What about British designers who didn't go through Saint Martins, like Julien Macdonald?
I've never given it any thought, apart from wondering whether he's had facial surgery. He's changed beyond all recognition, and he's wearing his hair in a strange way. Now he'll never speak to me again. And those television commercials. There's this Julien Macdonald for Debenhams advert that you can see when you're at home lying slumped in your bed. It's most unflattering, and you wonder why he put his face on the telly. Do I think he's a designer? Not in my book. Am I sad he wasn't at Saint Martins? Not really. But that's me being a cow.
What are you wearing?
A black dress that I designed many years ago to clothe my semi-deformed body. Thank god, because when I read all these bloody magazines, I wouldn't know if I have the right cropped nautical jacket, or if my trench is the right length, or how to be more boho. It's my Chairman Mao uniform. I have about 39 identical black dresses, and in white and taupe linen for when I'm in Bali. I'm also wearing a black Lanvin scarf, black knickers and black sandals. The jewelry and leather bracelets are Hermès.
Do you wear designers you've helped bring into the world?
Alber [Elbaz] gives me really nice pieces of jewelry, pearls and stuff. I have to thank him for that. I didn't teach him, though. This bag is from Jens Laugesen, and Phoebe sent some nice Chloé bags. I have a student at Pucci who gave me a dodgy Pucci bagnot the one I wanted, but beggars can't be choosers. And I have a stash of Donna sweaters to keep me going for years.
We're in the middle of SoHo in New York. Would you ever think about shopping here?
Well, I nearly bought a Chanel bag today, but it would have been the sad fucker that's in the advertisement. I caught myself and thought I really wanted the small quilted one that you wear under your arm when you're a size 8, but that would look ridiculous on me. I spend a lot of money on bags and beauty products. I think most fat people are quite obsessive about their furthest extremities.
Let's talk about your background. Do you come from wealth like so many Brits?
My father was a gentleman farmer, so I had something of a privileged upbringing. I was born in Cambridge and raised in Scotland. I rode horses, and competed all through my teens. Eventually I gave up horses because you can't go to school and continue that level of competition. Also because I wanted to be in Newcastle where the black men were; they had a great time and played loud soul music and drove fast cars. It was an American naval college, and it was a short trip away by train. The man I hooked up with, though, is from Ghana, and I met him in London. We were together like twenty years and we have a son, but we never got married because I can't bear fat brides. Anyway, I nearly didn't go into fashion at all, but I remember my father taking me into the garden and putting his foot down. He said I was not going to do business studies in Newcastle. I had to take the offer of doing fashion at Saint Martins.
But why fashion?
I don't know. Saint Martins was where it was all happening. And, to be corny and un-me, my mother was always interested in fashion and always had Dior outfits out and nice handbags and things. Since the age of ten or eleven I was buying British Vogue and plastering [model] Marie Helvin all over my walls. I arrived to Saint Martins looking quite the fright in electric blue shoes and white mascara.
I love that. What year was it?
1982. There we were at Café de Paris with our jingles, our bangles, our Gaultier and our tragic hoop earrings. The forgotten thing about fashion today, and this makes me sound ancient, is we had to make clothes. Everybody in my generation remembers the horrible things we made in college to be different. Nowadays you will find a lot of people make nothing for themselves because it is cheaper to buy.
Did you have any professors like you?
A tutor who comes to mind is Ossie Clark, but in the ignorance of youth, I didn't even realize who he was. He had had his fame and gone back to teaching. I wish I'd kept some sketches or something.
What did you do after school?
I worked in Italy and Hong Kong for various labels. Then I came back to Saint Martins because the course director asked me to help as a tutor on the MA. Then I went to Donna Karan in '97 as a consultant for the collections, then left Saint Martins on sabbatical from '98 to '99. I then came back to Saint Martins to resume my position as course director and remained a consultant for Donna until 2002.
What was it like working for Donna?
An eye-opener. I could tell you a hundred crazy stories. I'm fond of her. She's a genius to have done what she's done. And she's fucking passionate about it. What she taught me was how to fit. She can take a sack and turn it into something. And she worked so hard herself. She really put the hours in. Sometimes people say bad things about Donna, but everything she's done has been slightly ahead of its time. As a woman, I can look at it objectively now and see that it gets personal if you're a woman. The things that have been written about Donna have been so much more personal than the things written about Calvin. But she stayed very open. I wouldn't be a very pleasant person in that environment. I'm already rude, objectionable and generally a loony.
What do you do to relax?
I go to Bali every year for six weeks. I'm on that bloody beach in a bikini bottom and a straw hat pretending I'm Elle Macpherson. It used to be absolutely fab because there was no one there I knew and I could be on the beach topless. Then people I know started coming up and saying hello.
No. I'm lucky because what was essentially my hobby became my job. Some people have their jobs but have other hobbies like fishing, therefore the magazines they read on the toilet are fishing magazines. The magazines I read on the toilet are fashion magazines.