[LONDON FASHION] Wakako Kishimoto and Husband Mark Eley
- A husband and wife team of fashion: Mark Eley and Wakako Kishimoto
London Fashion Week, which begins next Sunday, is now marked by a
twice-yearly debate on whether it is losing its magic. With some big
names moving abroad and others going out of business, the designers
who are flourishing in a city that is renowned for its unbridled
creativity are often overlooked. Mark Eley, one half of duo Eley
Kishimoto, is tiring of the negativity and rightly so.
Along with his wife and design partner, Wakako Kishimoto, he has
built one of the success stories of British fashion. Next week,
theirs will be the only label to have two on-schedule shows: one for
their eponymous label and another for a new collaboration with
Ellesse that will combine their quirkiness with the heritage of the
Japanese-owned sports brand.
"It's a new direction and new territory for us," explains Eley.
Despite their reputation as print specialists, the designers have
built a formidable ready-to-wear business. Their collections are
consistently among the best sellers at their 210 stockists
worldwide, and their quirky silhouettes and prints have a loyal
following in Britain and Japan.
Eley Kishimoto began life just over a decade ago with a textile
business on the ground floor of what is now their three-storey
studio near Brixton prison in south London ("We have a huge
workforce on our doorstep but I am still trying to figure out how to
use them," jokes Eley).
Next season: spiral dress from Eley Kishimoto's spring collection
Early clients included London-based designers such as Alexander
McQueen, Hussein Chalayan and Nicole Farhi, and, later,
international names such as Jil Sander, Givenchy, Versace and Yves
Saint Laurent. By 2000, they were designing for Marc Jacobs and
Louis Vuitton. Alongside their flourishing print business, they
built their own label, which began life with a rainwear collection
of beautifully made umbrellas, macs, mittens and scarves.
In many ways, Eley Kishimoto is an inspiration to younger designers,
combining creativity with commercial stability. As Eley explains,
they had a good grounding in how the industry worked, having
supplied prints to designers before venturing into their own
clothes. "Our experience of the print side has supported everything
else. We had the benefit of four or five years on the other side and
we saw lots of people get burnt. We knew the pitfalls." The couple
have, unlike many contemporaries, thought about sales first and
glory later. "We have always had a really close relationship with
our customers and always prioritised sales above press."
The duo pitched their prices below their rivals from the start,
making them accessible to customers whom Eley describes as ranging
from young fashion followers in Japan to more mature women in Europe
who might buy the occasional piece to liven up more conservative
"I think we are in a niche area," says Eley. "We don't really answer
to trends and we are slightly left of centre. The market needs
something like that - we're not about making the perfect black
Basics are definitely not part of the label's vocabulary. Every
collection has featured graphic prints and kooky, girly silhouettes.
The style is bold and instantly recognisable. And that, perhaps, is
one of the secrets of its success.
Graphic prints: autumn/winter 2004
Eley and Kishimoto are keen to keep pushing back the boundaries.
They have applied their prints to everything from tables and chairs,
luggage (their carry-ons are now sold in the new Globetrotter store
in Burlington Arcade, Mayfair), china, wallpaper and even buildings.
For London Fashion Week, they have covered a double-decker bus,
which will cruise down Oxford Street and Edgware Road, in one of
their spring/summer 2005 prints.
Further evidence of the label's unorthodox approach can be found at
its shop, which opened last year and is tucked away in an anonymous
back street in Borough, south-east London. "We decorated it with
wallpapers and furniture, and sold lots of archive stock which I had
kept," says Eley. "I even worked there for three months to escape
the chaos in the studio. Some of the Japanese customers got a bit
freaked out that I was serving them."