Q&A: Pretty Green's Pat Salter
PAT SALTER has been design director AT Pretty Green for the last three years, after a chance meeting with the label's founder Liam Gallagher. Cynthia Gregoire sat down with Pat to talk collections, the brand’s fifth year anniversary and what it’s like working with Liam. Cynthia: The Autumn/Winter 2014 Streets of Manchester campaign uses locations that are important to Liam. How does a campaign like that contribute to the clothing? Pat: We wanted to celebrate the label’s fifth birthday so we asked Liam what he wanted to do. The decision was made to return to Manchester, to the beginning, to where it all started. Liam and I went through all the locations that meant something to him personally such as Burnage where he grew up, Mr. Sifters the music store, Castlefield and Maine Road. The campaign adds authenticity to our Green Label collection. It adds integrity and meaning into what Pretty Green does.
Cynthia: You sit down and talk clothing with Liam Gallagher season after season. What’s that like? Pat: The process has evolved to a collaborative effort. In the beginning, we’d go to him with our plans and he would put in his two cents and it would grow organically from there. Now, Liam’s a lot more integral to what we do. We sit down at least once a month and go through colour palettes as well as Liam’s old and new clothes for inspiration and come up with a narrative for the upcoming season. See those leopard ponyskin swatch samples? The ones with dots on the back are the ones Liam liked best.
Cynthia: What’s the most exciting thing about working with Liam? Pat: His creativity! While I’m trained in clothing and understand what you can and can’t do within design and manufacture, Liam comes in with a completely opposite agenda and just wants to make things look cool. If I say: ‘we can’t do that, Liam,’ he says right back: ‘find a way to make it work.’
Cynthia: What role do trends have in the process? Pat: Pretty Green keeps its eye on trends, but we don’t necessarily follow them. Our collections are based on narratives, which are in turn based on the history of music and fashion. Pretty Green looks at what those guys in history were ‘doing then’ and makes them relevant and stylish. If we happen to follow trends, it’s by coincidence. For example, military is trending now but it’s actually a core staple of Pretty Green. The M51 and M65 jackets were first developed for the military for function and later became their first casual pieces. Then the Mods started to integrate military clothes into their wardrobes to keep their clothes clean on scooters. So it’s not about the trends, it’s about history.
Cynthia: The details are wonderful - John Lennon’s guitar strap pattern worked into the inside of jackets, for example. Tell me about the White Dove Collection released recently? Pat: It’s a capsule themed collection, like the past season’s ‘I am The Walrus’ collection. It all started with the Autumn Winter Black Label collection which, of course, was built on the story of The Beatles’ last gig on the roof of 3 Saville Row, the Apple Corps store. The Black Label is with the premium side of things. The White Dove Collection draws inspiration from the house hippie in the book, The Longest Cocktail Party by Richard DiLello.
Cynthia: I’ve read that book - An Insider's Diary of the Beatles …. Pat: We presented a few variations of the narrative to Liam but he wasn’t having any of them. The collection was supposed to be uplifting; Autumn/Winter can be a dark, damp, depressing season. He said: ‘Right, have a look at the psychedelic prints of The Beatles by Richard Avedon and check out Ringo’s dove.’ And there it was. While I was in the middle of it all, Liam comes in with a totally different way of thinking … and there’s the dove.
Cynthia: A whole collection could come out of those prints … Pat: It was also Liam’s idea to switch the 60’s slogan ‘Make Love’ to ‘Love Make’, which is the lettering featured in the inside of the jackets.
Cynthia: When did you decide to become a designer? Pat: Since I was about 8. With a bit of luck and timing, here I am. I did my B-tech in fashion and clothing and shortly after, started working in a factory in Peckham as an in-house pattern cutter and designer. One day, I was a pattern cutter or trimming loose threads off labels on the back of t-shirts, the next day sewing, the next day pattern cutting again. I really learned the trade. I learnt how to pattern cut a garment, toile it, fit it to the client and amend to fit client’s needs. When the fit was good, that was when it went into production. After four years, I got a job as a garment technologist at Ted Baker. The brand director just looked at me and I know he was thinking ‘Who’s this?’ because he expected a 50 year old woman, not a 22 year old! I then moved into design and trained in denim. Denim was the route into Pretty Green. A mutual friend needed some help with Pretty Green’s first season of jeans and there it was … I’m in.
Cynthia: What is it that fascinates you about designing clothes? What inspires you? Pat: There’s something so cool about turning a one-dimensional roll of fabric into a three-dimensional garment. As for getting into the zone, it’s about the music for me. There’s this magic formula when you put on your favourite record. You can’t explain it but something about it makes you feel good about yourself and the world around you and the next thing you know you put on your favourite t-shirt and good pair of sneakers, bang on a jacket and, with that tune in your ears, there’s just something that makes you feel so good…
Cynthia: I think you are describing creativity? Pat: Yeah, definitely! And I love making people feel good. When you walk down the street and see people wearing Pretty Green, you know you're part of something that makes other people feel good.
Cynthia: Do you have a particular textile you enjoy working with? Pat: My first love is denim. You can do so many things with denim. It’s all about the chemical reactions and the dye and bleach processes. There are new washes all the time, a whole new world of possibilities … But every textile can present a challenge, whether it’s getting the leather to the right thickness, working with ponyskin. Take herringbone which is 100% cotton and a particular weave. When you dye the garment, it completely changes the structure; it’s now heavier due to the yarn’s constriction. My job is so varied so I’m always working with many textiles at once: tailoring one day, jersey the next, knitwear the day after…
Cynthia: It’s nice to see that menswear is using so many different textiles. What do you think is significant in menswear today that wasn’t around 5 years ago? Pat: Well, Pretty Green of course! No, really, I think guys have changed their attitudes towards style. Perhaps it goes back to the Oasis days where we have two regular guys, dressed like us, in the pub - but they were rock and roll stars. They cared about their appearance but they were mega stars. Then you have David Beckham. He brought men into grooming, style, a different haircut every week. Basically, guys have gotten more sophisticated in the way they dress. Also, we have London Collections Men twice a year and guys are a bit more in tune to what’s going on.
Cynthia: There's more of an awareness to being stylish; guys don’t seem to feel the need to 'tame the inner peacock' as in previous years. And Liam is a style icon … Pat: Exactly! Walk down Oxford Street and check out men’s style: you’ll see every look, every fashion, every jean fit, chino, haircut. To be in men’s fashion right now is an amazing place to be, and will only get stronger.
Cynthia: What’s the best thing about working for Pretty Green? Pat: It’s creative, free, and fun. We have a great team who are striving to build a global brand and want to make Pretty Green above everything else. It’s small and relatively young and everybody’s pushing in the right direction. People are in early and everybody works hard and are excited about what we are doing. Remember, we have a ‘gold dust’ in our DNA that we work with - Liam. What else do I love? The gigs, the travel, the fact I get to be part of a legacy that will keep going and getting better and stronger as new ideas unfold. It’s an amazing place to be with such a young, small brand, and I'm excited to be part of this early stage because you feel like you built it with your own blood, sweat and tears. I wouldn’t want to work anywhere else.