A debut collection at London Fashion Week for Spring / Summer 2001 established the brand’s essence of punkish sensibilities with vintage elements and hand crafted details. The collection was met with rave reviews as critics responded favourably to the subverting of traditional motifs and British sense of tongue-in-cheek chic. In the years since, the label has become synonymous with deconstructed London cool and developed a cult status amongst fashion heavyweights.
Regularly featured in leading fashion publications and broadsheets, Preen has also collected a loyal fan-base of famous faces, with stars from Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Bosworth, Beyoncé, Rihanna, Cate Blanchett, Naomi Watts and Emma Stone to the Duchess of Cambridge and former First Lady Michelle Obama repeatedly stepping out in their designs.
We sat down with the husband and wife team of Justin Thornton and Thea Bregazzi to discuss their evolution, working process and finding influence in family and friends...
DIANA: It was 2006 when I first bought Preen for Dilettante. I remember the figure hugging Bandage dress as hero of that collection - everyone absolutely loved them.
Your brand, like any business I suppose, has evolved tremendously. Was it a conscious evolution?
It's fair to say that we have evolved considerably since we first set up our small boutique on Portobello Road. When we design, we like to think about the way people are working and living and what’s happening around the world.
We are very interested in what drives certain people to wear certain styles at certain times, and how culture and politics will inform those choices.
In 2006 we designed tight and structured dresses inspired by the 90's supermodels, but for real women rather than the waifs who were seen on the catwalks back then. The silhouette of these dresses has evolved over the years morphing from sexy body-con mini to full skirted elegance.
We used to be all about blacks and greys with a grunge edge, but now we find ourselves looking more towards print and colour as a reflection of this bright, digital age we are currently in.
Have you noticed a distinct shift in the way women dress during these last two decades since you’ve been designing?
When we started designing we were creating clothes to go clubbing in, drainpipe jeans and sexy tops. We were influenced by Victoriana, which we still are, but these days we're more inspired by our own lives and the ones our friends are living.
Our friends want something to wear to a dinner, to an important boardroom meeting, or maybe to the beach before moving onto a nice hotel bar.
We have evolved and grown with our clients to accomodate for this shift.
We like to think of how our dresses work in different situations. For a while, women were scared to feel feminine because they wanted to be seen as powerful but now they express their femininity as a strength.
Today, we're proud to see Preen has become a label of choice for high profile woman like the Duchess of Cambridge and world leaders like Michelle Obama.
Do you always design with Thea in mind specifically?
Our aesthetic is one born of two halves, there's two of us and we like the idea of taking two different elements and fusing them together. It's always been about that dichotomy between the masculine and feminine - an exploration of the push and pull between them.
I think that's a key thing, but it's developed into a more streamlined, more grown-up aesthetic in our work.
We just think of our group of friends and what they want to wear.
It’s part of our job to make things for “every” women as well, but letting our own sense of style shine is also key.
How did you two first meet?
We first met on an art foundation course on the Isle of Man, where we both grew up. The fashion industry wasn’t a big part of Manx culture, but we started at college just as the last significant shift in fashion culture occurred.
Grunge was happening, Corinne Day’s photography took off.
We moved to London in the 1990s after university and set up Preen as a shop in Portobello. The area was the creative hub of the time and everyone used to hang out there.
"... these days we're more inspired by our own lives and the ones our friends are living"
How do you find working together as a husband and wife team?
It’s great! We get to share meeting interesting people, work on great projects, see amazing places and do exciting things. You can never truly get away from work – that's the challenge of working with one another. We are always together. But then that's the beauty of it too!
Not many people get to do all that we do together. We also get to work as a tag team in terms of looking after the kids and so we're definitely lucky in that respect.
In 2014 you launched a childrenswear collection. Was this inspired by having your own children?
The girls have definitely inspired a spin-off in our Preen mini collection.
Each super-sweet piece in the mini line – from embroidered cardigans to delicately pretty organza dresses – is a scaled down or adapted version of items from the main collection.
Talk us through your process for each collection?
Each collection is different, because we’re not the type of designers who just draw things and then make them.
We work through our ideas and research. These things can come from lots of different places. Sometimes we’re inspired by travels, or an exhibition, a picture, or someone we see on the streets. We’ll do sketches and talk a lot, do more drawings and research and then we will come together with ideas and debate what we’re going to do.
We will work on a model and test out some looks on the body to see what’s right for the silhouette. The pattern cutting is done in the studio, it might happen that they are making the top part of a dress first, it’s put on a mannequin and you decide you actually prefer it as a top.
Having everything made in our studio allows you to have that flexibility. Sometimes you imagine what something is going to look like in a certain fabric only to have it take on a completely different aesthetic once realised. That in itself will profoundly shape the design process. We’re very focused but we're aware of how necessary it is to allow new influences or elements to materialise during the process.
Can you tell us more about the inspiration behind the Pre-Fall 18 collection?
For Pre-Fall 18, the Preen Woman is a grown up, she is not necessarily chasing youth. Comfortable in her own skin; her life style is both luxurious and bohemian.
She travels the world, values her independence and loves to dance to 'Jesus and Mary Chain’.
We drew on all-time favourites from Thea's Wardrobe, her snakeskin dress, her punky knits, shearling coats and sequins for evening.
There are elements of a punky attitude in the patchwork knits and the red and black tartan, ginghams that are layered with scarlet cashmeres and sheer tulles. Camouflage coats are layered over army-green silk devoré and trimmed with shearling collars.
Dresses come in the most delicate of pink crinkle chiffon softly wrapped over disco sequins, or scarlet red organza’s pleated and puffed to form bold silhouettes, and tough gothic lace falls from hems of body skimming sequins.
Finally, if you could dress any woman in the world who would it be and why?
Justin would probably say Lauren Hutton, but she’s already worn us!
(Justin): and you would probably say Julie Christie!”
Well I do love her...especially in Darling! Actually, her in that film wearing Preen would be the an absolute dream.
Not to be too specific! ✹