Not content with ensuring, thanks to his iconic caped designs, that Amanda Holden remains the perennial Britain’s Got Talent winner in the only way which really matters, within a few short years of graduating from the London College of Fashion with a degree in Bespoke Tailoring, Samuel Dougal has dressed the likes of Rihanna, Beyonce and Paloma Faith. After Nyne’s Fashion Editor, Samantha Simmonds, was invited to catch up with the tireless young designer during a brief break from preparations for the launch of his first ready-to-wear collection – find out what happened when Sam met Sam…
Samantha: What first drew you to fashion and design – what were your early inspirations?
Samuel: I grew up doing art when I was younger – I was always making things – and then it was a really by chance situation that we learned my mother’s grandmother was a Savile Row tailor – she was the first woman to have a contract with the BBC when they were reading the news in cinemas – and at that same time I was applying to London College of Fashion to do a Bespoke Tailoring degree as my only choice. But there were times when I was younger – my neighbour was an artist and he used to come round and visit and I always used to have him draw me these princess dresses and I was always directing him – so it was always quite clear from a young age that I was going to do something with clothes!
What was it about tailoring specifically?
The craftsmanship and making something with just your hands – I’ve worked with Philip Treacy too so millinery’s something I’ve always been very interested in too.
Are we going to be seeing any Sam Dougal hats?
Yeah I have been looking at doing a couple hats for my first collection…
Even though this is your first ready-to-wear collection, you’ve already caused a bit of a stir… When you were a student you tweeted Paloma Faith and ended up creating a bespoke suit which she wore to the Elle Style Awards?
Yeah, that was just a fluke – I didn’t expect anything like that to happen! I don’t know if it’s from there that things took off or… it certainly helped! And gave me a taste of what I’m doing now with client work.
So who’s been your favourite celebrity to design for so far?
I don’t really have a favourite… um… [laughs nervously]
Who was the most fun?
The most fun project was probably Rihanna – very unexpected – everything that was asked of me was a challenge that I stood up to and I got through it really well so that was probably the most fun one – but favourite… I don’t wanna say too much!
Very diplomatic! Who would you love to design for that you haven’t worked with already?
Natalia Vodianova. She’s a role model in more ways than just fashion… I really like her as a person and she does a lot, using what she does to help people and I think dressing her would be… my favourite thing ever. So I’m keeping my fingers crossed – the door’s open…
Just putting that out there! As you mentioned earlier, you spent several years working for Philip Treacy, as well as Alexander McQueen Couture – how do you think those influences have fed into your personal work?
Working for them, there’s no one better in the industry. For me, when I was doing my degree, Alexander McQueen was the only brand I wanted to work for and when I found out I’d got the job I was like – I’m done. I’ve learnt ridiculous things that I don’t think I would have got anywhere else… and Philip as well… they’re both top, top of their game and I just absorbed everything, every day… and I think now I’m using stuff I’ve learnt and I’ll apply it to my own stuff going forward, so I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. At Philip I did a lot of feather manipulation which is an art… what he does with feathers is ridiculous and to be taught by him was magic… I’m not sure if I’ll be using feather manipulation but… to be honest I learnt a lot of stuff which I’m probably not gonna use but I probably should!
Well, we love your designs – on the one hand this incredibly intricate hand-beading and on the other these graphic, clean-cut, tailored silhouettes – can you define the ‘Sam Dougal’ aesthetic?
There’s a subtle drama that is very pared back, but what I’m trying to do is hide the intricacies of the work and the craftsmanship behind it – so with the beading it’s not glitzy and in your face and with the tailoring I don’t want it to be big shoulders and extravagant silhouettes. I’m trying to keep everything very clean and very sober, but deeper than that there’s a lot that goes into it. I think that’s what gets me new clients… I think!
I think you’ve put your finger on it!
Yeah, it has that wow factor but it’s not…
It’s not shouting. And I don’t want it to shout because I’m not a shouty person myself so I feel like my work doesn’t need to. And I’m not trying to grab anyone’s attention. Hopefully if people appreciate good work they’ll appreciate what I do.
In terms of this collection, what were your particular inspirations?
There were many, many different themes I was looking at… I was very into the Old Hollywood actresses… and then there were some stories in Cornwall of these witches… I was at the witchcraft museum in Boscastle and there’s an expression called “selling the wind” – the women used to go up to the top of a cliff, tie a knot in a piece of rope and sell it to a sailor so when they needed some wind they’d untie the knot… So in the collection there’s a knot dress… then there’s capes… it’s a bit of a witchy collection – a glamorous witch! They used to call them wise women and I like to think that the women who’d buy a [Samuel Dougal] dress are quite wise! But aside from that I was trying to focus just on the colours that I love which are navy, black and rose gold. There wasn’t too much hocus pocus behind it in my thoughts – I just wanted to do a collection based around stuff that I really love – I would have done more capes if I could but I think there’s four in there!
And you’ve said you’re inspired by the natural world?
Yeah, I mean there’s only so much I can… I would use completely natural everything if I could but that just doesn’t lend itself to every look. I am looking at using more natural fibres for this collection – I’m going down to an Alpaca farm on Saturday – it’s a really eco friendly and very sustainable way of doing things but keeping luxury. I’m going up to the Isle of Lewis as well to look at the Harris Tweed, but I think that’s as far as I can get with the natural thing… At the moment!
One day we’re going to see…
A grass skirt! Maybe.
Would you say that this collection differs from your previous work?
Yeah. It’s going to be much more wearable, but still much more elegant and chic – a lot more tailored as well.
What’s the process of setting up your own label been like?
I can’t predict what will happen tomorrow – it’s all happened very organically… and it’s been quick, ridiculously quick – I haven’t really planned it, I just go with it! I’m just riding the wave and… there’s a kind of plan, but you can’t stick to everything you plan. What I wanted to do when I was setting up the business and what I’m doing now are way… It’s not what I planned! And I’m happy – I’m not a routine person.
And technology’s changing all the time, isn’t it, with how people buy clothes?
Exactly, and that’s something I’m looking into – how to sell them… we’ll see!
What do you do in your downtime?
If I’ve got a few days off the first thing I do is I get on a train and I’m in Cornwall… and when I’m down there I surf a lot – I’ve been designing my own surfboards! In London, just exercise. I go out occasionally but not much. I’m a very boring person! Gym, horse-riding, yoga – yoga every day, 6am. If I can get out I will – what I love doing and my work are so opposite – but I love my work! I might have to go and get a job making the Inuits clothing…
Samuel Dougal’s SS16 ready-to-wear collection launches in February.