Nothing about this designer is simple. Part drill sergeant, part den mother…everything seems to be a contradiction. Hamnett’s political activities often make Jane Fonda’s antics in the early 1970s seem almost right wing.
Try to talk to her about the inspiration for her survival chic clothing, and she just shivers and whispers her fears of total nuclear annihilation. Ask her about her message T-shirts and she becomes incensed about child abuse, or outraged by the general moral and physical decay of society, not to mention world pollution, acid rain, etc..etc.
And her views on fashion?
“Yuk, fashion…blah blah clothes. I find it difficult to talk about ‘trends’ when we need an awakening worldwide.”
The upshot of all this is that she may be eccentric, but there is a well-thought-out method to her madness.
Her appearance, somewhat larger than life, is a telegraphic manifestation of a strong-willed, very determined personality.
More than just a designer, Katharine Hamnett has proven herself to be a shrewd and self-protecting businesswoman. “I may be shrewd. But I am not megashrewd.”
“I love people. I think people are the most marvelous thing that have ever been invented. I like to make them look beautiful, rather than put my clothes in front of them. The way I design clothes, they have got to have a quality of anonymity. You can look like a general or a stable boy, but it must be something that doesn’t impose a character on you. They have to be wearable in quantity without becoming obnoxious.”
“When you wear clothes, you are wearing a description of yourself, or the person you would like to be,” she says. “We do read off each other; it’s an unspoken language. We read off people totally from their clothing.”
“MY CLOTHING ENCAPSULATES MY VALUES.”
It is the designer’s message t-shirts that have seen her desire to “put over an idea with fashion” fulfilled. Last summer, Hamnett’s t-shirts became trendy fashion items. Many music groups began to jump on the trend with more politically aware music.
Ecstatic, Hamnett says, “People have come out of the closet on issues. If I die now, I know I’ve done that.” Indirectly, she’s right.
By Richard Buckley, “Katharine the Great: Miss Hamnett Talks,” in DNR: The Magazine (New York), February 1985.