Exclusive! Hamish Bowles on his Clothing Collection and the Death of Couture

by Corbin Brett Chamberlin Photographed by Hamish Bowles
Thursday, June 23, 2011

Hamish Bowles

Hamish Bowles has been collecting clothing and couture fashion since he was young child. The European Editor-at-Large of Vogue began his journey as a apparel-aficionado while scouring London thrift stores. What began as modest acquisitions has developed into a phenomenal 2500+ piece collection. Bowles admitted to The AvenueInsider “It’s kind of gotten past the stage of being manageable”. Bowles’ collection is kept in a storage unit in Long Island City, New York. A few weeks ago, the definitive dandy and living style encyclopedia gave us the exclusive scoop on his in-the-works autobiography. Here’s a few more Hamish-isms to Bowles you over.

When did you first fall in love Balenciaga?

“As a little boy, I was interested in costume history and then I started to be captivated by fashion magazines, specifically by British Vogue. This was in the early 70’s. This was a very exciting time in British fashion, you have wonderful designers like Zandra Rhodes,  Ossie Clark and John Bates. They were all doing very fantasy based clothing or things that kind of had a retro feel and that turned me onto the idea of fashion. I then started learning about fashion history. Everything I read at that pointed to Balenciaga being this iconic figure, so I was intrigued by his work because even his fellow designers like Dior and Chanel, particularly Chanel – was a unforgiving critic, even she said “Balenciaga is only the true couturier”.

You’ve said in the past that you would like to start your own fashion foundation out of your own personal collection. Has there been any advancements on this?

“I would love to exhibit my collection. It’s now at the point where it’s got 2500 pieces or something. It’s kind of gotten past the stage of being manageable, so for all sorts of reasons it would be useful to set up a foundation and if nothing else being able to apply for grants to help maintain the fiber. It would be fun to have it arranged and displayed in a way that would make it even more accessible for students and designers. At the moment I have lots of designer friends who come and see my things. Stella McCartney is coming next month for instance. That’s fascinating for me because it’s so interesting seeing what they are drawn to and occasionally seeing how that might be filtered into their upcoming collections.”


Some in the industry claim couture is dead. What are your thoughts on this reasoning?

“Fashion just mutates. I think the nature of couture is changing a lot. There are some designers who have a very couture approach in terms of technique and finish, but are producing garments that can be worn and sold in a ready-to-wear way. I think the couture as we understand it from Balenciaga’s day is no more. At that point it was the only option for a woman who was well dressed. She could only dress at the couture or go to a little dressmaker and have things handmade. I think ready-to-wear has democratized fashion in a incredibly exciting way. It’s made couture a different kind of thing, really. There will always be women with the taste and resources to want very special and customized pieces and there will always be designers who will provide that. There is also renewed interest in younger people working for the embroidery houses. When I went to Lesage it was striking to see all of the young apprentices that were there. When I started going to the couture in the 1980’s and going into the designer ateliers it was all elderly people who had been there for decades. It’s exciting to think that there are younger people who are interested in learning those crafts and even working for the artificial flower makers and other related crafts.”



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