I'm getting a little bit bored with myself, everytime somebody asks me about a Mother of Pearl piece I'm wearing and I have to go through the whole "You know Damien Hirst? Well his partner (apparently they've split up?) has a fashion label and this is it!" spiel. It does Mother of Pearl zero justice to even associate it with that tag of bored and rich wives with fashion ventures, which there are definitey many out there. Mother of Pearl is a different breed though through Norman's art world associations as of course each season, they collaborate with Norman's chosen artist. However, the foundations of the brand's design are laid by designer Amy Powney, who is responsible for tugging the design strings on this dynamic brand, turning out a sportswear infused pieces that are also luxurious. I spoke to Powney below to find out more about the lady who isn't quite the face of the brand but is definitely calling the shots when it comes to laying down Mother of Pearl's design DNA.
Powney graduated from Kingston University and spent some time interning with the likes of Giles Deacon and Marios Schwab and from there she went on to work at Mother of Pearl, before taking over as head of design alongside creative director Norman. That was five seasons ago and it is clear that since then, Powney has strategically established that sportswear meets luxury aesthetic at Mother of Pearl, creating pieces that feel modern and in step with how many women I know live and work, hence why I have to repeatedly do the whole explanatory chat.
In addition to getting those silhouettes right, Powney, together with Norman have figured out how to work with artists, respecting their work and their limits, whilst creating interesting collaborations. The latest Mother of Pearl collection sees American artist Fred Tomaselli and his paintings transferred from resin-covered wooden panels to embroidered jumpers, easy going silk shirts and stiffened jacquard jackets and wide-legged trousers. Tomaselli's work is rich with detailing but none of the essence of his depiction of birds killing each other, pills hanging on trees, stained-glass fireworks and exploding butterflies, has been lost when translated on to garments. The trick is getting the shapes right to showcase the art and in fact the non-printed, non-embroidered pieces stand out in their own right what with Powney and Norman once again using an abundance of nappa pieces in shades of peach and blue. Accessories-wise, Mother of Pearl dabbled in embellished gloves (which are my knuckle duster weapon of choice) as well as sticking to their tried-and-tested slouchy rucksack and Pierre Hardy trainers formula.
With crockery, shoes and bags already under the belt of Mother of Pearl, it will be interesting to see where Powny and Norman take their methods of collaboration. As a label that bases its collections purely on working with other creatives, the opportunities seem endless.
How has Mother of Pearl developed aesthetically through the seasons?
I have been designing the collection since SS11 (the collection in collaboration with Jim Lambie). I think it still has fundamental similarities since then, but yes inevitably it has moved on. Refining the brands direction and concept, the collection has moved on with each artist and the clarification of the brands aesthetic. Working with a different artist each season means there is a signature forming before the collection has even been developed but with each artwork used I always ensure it is moulded and moved into signature Mother of Pearl. Aesthetically, I feel it has found it's combination of sporty/ easy silhouettes infused with luxury fabrics and has developed it's use of print and embellishment, most notably used in the latest collection in collaboration with Fred Tomaselli.
The casual leather pieces and the "slouchy" silhouette has become a signature for the label - how were these developed?
These began, when I realised that beautiful lamb nappa looked almost like waterproof fabric yet incredibly luxury. I first added these into the Lambie collection in the form of a short sport style jacked ( which I think you have on in navy) and then they naturally found their way into every collection so far. I love the skins used this way not to mention in great colour ways.
Is it the artist, which informs the overarching theme every season?
The artists work is always up on the board as first hand research and always add a strong signature style, however each season I have themes like any other designer, for example a sporting reference possibly an era reference, usually a film thrown in there and often a cultural reference. I suppose subconsciously the artists work will be the original spark for a lot of these further research ideas.
How do you use the artist's work in terms of placing them into context on to the garments?
Maia brings in different suggestions of artists and we sit down and look at them both from the aesthetic and concept. We look at all angles of how they would translate into knit/ screen prints and digital prints, from different scales to different colour ways. Once we feel the artist is perfect for the collection, then all that is left it to ask them!
Once we have the sign off, I work through many ideas of how they will be used, sketch them up and then work with a great graphic team on the artwork. The most important thing when dealing with the artists work is to ensure you don't go so far away from it that it will offend the them, but that it is not simply replicated onto a garment as this would not make for an exciting collaboration. I always try to ensure the print is a unique collaboration and vision with both the artist's original work with the new angle of the aesthetic of the brand.
What sort of people do you envision wearing Mother of Pearl?
Women that can dress day to night, Women that want comfort with luxury, Women that both love the pieces for the collaboration with the artist but equally those who just love the print, Women who don't take themselves too seriously and love to be out and about and finally men who love the unisex pieces!
How do you see Mother of Pearl progressing as a soon-to-be established label?
I am concentrating on ensuring the coming seasons are strong and in line with the brands current direction and success, which takes up a lot of time! Otherwise, I love the creative projects we work on such as the paper, MoP shop's and one- off collaborations and would love to see this side of the brand grow simultaneously. With our successful concept of seasonally collaborating with artists, I think it is a natural progression to work and collaborate on many projects relevant to the brand. I would like each season to reinvent itself, keeping in line with the brand simultaneously and to go on working with great talent and creating great projects, but like I say, for now, it is to ensure this soon-to-be established label becomes established!