You grew up in an Arts and Crafts house designed by your grandfather in Gloucestershire. What was your childhood like?
It was a very romantic and magical house full of tapestries and suits of armour perched on an escarpment overlooking seven counties.
You had to deal with your father dying when you were only 11…
The loss is always there. It is easier to deal with as time passes but it surfaces in many different parts of your life. In my early adulthood I missed my father for his guidance and support.
When your sister-in-law, Isabella Blow, died in 2007, you must have been particularly concerned for your brother, Detmar…
Isabella’s death was very sad; very tragic. She suffered the same illness as my father [depression] and their deaths leave those left behind feeling desperate. Apart from all the questions – how, what, why – it isn’t as easy as supporting someone with a broken leg, for example. You can support someone with depression to a degree but to see someone suffer with it is very painful – it’s such a cruel, malicious illness.
Who first inspired you to work in fashion?
My main interest lay in textiles and tailoring. I kind of flopped into fashion. My inspirations are multiple. I grew up with such strong historical connections; my mother is from Sri Lanka (her grandparents, George and Agnes de Silva, were critical in gaining independence for the country) and my father was a keen medieval historian. Growing up with a combination of history, culture, elegance in a very unpretentious environment is quite a rarity.
Who have you most enjoyed designing for and why?
When I moved to New York, my first ready-to-wear collection was bought by Bergdorf’s in New York, and Browns in London, followed by Harvey Nichols and Harrods. The collections were popular in Europe and Japan. I take the most pride from the clean silhouette and sharp tailoring of my designs – the sense of leanness mixed with a flamboyance of colour and a sense of irony. I’ve designed for the likes of Angelica Huston, Mark Ronson and Frankie Goes to Hollywood, but I just like to design for people who get it; who enjoy fashion. I don’t want people to approach my fashion as occasional wear. It’s designed to be enjoyed and mixed with your basic wardrobe – and I really enjoy changing people’s perceptions.
What are you most proud of?
Your designs are handmade and designed in London. You are also a great supporter of UK textiles. Why do you think it’s important to support British production despite the high cost?
It’s the question my accountant asks me every day. I don’t send our designs to wholesale or license my designs. I think what’s important is a sense of eternalness. The handmade British fabric industry used to be big but it crashed about 10 years ago. It is tempting to move to the Far East to cut costs but I love the whole sense of family and intimacy of all those involved in the production from the mill workers to the agents while my shop is more like a studio than a shop. Our collections can be made to order and bespoke and they’re very moveable.
Your mother is from and has since returned to Sri Lanka. Has your Sri Lankan heritage inspired your designs?
I’m very proud of my rich Sri Lankan heritage and am very into the country’s arts and politics. I’m inspired by the country’s use of colour, its vegetation, mentality, drama – it feeds into my sense of whimsicalness and there are some very inspiring women who have made their mark on history on my mother’s side of the family.
How would you describe your personal style?
I hate looking in the mirror, but I follow the ethos behind my collections, mixing extraordinariness with simplicity. I like the approachability of sharp tailoring, which is why I usually wear men’s shirts. I also wear sunglasses and red lipstick.
You’ve said that you’re not interested in pritt-stick fashion. Please can you elaborate…
I believe that if you do something you should do it well and I take pride in my workmanship.
How do you juggle family with work life?
I’ve had to learn the art of discipline and organisation as an adult. I believe in cut-off times. When I get home to the farm in Gloucestershire I switch off from work. I’m fierce about having down-time with the family; family time feeds me as a person.
How do you relax?
I breathe; I stretch; I stop.
What is your guilty pleasure?
I flick from one role, from designer to mother, but I have a strong sense of who I am and a streak of teenage rebelliousness. My husband used to compare me to Keith Richards when I went out when the kids were young.
What’s your philosophy on life?
Awareness and sensitivity to people around you; a sense of intelligence, thought and compassion.