Last week we went to see our friend James Steward, without doubt one of the very best fashion designers we have in Leeds. We talked about his latest collection, his upcoming trip to Vancouver Fashion Week and a perfectly placed star-sign column which provided a motto James lives and works by.
We worked with James earlier this year on a project called Leeds in Barcelona and since then we have spoken regularly about the Leeds fashion scene and his career to date but before talking about upcoming events, we should speak a little about James' past:
Having moved to Rome in 1998, James received an apprenticeship at the internationally acclaimed, Gattinoni Couture, the fashion powerhouse with an enviable list of clients spanning its rich history. Audrey Hepburn, Eva Peron, Arabian royalty and even the Pope have all worn clothes by Gattioni, and it was here that James was exposed to dress design, pattern cutting and embroidery design, using the most luxurious fabrics and finest Swarovski crystals. Although the credit went to Gattioni, James’ designs were gracing the pages of Italian Vogue, photographed by the likes of Peter Lindbergh, Ellen Von Unwerth and Steven Meisel.
Upon his return to the UK and Leeds, James set up Aqua Couture with a friend and the brand had a big effect on the Leeds fashion scene. We still have fond memories of Aqua being one of the main reasons we would visit the Corn Exchange (which back then was quite different to what it is now!) During this time his designs could be seen on important fashion opinion leaders such as Victoria Beckham and Kylie Minogue.
Since going his own way and leaving Aqua, James has created ready-to-wear collections for ASOS and many independent boutiques. His couture bridal range has been a huge success and resulted in James receiving numerous awards. He was also brought in to work with the costume department at ITV to create the dresses for the on-screen weddings on popular British soap opera: Coronation Street.
It has not always been plain sailing however for James. In a world dominated by disposable fashion, to stick to your beliefs and retain a dedication to quality of craft is not easy. These beliefs and dedication were ingrained in James during his time in Milan and still run through every piece of work he produces today. There are times when the easy option would of been to 'sell out' or mass produce some of his designs but James did not want to compromise quality for quantity.
We all have moments during our careers or even our lives when we question the path we are on and if the all the hard work is worth it, James was no different. One afternoon, during one particularly hard day James began to question whether he was doing the right thing by sticking to his principles. Just at that moment a random flick through a magazine provided him with the words he needed to hear at exactly the right time. When glancing a the star-signs page, one sentence on his sign's reading jumped out of the page and provided the kick that he needed -
Focus on your true talents and be rewarded
It is a line James now has written across the top of his studio white board and it serves as a constant reminder to stay true to his beliefs. His dedication to quality and craft now looks like it is paying off.
Vancouver Fashion Week
James international profile is set to soar to greater heights with his showing at this year's Vancouver Fashion Week in November. With the help of his awesome PR: Sam Ward (more coming soon on Sam) and Marketing Leeds, James will showcase his Spring/Summer collection and in doing so become the first British designer to show at the Canadian event. Although the collection is being kept under wraps, we got a sneak peak at some of the designs and we are very excited to see the final show. James describes the collection as
"a cross between greek mythology and science fiction!"
It will be great to see Leeds' talent showcased to an international audience and James is obviously excited by the opportunities 'Leeds in Vancouver' creates
"It’s always an honour to be involved in these projects. Leeds in Barcelona worked by generating a huge amount of interest in the James Steward brand, and in Leeds as a city both through individuals and the media. Next stop is Leeds in Vancouver, an amazing project which sees Lisa Jayne Dann and I show our S/S11 collections at Vancouver Fashion Week. The opportunity here is incredible; with international media and buyers attending the event, it’s the perfect way of showcasing the wealth of design talent here in the city – we couldn’t have done it without the support of Marketing Leeds"
Vancouver presents a great opportunity for one of our city's best talents to showcase his work. This is a designer who has learned his trade and worked very hard to forge a successful career. His beliefs and ethics are admirable in a society seemingly obsessed with Primark and £1.50 T-Shirts. James deserves all the success he gets moving forward and hopefully the Vancouver project provides another stepping stone towards an even brighter future and career for one of Leeds' most talented creatives.
There are lots of really interesting projects and collaborations taking place in Leeds' fashion and music scenes at the moment and we can not wait to make some announcements of our own in the next few weeks. On another personal note it is great to see this project being supported by Marketing Leeds: this is exactly the type of project that has both international and local appeal, with James being the first British designer to showcase in Vancouver. We hope more and more projects like this get the green light and support in the city. The days of big budget advertising campaigns are gone, lets create more targeted projects that showcase the talent Leeds has to offer.