To those unfamiliar with Northern England city Liverpool’s camp glamor, Patrick McDowell’s ready-to-wear collections make the perfect introduction. The Liverpudlian London-based designer produces strictly made-to-order pieces that convey a visually-rich marriage of sophistication and humor — signatures are emerging as canary yellows, hot pink, and dramatic outerwear. No matter what they are, his aesthetic ensures the wearer will always make an entrance.
Since launching his eponymous brand (after his graduation in 2018), McDowell quickly established himself as an advocate for sustainability and LGBTQIA+. All of his work is based upon the three pillars of “people, the planet, and the queer community.”
It’s that commendable reputation that led Malaysian-Chinese designer, Professor Jimmy Choo to select McDowell to be the Jimmy Choo Academy’s (JCA) first designer-in-residence, announced in January 2022. Based at 20 Hanover Square in London’s upmarket Mayfair neighborhood, McDowell now works from the JCA alongside the “learners” training there.
It’s there that he also recently presented the playful “Marie Antoinette Goes To Liverpool” as part of the JCA London Fashion Week show. The collection combined the exhibitionism of the 18th century with that of today, all cut with sustainability in mind. Fabrics were made with Tencel Lyocell fibers and wools were a collaboration with fashion’s favorite yarn provider, Wool And The Gang.
In fact, working together with brands has been pivotal in shaping McDowell’s path so far. Beyond the ongoing work with those aforementioned names, in 2021, he worked with the London Fire Brigade for London Pride on a photography exhibition shot by Lou Jasmin. In a series of unconventional images, firefighters were depicted clad in his designs and celebrating queer members of the brigade. In his trademark activist approach, 2021 also saw McDowell co-brand a Katharine Hamnett clothing line launched in protest of Brexit.
Yet, he is arguably most well known for his partnership with Italian womenswear make Pinko. Now acting as the in-house director of sustainability design, McDowell has worked on two collections with the label. Both have been composed of upcycled pieces; the first was cut from deconstructed army and navy uniforms, and the second involved fabric made from recycled fishnets recovered from the ocean.
Put simply, collaboration is an intrinsic part of his brand’s achievements. Here Jing Collabs & Drops decides to dig into that significance with the designer himself.
Firstly, why were you attracted to working with Wool And The Gang?
For me, system-changing fashion companies are the ones we need to be working with in 2022. Wool and The Gang design amazing knitwear which you can buy as a kit and then knit yourself with sustainably-sourced, chemical-free yarn and so it felt natural for me to work with them for this season’s knits. Our new collection, Marie Antoinette goes to Liverpool, sees the launch of our French Fancy knitted Tank and the Burn Baby Burn Sweater made with them.
Why is collaboration such an important part of your brand strategy?
Collaboration is so powerful. For a modern sustainable fashion brand, working with others allows you to learn and expand your reach all while better understanding who you are as a business. I started Patrick McDowell with the aim of being open and transparent, and collaborations have always helped me to continue that messaging.
How has this contributed to your already accomplished career?
From the beginning — when we worked with Burberry and Swarovski to utilize their fabrics and crystals — to more recent collaborations with Tencel and Tencel Luxe for my latest collection, brand collaborations have always allowed us to be seen and heard by a much wider and different audience than we’d normally reach. We’ve done many interesting projects, too, like designing for a ballet and even co-designing a garden for the Chelsea flower show or remaking and redesigning shoes with The Restory, all while maintaining my designer handwriting and sustainable ethos.
What should independent designers consider before accepting partnership proposals?
You have to see if it will work for your brand and what you’re trying to say. There’s lots of things to consider but my main ones are impact, reach, and what you’ll learn as a new designer brand. Remember that you too are a valuable part of the collaborative process. While a larger brand can bring many people, big budgets, and solid supply chains, you can think differently — and give a breath of fresh air to them.
If you could predict, or manifest, a collaboration that you will do in 10 years’ time, what would that be?
I’d love to work with Manolo Blahnik. As brands we share the same values around craftsmanship and working towards a greener industry. So it would be incredible to see how a collaboration could look. Two different aesthetics mixed together and rooted in a respect for craftsmanship is, for me, the perfect collaboration.