phillip Robert Patterson’s studio in Glasgow, Scotland. We have paid him a visit to check out his new atelier and we are planning on taking him out for a pint and a bit of conversation at The Laurieston, one of his favourite pubs. The Laurieston is not a fancy place, but rather one of those establishments that inevitably elicit the if-walls-could-speak train of thought. The pub is housed in an unassuming one-floor structure half covered in mid-century tiles, yet its 1960’s tartan carpeted interior could well have been the setting of a scene in Withnail and I.
We take a seat in the corner, near a life-sized, high relief artwork of a lady with bold red lips emerging from a basket of cherries. We settle down, still damp from the walk, and begin the conversation as soon as 3 pints of foaming Irish stout have been firmly placed on the table. We ask him, for the first time in all the years we’ve known each other, how it all began.
A lifelong passion
P. R. Patterson grew up in a High-Country Merino Station in the Lindis Pass, New Zealand, an unlikely breeding ground for a fashion designer of his stature. His mother had a sewing machine in a room within the house, which he used for the first time at the age of 9. His first piece, made in silence and solitude, almost in secret, produced “a very weird, multi-pointed hat”. From that moment onwards he knew that making clothing, thinking about clothing, changing it and collecting it was not really a decision, but rather something he needed to do. At the beginning he made mostly primitive trousers in a particular exaggerated baggy style that was fashionable at the time, but soon thereafter he started refashioning clothing as well, rummaging through the storage and picking up old clothes to give them a new life.
Clearly, a career in fashion did not come unexpectedly. Phillip says: “I was always making and selling clothing to my friends and I knew what I wanted to do”. At the age of 15, Phillip enrolled in a local high school that offered industrial sewing & pattern making, moving on soon thereafter to attend Fashion school in Christchurch, New Zealand. At only 16, he was the youngest student there. But it was not enough – after 2 years he set his sights on Central St. Martins in London and was admitted.
Above: The mountains near Phillip’s childhood home
Below: An early photo of the old homestead and outbuildings (ca. 1940’s)
Stepping into the Avant-Garde
It was on a school trip to Paris that PRP (Phillip Robert Patterson) was first exposed to the world that he was later to become an integral part of: “We ended up in Rue Harold (at L’Eclaireur) and I was exposed for the first time to Carol Christian Poell and other avant-garde brands that many of us had never seen in person. I was taken aback, I didn’t know this world existed”. Yet, like many of his contemporaries, he wondered what it would be like to work in a large fashion house. Lanvin was a good internship match because of their close relationship to St. Martins and their long history of craftsmanship. PRP speaks very positively of his experience there and perhaps more importantly, about the importance of feeling comfortable with the city one lives in. He spent 6 months in Paris before moving to Milan to do another internship, this time with Carol Christian Poell.
PRP: “I sort of threw myself in the deep end there, and Milan was a very different place to live in at the time. Paris is very international and you meet people, but life was very much about work in Milan. There I really came to understand through Carol’s work the importance of process and precision (which really sum up C. C. P. quite well, I think). I learned that every little thing you do has a process, and everything fits tightly into a mold. Everything that C. C. P. makes is a combination of tiny parts that are thoroughly thought about, and crucial to the result. At C. C. P., every small thing matters, even how you write a memo. In short, everything you do fits into the bigger picture, so if you are going to do it, you have to do it right.”
Phillip then moved on to work with Maurizio Altieri (Carpe Diem / m_moria). Doubtlessly, Maurizio and Carol are two avant-garde legends whose working methods are polar opposites. About his time as an intern there, Phillip says that working with Maurizio “was more of an adventure than a work experience. It was 2 or 3 months of just one of the craziest, funnest times of my life. It was very motivating to be so fully immersed in his world, each second was a new thought, or a new line to take, move or alter. Every day with Maurizio we were traveling around Italy, joining the dots between all the components and makers to bring the objects to life. I had no idea where I would finish that night or where I was going to wake up. This is the way he lives; always open to the unexpected, and the unexpected becomes part of the process and a way to make something new. He knows that there is always something around the corner that will influence and drive the work forward.”
Moving to Glasgow
By the second-pint mark, we are feeling right at home in our corner seat. Three more men have walked in, been greeted like old friends, and the conversation across the bar is intimate. One feels a rare sense of community, there are no screens in sight and the friendly banter permeates our temper. It still rains outside; we find ourselves having a thoroughly Glaswegian experience. We ask him: Why Glasgow?
PRP: “I was in London for a long time. I was looking for a new studio and it was almost impossible to find what I wanted. So one day, I was talking to a friend who was applying to the Glasgow School of Art and she said: ‘You should move to Glasgow’. I had never thought about it before, at first I thought she was joking! (Laughs) But then I just googled it, and after a few hours (of reading about it), there didn’t seem to be a reason not to. Once I looked into it, I realized it was sort of perfect for me. The availability of studio spaces, talented people… The fashion schools here have really good graduates. From a business point of view, Glasgow helps me to expand, but also to relax. It has allowed me to find more balance; it’s beautiful like New Zealand, but it’s a great European city – for now! – and the people are really nice. It reminds me of home: the music scene, the friendliness, the art scene. I love getting away into the Highlands in one hour by car, where there is beautiful scenery to explore whenever I have free time.”
One thing that the three of us share is a love of history, and one of Phillip’s biggest inspirations comes from archaeology. Scotland, with its rich, mysterious past provides a playground for the senses in terms of historical exploration. Its rugged landscape is an ideal backdrop for a myriad of castles, ruins and ancient settlements. Texture is a pivotal element of Phillip’s work, and one can see that much of his inspiration, imagery and color palette come from his various tours and trips around the Scottish countryside.
Life as a designer
For his current collection, Phillip borrowed inspiration from art of the late Middle Ages for creating his bespoke linen “Stirling”, which incorporates imagery from the famous Unicorn Tapestries (France, 15th century). Decayed 13th century textiles inspire “Fragments”, yet he incorporates a novel approach: the garment patterns are woven directly into the fabric. PRP: “I think there are so many hidden aspects of making garments that customers don’t get to see, but it’s really important for me. In ‘Fragments’ you can see the nested sizes, for example. That’s something I always wanted to show, and looking at the fabric you get to see all the different sizes layered up together. You see the notches, the seam allowances, and all the tools we use to make these garments. I think it’s really interesting for people to see see what really goes into making garments, it’s not something that’s just whipped up. There is a long process from design, to pattern cutting, to construction and fitting, you have to go back between all the stages many times to get it right. We would like to integrate every step of the process instead of just taking photos of the finished garments. We’re splitting up our techniques, and taking photos of that. We’re trying to take (the customer) right through to the intimate.”
A characteristic aspect of P. R. Patterson is that it is elegantly subtle, yet there is a lot of creativity within it. Phillip describes his ideal type of customers as those who are “not flashy, not egotistical, not trying too hard. They are understated.” Wearability is a priority; nevertheless, he leaves room for signature pieces such as the Bronze Toecap Boot. The inspiration for these boots came from Phillip’s childhood, his father used to wear exposed toecap boots for work. At first it was something he made for himself, casting the toecaps in bronze, a semiprecious material. It was purely an experimental piece, assumedly too expensive to be commercially viable. So he was shocked when he sold 8 pairs in the first season. Now together with the Pocket Bag Dresses for women, they are mainstays of every collection. The working-class references may seem at odds with a brand of such graceful shapes, but it nevertheless makes sense: Glasgow is a working-man’s town, not a fashionable city. Phillip sees that as a positive influence in his design viewpoint: “I think your day-to-day always feeds into your subconscious, and sometimes you recognise it and sometimes not, whether it be the colours you’re drawn to or an overall mood that finds its way into in each collection. As a designer, you don’t really want to be compared to anybody else. Fashion is hard because everything has been done or is familiar at least, but it’s not so much about what you are doing, as much as about how you are doing it. It’s about doing things very much in your own way, that is unique.”
Instead of dreaming of a Rick Owens-style fashion powerhouse, Phillip’s ambitions for his future as a designer are antipodal: “I do have the dream of buying a cottage or repurposing some kind of building in the Highlands. I am still far away, but I love the idea of eventually just working smaller and smaller, producing a limited number of garments at my own pace. Early on, I wanted to become a tailor and that’s why I started getting work experience very young. I ponder on how old fashioned tailors 200 years ago each had their own style, working slowly and independently (…) only making trousers for 3 months and then moving on to the next stage of refining (the same) trousers.”
Without a doubt, we live in a world where much of the day-to-day discourse is dominated by forces that pander greed, pride & flamboyance but exhibit dubious intellectual depth: Mainstream celebrities, so-called influencers, even prominent politicians. We have been taught, over and over, that we should endeavor to their ideals of quick fame and fortune, regardless of who might be trampled in the process. Therefore, people with a different set of ambitions come to me as a breath of fresh air. We turn the conversation a bit more personal and begin to envision a world where less is truly more, and we redesign in our minds a fashion industry less driven by trends and strict seasonality (even though Phillip admits he likes the idea of biannual deadlines pushing him to “the energy of the last minute”), and more focused on quality and sustainability. Phillip is excited about the possibilities of hand making more garments by himself and “really finding not just the thing that (he has) always made, but also the things that make (him) happy making them, there is always a sense of longing to create that perfect thing, but you’re not quite sure what it is yet. From a designers’ point of view, it’s very enjoyable working so closely with every item and being involved in the whole process.”
I look at the windows above us and see the tiny drops of condensation glimmer with the reflection of a passing car’s light. It’s only the late afternoon, but the clouds and the winter darkness make headlights necessary. We spring from our seats; we are very nearly late to our reservation at the Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre. We stand outside The Laurieston waiting for our taxi, talking about music, laughing with our heads to the clouds.
Phillip and Campbell leave The Laurieston.
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