Helen Storey’s debut on the catwalk tomorrow is the most eagerly awaited show of London Fashion Week. A front-runner for the Designer of the Year award, Storey made her name with her stretchy, sexy fringed evening wear, worn by pop stars such as Madonna, Cher and Yazz. Her first catwalk show will be a sparkly, no-holds-barred affair, in the best tradition of young London fashion. It will also mark a bold change of tack.
Days before the show, she is doing what most designers are reluctant to allow – letting me see the collection. People are bustling through the first-floor studio above her shop in London’s Newburgh Street. Her design associate, Mark Tabard, is trying on a bright waistcoat. The clothes are arranged on rails. Storey – low-key, soft-voiced, wearing her trademark tracksuit – talks through each section.
The collection is called ‘Rage’ and is a sequence of images of a modern woman struggling to juggle lover, child and career. Storey says it is ‘autobiographical, my most emotional collection yet, a reflection of everything I feel about women.’
She is the daughter of David Storey, the playwright and, and left school with one O-level to study fashion at Kingston Polytechnic. Her first job took her to Valentino’s studio in Rome. She was back in Britain by 1985, married architect Ron Brinkers, had a baby and started her own business, all within a year.
The beads and fringes and Lycra stretch in those early collections made her a hit with the club set. The irony I that designers do not come less clubby than Storey, whose idea of a perfect Saturday night means time spent with her husband and son, Luke. ‘I come from a very theatrical background, and the clothes reflected that; they were very showy, very theatrical. They didn’t reflect my personality at all,’ she says.
‘I had this inner dilemma about the relevance of fashion. I found it hard to justify how I ended up a frock designer in a family of intelligent kids. The only way to keep interested has been to design clothes which say something about me.’
She hates the role-juggling image of the ‘New Woman’. ‘You know, the woman who’s supposed to go out jogging in the morning, outboss the men in the office during the daytime, become a loving mother in the early evening, and transform into sex goddess at night. I hate the pressure. My rage, I suppose, is against the need to compromise, the frustrations that creates.
‘Luke is five, and I couldn’t bear to send him off to boarding school or hire a nanny. So I’ve tried to make him part of my life, and he’ll be up here at night when I’m choosing shoes for the catwalk show. And I worry about whether this is the way for him to grow up. And all the time there’s the child in me to cope with too, because it’s the child in me who designs.’
The designer she admires most is Vivienne Westwood. ‘She’s constructed a convincing intellectual view of her own life, and made that work with her clothes.’
The shock-tactic section of her show, ‘Combat Woman’, includes classic riding jackets, fishnet dresses and jumpsuits, all in combat fabrics, plus bra tops and hot pants decorated with bullets. Another section of her collection marks an abrupt change of mood: simple shift dresses in yellow and white georgette, printed with ghostly images of a baby. Some of the dresses have cutaway details revealing glimpses of thigh and back.
In another sequence, double dresses in gentle water-colours are featured. Tomorrow’s catwalk show should confirm that, behind the rage and the glitz, there lies a very different Helen Storey.
Originally Published in The Independent, 13 October 1990, p.15-16