The ultra chic Louise Trotter talks to AnOther about outfitting a new generation, straddling femininity and masculinity, and balancing polish with realness
Joseph creative director Louise Trotter’s fashion career started early. Beginning with “changing how my dolls used to dress,” Trotter tells AnOther. “My grandmother was a seamstress and she really fostered my curiosity, letting me do things.” From her dolls’ clothes the designer progressed to slicing and dicing her school uniform: “I used to cut up my skirt and make it into a rara skirt, and take the collars off my shirt. I mean, I pretty much did anything that you could possibly do to it.” In her exploration, Louise Trotter began her decided journey into a career atypical of a north-eastern English girl in the late 70s, early 80s. Her occupation was not the only thing inflected by this particular experimentation as, early on, uniforms and their practical application began to form the basis of Trotter’s academic interest in fashion.
Studying marketing and design was an early indicator of Trotter’s penchant for practicality. “I was quite pragmatic in that approach, because I always wanted to design clothes that people wore. I still design in the same way.” That same pragmatism eventually drew Trotter to Joseph in 2009 when she took the helm after Joseph Ettedgui’s death. “He created a uniform that everyone wanted to wear,” the designer says of the brand’s cool black pants and nonchalant suiting from the 90s. “No matter what career you had, no matter who you were as a woman, we all wanted to wear that uniform.” At that time, Trotter was working at Whistles under the label’s owner Lucille Lewin, and Ettedgui would often pop in to the rival store. “They were nemeses at the time and he used to take delight in always saying hello to me, the buying assistant, and ignoring her,” she laughs. “I always had so much respect for him and admiration for what he did too – it’s always been very much more akin to my own personal aesthetic.
Having steered the brand for the last eight years, Louise Trotter has been charged with channelling Ettedgui’s original message and creating a uniform for women today. In the process, Trotter has brought the label out of its multi-brand retailer territory, instead harnessing its own message complete with catwalk shows and the addition of Pre-Winter and Cruise collections to the calendar. But how does a purposefully pragmatic fashion brand translate to the phantasmagoria of the runway? Even that application is a matter of practicality for Trotter. “I am really aware of the fact that there are a lot of shows and people have a limited time [during fashion weeks] now – we all have so little time in our lives – that if you decide to do a show then I think you have to say something. You can’t just put a pair of pants on the runway that everybody wants to wear, I think you have to say more than that. The show allowed me to put an elastic band around Joseph and to be far bolder in communicating what Joseph represents. It’s an expansion of what Joseph stands for.”
Though rationality underpins this identity, Trotter’s catwalk expansion results in a somewhat ephemeral approach to the banalities of clothing: jumpers unravel and cuffs flap, sleeves hang and glossy leather trousers bunch at the ankle. “I often feel best when a look is not quite done or not quite finished. Sometimes you have a picture or a painting and you frame it and suddenly it’s not as beautiful anymore. The beauty is in the kind of realness and I think that’s something I like in my work. It’s also that feeling of not being mass, something that is a little bit more personalised and hand crafted, not necessarily buttoned up and totally finished. That sense of unravelling, the undone, I find quite beautiful.”
Though Trotter creates a dream workwear mélange – endlessly versatile pieces that slip together effortlessly – it’s more than just suiting on the menu. For our shoot in and around her beautiful London home (Trotter lives between homes in Paris and London – cue the necessity for seamless wardrobe staples), Trotter wears her Pre-Winter 2017 collection, a layered ensemble mixing army-wear with femininity in that trademark ‘undone’ mix. “I moved house last year and I found all these photographs of my parents from the 70s, and what kind of amazed me was how feminine my mom was, which I’d never seen or can’t really remember. And then, also how feminine my dad was. It sort of caught my imagination, how femininely men dressed at that time. Pre-Winter 2017 is probably one of the most feminine collections I have done in a while, where I looked at stereotypes of very feminine pieces and then contrasted that with a kind of classic menswear. It’s also slightly flamboyant in a way, but with a lot of traditional English fabrics: the dress is a Liberty floral tea dress but with a blue jacket, which I almost wanted to look like a 70s Pan Am jacket. And then these jeans because I am a bit of a boy and I always like to kind of masculinise everything.” And in one beautiful swoop we have a uniform of the most unlikely kind: soft, nonchalant, both pretty and boyish, timeless and easy. But by all accounts utterly compelling.