A man whose substantial experience speaks volumes, Ian Paley has seen a storied history working for the likes of prestigious brands such as Paul Smith, Burberry and Levi’s. In addition to lending his vision and insight to a range of influential labels, Paley is also the founder and creative driving force behind Couverture and The Garbstore – two well-respected haberdasheries/womenswear outfitters and homeware purveyors. Paley recently opened up to Glenn Kitson and MANUFACTURE MAGAZINE for a three-part interview to discuss his early beginnings, the relationship between retail and fashion, manufacturing and quality production, and a few of the lessons learned along the way. You can read the full interview by clicking the link at the bottom of this post.
Tell us how you got started please?
Graphic design was a family trade; I had an uncle and aunty that did a lot of graphic work so it was always assumed that I would go into designing myself. I was always into clothes though. I worked in clothes shops and grew up in a northeast town where things pretty much revolved around football and the pub. With that background you tended to know about two things – wearing the right clothes to chase the girls and what happened at the match that day. So I ended up doing fashion, going to university and learning the basics of menswear. I was learning the properties of cloth, the textile game and then learning to cut patterns which was the most important skill to learn. You look at 90% of the menswear designers today and hardly any of them can cut a pattern, they were not taught it. They just look at other people’s designs and try and change a pocket here or a seam there. They call it ‘product design’ but they’ve never learned to cut and see how things fit. Only when you’ve done that can you come up with something new.
What about working life, where did you begin?
After university the first job I got was at Paul Smith, which involved pretty much running his whole casual-wear thing. Then after a year I helped to set up some of the ‘shop in shops’ in Japan with a very good team of people. It was a marvelous company and I had quite a lot of freedom with no one to answer to. It was a fairly small group of us with a handful of people doing everything with a very little support team, so you got to put in a massive amount of work and see the development. Right the way through from doing the pattern, buying the fabric, going to factories, then I would go to the selling shows, and then merchandising it in the shops and seeing the whole process through from start to finish. I would also get involved in the ad campaigns and develop how the product was presented in the magazines etc. It was good work and I enjoyed it.
What early lessons did you learn?
I learned to make decisions based on costs and effectiveness and I learned to make them in a heartbeat. So when the time came to do my own stuff and it was my own money I was putting in it made you question these decisions even more. It was good; it meant you could cut through the crap very quickly and attempt to get it right from the offset. Because I cut my teeth into the trade when it was Brit-pop and everyone was looking at Britain in the 90’s, it was absolutely booming and it felt like you could do anything. Whether, you where good or bad it didn’t really matter as long as you were British you had a great chance of succeeding.
Photography: Mark Smith and Glenn Kitson