Politics and art is kind of in my blood … When I went into advertising my dad asked me, “Why are you doing this?” I was like, “I’ll have the power to go into people’s living rooms and change their lives.” But, it doesn’t quite work like that and after eight years …
Why did you go back to London to do that?
I just had support here if anything went wrong and, because I’m a British citizen, I wanted to give something back to the community I guess. It’s also easy to work with Asia and Europe from here.
So your first Super Fertile collection was three years ago?
Yeah, 2007 was the beginning of it although I’d started doing stuff in New York and some collections before that. I came back here and I was doodling designs in sketchbooks and sitting in pubs, but I had no idea how I was going to make it work.
I haven’t really told anyone this, but then I found a little investor who gave me £1000 – just an average business guy who has no idea about fashion at all. I used that money and went to India alone looking for a production company in Delhi which was quite daunting. They say that if you’ve lived in New York you can do anything, but this was crazy. Luckily I had a car so I could always drive off if it was a dodgy warehouse or work shop, but that’s pretty much how I started. I made these endangered species rings (for the Endangered Species collection) and some ear cuffs (for the Rich Girl vs. Poor Girl collection) and brought them back after three weeks. One week later, one of the judges on X Factor wore one of my rings. I texted my investor and said, “Quick switch the TV onto Saturday Live” and there was my stag bouncing across the TV screen. He said he almost shit in his pants [laughs]. The thing is, I don’t think he or anyone thought it would go anywhere much. I think he thought, “This £1000 is all you’re getting because you’re just going to go and blow it on clothes or something.”
I bet he’s really enjoying being part of it.
For £1000 yeah. So that’s it, there are a lot of risks and there’s a lot of hard work. The next collection I’m going to do is very current. I’m working with stones this time so it’s going to be completely glamour, glamour. After the Real Super Stars, the inventors, I wanted to do something quite different working with new materials which is a challenge. It’s going to be another quite ironic collection about current affairs; the economy and the recession. It’s about the truth, a sentence like “There’s 5 million people without healthcare in America,” but glamourised with stones so it looks like it’s overflowing with diamonds and things. It’s about welfare, and the economy, and unemployment, and repossession of houses, and how the value of houses is lower than the actual mortgage is, and how much the war’s cost; all that stuff.
Would it be your most topical collection to date? Most of your other collections seem to have been about ongoing issues that are quite endemic; hunger, war, caste systems …
That’s right. Even the Tourism collection is always current because wars are always in the news, but I wanted to capture this particular moment before it goes. I wanted to capture how what started in Wall Street has ended up in the Main Street. So many people lost everything and governments are having to bail the people who caused it out … and it happened so quickly. I want to capture it, the cover-ups and everything else. It’s all about the dollars and the pounds and the euros I think, but the irony is that the collection’s actually going to be really affordable.
Brilliant. You said before that politics and art run in your blood, what did you mean by that?
Well my family is very opinionated and quite expressive … and we’re very brave. Even at Christmas dinner we’ll all have our opinions and be going at it. I don’t know why. On the artistic side, for me to work out how a necklace would fit or how it would fall on a body, it just comes to me. Things like that I can’t really explain. Even if someone wanted me to do a safe subject, I wouldn’t be able to help but make it a little bit you know, uneasy …
Like if someone asked you to design an engagement ring they might end up with a statement about blood diamonds on their finger?
Yeah, it would start a debate somewhere. I just can’t help it. I remember, as a kid … My dad was a mechanical engineer before he was into politics and when we lived in India and Sri Lanka he was making these machines out of wood. All he needed was a bunch of timber to cut and make this machine that, using animal-power like a donkey or a cow on the end of it, would go round and round. It would drill a hole in the ground to be a well to provide water for villages with no running water or electricity. I remember as a kid, sitting on this cow going round and round for weeks. My dad used to give us farming tractors and ploughs and machines, not Barbie Dolls, so we know how to fix stuff and make things work.