Christopher Shannon interview: Liverpool-born fashion designer a hit with Rihanna, Stormzy and more
For someone who didn’t really want to become a fashion designer, having your clothes worn by the likes of Rihanna, Stormzy and Kylie Minogue is pretty impressive.
London-based creator Christopher Shannon, who grew up in Mossley Hill, talks to YM Liverpool about his star customers, feeling like a ‘northern oddity’ and Sinead O’Connor’s Adelphi dust-up.
Interview by Lawrence Saunders | Photos by Ekua King and Elliot Kennedy
Who or what inspired you to become a fashion designer?
I never really wanted to be a fashion designer as such – I wanted to direct music videos.
But I guess I had some skill with clothes and lots of ideas so it just went from there. Going to art school was the main thing.
I did meet a great designer as a teenager; Laurence Bidston, who had a skate label called Felix Blow. He was the only Liverpool designer I knew and he was brilliant, and sadly he passed away a couple of years ago.
He was definitely influential in making me see fashion in a different way, [a way] it could be a valid option and didn’t have to be about tailoring or party dresses.
As a Liverpool lad, you know the city has its own unique style. How much of that influences your work?
[When I started] I didn’t realise how much it did influence me. It was only really when I moved to London that I saw the way I felt about clothes was so particular and that a large part of that was to do with Liverpool.
I wanted to show that you could be as sartorial about the way you approach sportswear and casual clothing as you could be about tailoring.
Even if I’m not looking at references that relate to Liverpool it’s innate to the way I design and the choices I make. Somewhere in my head there’s a Liverpool lad that nudges decisions.
Liverpool dresses for pleasure and fun but it’s also very precise – trends are also just so. Even if you don’t like the trend you can’t argue with the commitment.
How have you found Liverpool’s style is perceived in London and the rest of the world?
When you travel, people associate the city with The Beatles, wags and sports – there’s a visual element to all of those aspects.
The world is so much more global in the throws of social media; maybe trends are starting to be less region specific, which is a shame really.
When I was a kid so many girls wore a ‘gypsy’ top with shell suit tracksuit bottoms, which in a way is the basis of so much streetwear right now.
Whenever I meet people who have actually been to Liverpool the warmth they have for the city is overwhelming, apart from Sinead O’Connor who told me she had a terrible fight once at the Adelphi Hotel and never returned – that’s the exception though.
Was there ever any snobbery towards you as a Liverpudlian designer in London?
I didn’t really think about the snobbery until I got to London, that it would really be an issue, but it was. Eighteen is a really young age to move to a massive city alone when you don’t really know anyone.
Central Saint Martins was super snotty – a very sink or swim place. I remember really feeling like a northern oddity for the first few years and maybe I’ve just embraced that but I give it little thought now – it’s someone else’s problem.
There was definitely a snobbish attitude to my first few catwalk shows, that I had the audacity to use a Reebok Classic on the runway, etc. As it is I was right to do so and now you can’t move for street and sportswear in fashion.
“Even if I’m not looking at references that relate to Liverpool it’s innate to the way I design. Somewhere in my head there’s a Liverpool lad that nudges decisions.”
You’ve teamed up with a host of brands. What would be your dream collaboration, either in terms of a brand you’re yet to work with or an artist or celebrity?
I’d like to do a really interesting sportswear collaboration with someone. I feel like the time is now to take that further, rather than just t-shirts with two logos on.
I’d also love to work on a piece of public art with a sculptor.
I’ve often daydreamed about a modern way to re-do the pirate ship on Sefton Park lake –
a project like that would be really rewarding. I loved it so much when I was a kid and thought it was tragic to see it destroyed.
With Tracey Emin and [Antony] Gormley’s work, plus the Superlambanana, I think Liverpool has a really open attitude to interesting landmarks.
How do you feel when you see pictures of famous people wearing your clothes?
The only times I’ve been super excited are when we’ve done things with Rihanna – I just think she’s incredible.
It’s nice to work one on one with people too. We’ve been doing loads with Neneh Cherry,
who I’ve loved since I was a kid, and that’s rewarding as there’s an understanding there.
In general, though, it’s just nice to see people respond to wearing your clothes.
I was at [fellow scouser] Linder Sterling’s gallery recently and there was a lad there with a really early Eastpak bag on of mine. It’s nice to see people still wear pieces from seven or eight years ago and they still look fresh.
Your clothes don’t appear to be that expensive in comparison to work of other designers. Is it a conscious decision on your behalf to keep your clothes relatively affordable?
It depends on the piece. We have a core range of jersey pieces that are quite well priced. This year, though, we are focussing more on limited drops of products which are slightly more expensive.
I’m not a huge fan of making loads and loads of clothes; I think those days are over. We want to focus on more considered designs in smaller runs.
What can we expect to see from you next? Where do you want to take your brand?
We just launched our KIDDA line with Urban Outfitters – this time it’s aimed more at a female customer though as we’ve always had a female following buying the menswear.
I’m working on a retrospective book of 10 years of my work. At first I was dreading it but it’s actually quite engaging to edit so much work into 200 of the best images and create a narrative around them.
Our perfume, which launched last year, is now coming in bigger sizes which is a nice project to work on as well.
We are also adding homeware to our e-commerce offering later in the spring. It’s really exciting to focus on designing items that reflect my work but aren’t clothes.
Finally, what advice would you give to aspiring fashion designers?
I’m not sure I’d encourage anyone to go into fashion design. It’s such a saturated market at the minute and celebrity has really taken over the industry so I’m not sure it’s hugely beneficial.
I’m always pro people being creative and going to art school but I think fashion is really at saturation point and the whole culture around it has changed. I see so many talented graduates not finding work and it’s quite disturbing.
I guess my advice would be to try a few things first and make sure there isn’t another creative avenue that might feel right for you.