The power of two: Christopher and Tammy Kane
With their work the Kane siblings continue to surprise and enchant
“The dress we just showed you?” said Tammy Kane. “That’s magic.” At an address in east London, bordering Regent’s Canal and near London Fields, we are at the new headquarters of Christopher Kane, the fashion house her brother first established in 2006 and of which Tammy is co-creative director. And that dress, singled out from a clothing rail of early Autumn/Winter 2022 collection samples, is unmistakably the work of her brother.
Cut from a net-like tulle fabric, it falls into diaphanous pleats, bands and folds. Realised with mathematical precision, its effect is mesmerising. “He just came up with it,” Tammy said. “That makes my hairs stand up. It’s innovation on a hanger. And it’s simple.”
Their new set-up spreads across two floors of a modern, purpose-built block of businesses. In the same part of London, the brand also operates its ateliers, where the design team is based.
To visit the Christopher Kane team today is to get a snapshot-like impression of an independent business that is evolving, setting new structures within an industry that is also changing. It’s a refocusing, of sorts. And that dress, the one whose qualities Tammy espouses this afternoon and which they had decided to make from a fabric that is perhaps less expected, is a prime example of their recent work. It’s a championing of creativity and inventiveness that is free-spirited. Tammy sums up: “That dress to me represents possibilities.”
A more focussed vision
It forms part of their AW22 offering, debuted in a film aired during London Fashion Week this month. To design and put together, their new collection has been memorable. “It’s been quite nice this one, hasn’t it?” Tammy asked Christopher, to which he agreed. Having gone through the company’s inventory of previously purchased and since stored materials, the decision to work with a number of deadstock fabrics was made. Sustainability was front of mind, as was running their own business: in 2018, luxury conglomerate Kering sold back the 51% stake it had acquired in Christopher Kane five years earlier.
And it was also memorable because the bones of the collection were sketched, sampled and fine-tuned in a matter of weeks. Christopher, isolating at his nearby home having tested positive for Covid-19, drafted designs before the company’s Christmas break. Coming back after the holidays and realising that London Fashion Week was indeed taking place this February, the team jumped straight into fittings, to translate his work off the page. And found that they liked this sped-up way of working. Christopher recounts: “That two weeks was like, ‘OK, we have to get it done. No wasting time. Do we need two of that dress? Why two?’ You really have this more focussed vision.”
“Everyone just got together,” Tammy said, highlighting their small team’s collaborative spirit, which one feels is fuelled by the siblings’ own partnership. “Christopher will do something and then I will have my take on it. And then we keep bouncing off each other. That’s how we always think we get good collections because we keep evolving ideas. We never just go, ‘Right, that’s that done now.’ We keep working. Eleven o’clock at night, I am still texting him.”
And there’s precedence to their current mode of creating. “We started off in our bedroom,” Christopher said. “That’s where I did my graduate show. That’s where I did my first collections and it was a very small team. It was close-knit, organic. We just wanted to be the most creative we could ever be, with what we’ve got.”
Out to impress
The youngest of five siblings, Christopher grew up in Newarthill, a small village in the Scottish council of North Lanarkshire, reached in less than 30 minutes by car from Glasgow. It was when he turned 18 that he followed his sister Tammy – then a fresh graduate from the Heriot-Watt University’s School of Textiles and Design in Galashiels, in the Scottish Borders – to London, to start a fine art foundation course at Central Saint Martins. Christopher was to remain at the art college’s Soho campus for the remainder of his education, eventually enrolling in its illustrious MA Fashion degree, which was then taught by Louise Wilson. “I have always been a teacher’s pet,” he said. “That’s what Louise Wilson was calling me. But you know what, I was not a teacher’s pet in an annoying way, I just wanted to impress Louise so much.” Tammy featured throughout. “We have always wanted to impress each other,” he analysed.
Impress they did. A sensation, his graduate collection Christopher had crafted on a student’s budget from fabrics sourced at London markets and cut-up hosiery, with Tammy as his fit model. “It’s what you’re doing, what the feeling is, the heart and soul,” he said about creating beauty amidst constraints. “I made it with a lot of heart and soul. And 30 quid’s worth of fishnets.” The designs set the tone for what was to follow: to date, Kane’s career pinpoints include a successful tenure as creative director of Versace’s Versus line, wins at the British Fashion Awards and a coterie of well-known admirers. Lena Dunham, FKA Twigs and Alexa Chung have all worn Christopher Kane. There are Christopher Kane designs in the permanent collections of London’s Victoria & Albert museum and The Met in New York.
But above all, there are the brand’s designs to reminisce about. A zip-up bandage minidress in acid green with beige lace ruffles from the SS07 debut comes to mind, or from AW11 a black shift dress, its severe silhouette contrasted with cushiony, squishy plastic squiggles containing a vibrant, liquid centre mixed from dyed glycerine and vegetable oil. Other highlights, of which there are too many to list here, include garments collaged from outsized silk gazaar pansy blooms (Resort 2017) and a line of separates printed with plant diagrams.
“It was resourcefulness as well,” Christopher said, remembering his graduate collection. “And that’s what we are getting back to now. That element of being resourceful. It’s all about the clothes at the end of the day.”
And if the onus is to remain on clothes – and accessories, too – then there is much to earmark at Christopher Kane. Debuted in a digital showcase, the brand’s SS22 collection totals 56 looks. Among them, a silver metal mesh column gown, a two-piece tailored from a softly textured white wool bouclé that is inviting to the fingertips and dresses sculpted from reinforced duchesse satin in cardinal red. There are dresses fitted with cupsidated busts that come to a sharp point; a nod to Hollywood entertainer Jayne Mansfield. “He just sketches, doesn’t he?” Tammy said. “And I look at the sketch and – at this point, 15 years in – I never know what he’s going to come back with. New things that you have never seen before.”
This season, some designs are emblazoned with colourful, impressionistic renderings of faces and the human body. Collage-like, these began life as two-dimensional Brat artworks also created by Christopher. Painting had once been a favourite pastime and one to which he returned during the recent national lockdowns. He works with acrylic paints, cuts of fabric or lace. Onto glue, he dusts sparkling glitter the colour of emeralds or pink rubies. Hobby and work coincided last spring, when for SS21 the brand premiered a handful of unique pieces that Christopher had worked on by hand, among them a leather skirt finessed with confident, expressionistic brushstrokes and a dress with drips of red, iridescent pigment. A line of easy to wear garments printed with his artworks completed the line-up. Updated, it will make a return this season.
Another reason to be cheerful: More Joy. The line, which comprises T-shirts, cotton socks and assorted sportswear in addition to goods for the home such as a wall clock, became something of a phenomenon in recent months. “Is it everywhere? Did you see it?” Tammy exclaims when I tell her that I had earlier today spotted the product’s slogan, expressed in a retro font and borrowed from Alex Comfort’s 1973 guide The Joy of Sex. Alongside drawings taken from the book, the More Joy motto first appeared in their AW18 collection. It’s now the central theme of this selection of ready-to-wear and assorted products, all prized at entry level. “It resonated,” Christopher said of the line’s runaway success. “And for us, it really was a daily mantra.”