The studio is located in the northern part of London in a residential area. After swinging the knocker in form of a lion on the door, I was warmly greeted by her studio manager Amy.
Her team is still busy with the follow-up work of the presentation.
Lou emerges from the staircase that’s located in the middle of the studio.
After briefly reviewing her presentation and going through the clothing, we sit down in her office. Amy comes in to bring me a cup of tea.
Apart from several emails and our meeting at the show, this is the first time we’ve had the opportunity for a longer personal talk.
Even though she now lives in London, Lou originally hails from Shropshire. Her parents were always working and she spent a lot of time with her grandmother, who owned a farm there.
“She always used to have pretty much a hat and a shoe for every day of the week, and every week she would wear her Sunday best to church. I think that my first insight into clothing”, recalls Lou.
A short while later, the idea that you could be yourself and express yourself through clothes came when she was around twelve years old, sitting on the sofa before getting to bed, watching TV.
“There used to be a TV program called ‘This is your life’, with Amon Holmes. He would surprise a celebrity and say: ‘Tonight, this is your life’ and then tell the audience all about the person’s life, how they grew up, their life story , and so on. Once, a womenswear designer called Zandra Rhodes came on.
She was just so flamboyant with her colourful outfit and this amazing pigment under her eyes, which she still wears today. Seeing this, I just thought I want to be Zandra Rhodes and I want to be in fashion.”
Fast-forward six years. Lou had just finished her final year at school and had two opportunities: To go onto further education or take up a job.
She didn’t like school and wasn’t a great scholar, but the subjects she did enjoy were textiles and art, so when an opportunity came up through a government incentive, where companies would offer a work space for a school leaver for minimum wage (“It was ridiculous, something like 35 pounds a week!”), her art teacher recommended her to a local tailor who specialised in shooting breeches and shooting jackets for the local gentry. Fortunately, she prevailed over one of her classmates and got the job.
In the following weeks she not only learned the craft, but also noticed that she was good at it.
"Most go into the design side and then into the construction. I went into construction and pattern cutting first.”
The apprenticeship came to an end. Her close friends were either working and being rebellious, or were hardcore scholars. Lou wanted to live on her own terms, and not be told what to do.
Her time at the tailor (Arthur Pardington) opened up new fields of interest and possibilities.
“I started to become more and more fascinated by construction and the design and history of what we were making in terms of shooting breeches and traditional sports wear. I started to think about how I could explore this in more detail and take up a career in fashion.”
From now on, she was on a mission. After a failed university application, she chose to get a higher national diploma, worked hard, and was accepted straight into the Royal College of Arts after achieving the qualification.
Lou Dalton creates purely menswear, so I ask her if she was interested in extending her scope when taking off to university.
“I applied there purely to do menswear, because of having that foundation from so early on, where I was only ever exposed to that, even though I would flip through a Vogue in the reception area of the doctors every once in a while.”
The combination of university, placements and connecting with people got her a job as a sample machinist for a Japanese company, and a short time later it brought her to Italy, where she worked for Stone Island and Cerruti.
“When I graduated, the first thing on my agenda was to get as much experience as possible.”
Through her wide variety of interests, she consults and collaborates with other fashion brands to this day.
“I am used doing that and it’s fine, but I like being hands on. That’s the vision with my own brand, where I want to see it come true from start to finish. It’s good sometimes not having somebody else doing it for you. Especially when you are repositioning yourself, when you’re starting from scratch and you’re building on the core. Then it’s important to reflect about what we’re doing and if this is the right way. I can only answer these questions if I’m heavily involved.”
Being heavily involved also means working closely with local manufacturers. From the beginning of her label, before the word sustainability made its debut in the context of fashion, she produced her clothes in England.
“I come from that, that is my DNA, that is my foundation. I can count on one hand where we are getting the cloth from. It’s coming from two mills and that’s it. It’s really straight-forward and is about being really mindful about your footprint. Lou Dalton is a contemporary menswear label that’s made in the UK, made with some of the most amazing UK manufacturers labels that have manufacturing facilities here in the UK, which allows me to promote the carbon footprint that I’m trying to maintain and also the sustainability behind it.“
I couldn’t phrase it any better, and in the light of her experience, in a nutshell that’s what exactly why Lou Dalton is so special in this day and age.
As we sip on our tea, the conversation shifts into the present and of course to Fashion Week, which just took place. As a person who has been around and has seen a lot during the past decade, I’m curious about what she has to say about the current state of menswear.
“London Men’s Fashion Week was a great initiative, but there were fewer people involved, fewer people wanting to launch their labels” she says, after taking a moment to reflect. “What is concerning is that a lot of kids come out of university wanting to start up a label instead of working towards gaining as much industry experience as possible. Within fashion there are so many roles to be covered other than design, it’s not as simple as that.”
Almost exactly two years ago on this very same day, it was announced after a referendum that the UK will be leaving the European Union.
“I think now with Brexit upon us, there’s great uncertainty and people’s buying habits have changed a lot.
Designers are struggling, they’ve always struggled but it’s more difficult now. Labels change the wheel every season, it’s quite disruptive and hard for people to see where we’re going with this.”
It becomes clear that Lou has a bigger picture in mind regarding her own label.
“I’ve really tried to think about it. I want the same but different every season. There has to be reason behind what you’re doing.”
Her eyes shift towards the rail with the samples of the upcoming summer clothes. She stands up and grabs a bleached out denim jacket.
“This jacket was something I showed five years ago. It was a huge success and it sits really beautifully with what we do now. So I added the blue as a new take and that’s how it changed.
There’s a story behind it to justify what we are doing, it’s not just a jacket, there’s something else about it.”
Over the course of this conversation, the impression that Lou is a hard working person with a clear vision has strengthened.
Where would she go, if she had the possibility to take some time off and choose a flight to anywhere?
“I was supposed to go to Brazil just two weeks before the presentation, but we had to cancel it because I had too much work on.
Actually, I’d like anywhere where Justin (her boyfriend) is, because our time is always so precious.
At the moment he is in Azerbaijan, so I would say there, but if I could go anywhere in the world on a whim, I would like to do a road trip from San Francisco to LA.”