Fashion Designer Daniel Pollitt / On the Issue of Perfectionism
“If everything seems under control, you’re not moving fast enough”, a guy called Mario once said. Recovering control freaks of the world, I salute you. I am one of you. Designer Daniel Pollitt also knows a thing or two about the urge to control outcomes. And about perfectionism. So much so, he produced his entire first order of DANIEL POLLITT Spring/Summer 2018 by himself.
These days Daniel is very much in remission – he works a little less and entrusts a factory in Enfield, London with the production of his collections. It’s perfecting the balance between giving his customers what they want and maintaining the identity of his rapidly growing brand that fuels this drive.
text by VIKTORIJA BENAITYTE
photos by KAROLINA HUBNER
You’ve always been creative. Have you given any thought to how and when it all begun?
When I was a kid, my mother would often draw farm animals, chickens as well as witches and goblins. Maybe that’s why my brother and I started drawing at a very young age. I was pretty good at drawing cartoons.
Otherwise, there’s hardly any creativity in my family. It’s a true working-class - factory work, “real job” sort of thing.
Has the good old British education system been significant in getting you to where you are now?
I didn’t enjoy school much. I enjoyed art, looking out of a window, wondering, daydreaming. I used to draw lots and lots.
I did art and design at college but wasn’t thinking about fashion until one of my tutors prompted me, it was because of the way I designed and drew. It sounds like a cliché but all of a sudden it all made sense to me; it all just came together. I went on to study fashion design – I completed my BA back in Manchester and then did an MA in Fashion Design Womenswear at the Royal College of Art in London.
I’ve Googled you (obviously) and came across the Bright Young Things initiative you were part of a few years back…
Whilst studying for my Masters, I was working at Selfridges [an iconic British department store – VB] at the weekends, you know that kind of “working seven-day weeks for two years” drill. This is how I found out about Bright Young Things. Basically, the winners got given a rail in Selfridges to sell their product, some PR support as well as a store window facing Oxford Street that you needed to come up with a design for yourself. I ended up being one of the Winners, which was an incredible platform to receive so early in my career.
That sounds like a “fairy godmother” sort of opportunity for a young designer. And you’ve clearly made the most of it as Selfridges still stock DANIEL POLLITT, right?
Yes! They just bought the fifth season. And I still work there on the weekends. I get to have this first-hand experience with my own customers which is just vital. Of course, when I’m in the store, I never tell anyone: “hi, these are my clothes, come to try them on”. I really enjoy observing how people react to my clothes, how they experience them.
…and you, in turn, get to be a fly on the wall and hear what people really think of your clothes. How does that feel? Do you let it inspire or influence you in any way? If not, what sort of inspiration do you let in?
I’m really lucky to be able to have that kind of feedback and I do store it away, it’s often on my mind when I’m working on the next collection.
As for the influences more generally, I’ve always been interested in exploring the opposites, especially masculine vs feminine - women in menswear and vice versa, that even turns me on a little bit! I respect Japanese design tremendously, especially how it treats the body. This is where much of my aesthetics come from.
In the West, we’re obsessed with the silhouette, with enhancing the shape of the body. Consciously or subconsciously, my designs often enhance the waist, attempt to nip it, to hug it.
People in your clothes - let’s talk Rita Ora, Lorde, Skin from Skunk Anansie…in other words, permission to boast given!
I obviously loved seeing them all wear my clothes, actually seeing anyone in my clothes makes me incredibly joyous. Last weekend I spotted someone wearing a long, pleated skirt from the last collection. In fact, she wore it as a long shift dress from the bust instead of a skirt which was great to see. This reminds me that what I have made is no longer in my hands. I no longer get to say: “this is a skirt, and this is how it’s going to be worn”; you see people disregard the rules and just do their own thing. And that’s fantastic.
The fashion cycle can be ruthless. Could you tell me more about your creative process, how do you manage to come on top of it each season?
For me, creating each collection is like going through a continuous process of refinement. You go through phases that mirror life cycles: from the teenage years with all the attention-seeking, extreme outfit combos and regrettable eyebrow shapes to the mature years that reflect the knowledge and confidence in who you are. It strips further and further towards clarity and simplicity.
You also have to think commercially, appealing to a wide spectrum of consumers. This means listening to your customer and knowing who she is, whilst at the same time exciting them. Understanding that and getting the balance between creativity and commercial success is key.
How do you manage to walk that fine line?
My business-mind primarily is shaped by my experience in retail; it helps to understand what people want, what they look for in clothes.
My partner Thom is the person with strong business acumen and the ability to take the reigns. I could just keep on going like a steam train plowing ahead as there’s always something to improve, to perfect. Thom helps top break things down into a structured timeline. Because no matter how brilliant your ideas are and how many of them you have, it all has to come to a conclusion.
Fundamentally, every creative, every designer needs a Thom.
Finally, why work so hard? Why not just take it easy and...just hope for the best?
I’ve always worked hard, I’d be the first one in and the last one out while at college. I think I’m one of those blood, sweat and tears kind of people when it comes to getting things done. I’m also deeply motivated by knowing that I work for myself.
It did get a little extreme at times – when my first order came, I was so afraid that someone would mess something up that I ended up producing it all by myself. I worked in my bedroom evenings and weekends as I had a full-time job at the time.
I do believe that you have to go to those extremes when you are building a brand, building a business. The clarity of who you are as a brand, as well as those bigger orders don’t come in if you don’t put the hours in – it’s that simple.
But you do have to know when to stop, you have to physically remove yourself from your work from time to time. These days, Thom and I just force ourselves to take holidays. We’re going back to New York at the end of the week!