Fashion

Central Saint Martins Grad Patrick McDowell Is Already Dressing the Stars

Get to know the designer whose clothes are balancing sustainability with star power.
Reading time 7 minutes

When he was only 13 years old, Patrick McDowell made himself a new schoolbag almost every week. When he started selling those bags — and simultaneously making dresses — he was chosen to be on the UK spinoff reality show Young Apprentice. After high school, he went straight into the Women's Fashion design program at the legendary Central Saint Martins, followed up by a work placement at Burberry. Disclaimer: this was just the beginning.

Then came his graduation collection, which saw sponsorship by the British Fashion Council, Burberry, Swarovski, and Oakley. Cha-ching! Since then, the 22-year-old's designs have been worn by entertainer Rita Ora (on the daily) and most recently were featured on the cover of Elle UK's sustainability issue (on Slick Woods, no less).

Long story short, McDowell was made for this life — and it's probably time you not only learned his name but learned about the man whose clothes balance sustainability with star power.

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Where are you from?

I'm from Liverpool, a northern city in the UK. There's a wonderful sense of style there that I haven't experienced anywhere else in the world. Where I'm from, my family and my interactions with that are a huge part of my design process.


Any first design memories?

When I was 13 I wanted a new school bag, and my mom had already bought one and refused (quite rightly) to get a new one. I stormed upstairs to my bedroom, found an old pair of jeans and made them into a bag. I still have it and remember being so proud carrying it around school. I then decided I needed a new bag every week and would spend all weekend making them.

My art teacher and mentor Ali McWatt would look at them each Monday and give me her feedback — I have so much to thank her for. Our school bag was the only part of our uniform that wasn't controlled so it was really the only creative expression you could have day to day. I then went on to sell those bags and eventually sold dresses too which gained me a place on the UK Young Apprentice with Alan Sugar. I think all these things gave me a good grounding for what I want to do now.

One of my earliest fashion memories is the Sparkle Millennium party my parents hosted at their home to welcome the 21st century. I was 5 years old and my mum wore a floor-length red satin backed crepe dress with train, faux fur stole, velvet elbow length gloves and typical late 90's black satin strappy heels and bag with Swarovski trims. I watched how these clothes transformed her, she felt transformed, she was and still is fabulous. Mom wore the same outfit 18 years later at a Christmas charity Gala and looked just as wonderful as she did back when I was 5. This outfit was one of the main inspirations behind my graduating collection from central saint martins and is a wonderful example of how incredible fashion can be.



You recently graduated from Central Saint Martins - can you tell us about the challenges you went through in finishing that program and your favorite creations while you were there? 

My first year was extremely difficult, I was accepted without a foundation course straight from high school. I had anxiety and depression and was about to drop out of the course. My amazing mother gave me the confidence to continue and I'm so grateful for it. In my second year, I tried everything and wore huge heels, kimonos and drew over my face with marker pens. It was amazing, I experimented with my design styles and tried them out on myself.

In contrast, my placement year was spent at Burberry where I learned so much about this industry and how to design clothes. I was so lucky to get sponsored by the British Fashion Council, Burberry, Swarovski, and Oakley for my final year and collection. This gave the working class boy from Liverpool the opportunity to not work three jobs (as I had done previously), to explore all of the possibilities of this amazing degree, and have the luxury of time to work through my ideas.

 

Sustainability is a big part of your work, why? 

I had noticed while working at Burberry that they were only using 30% of the sampling meters of ordered fabric for the show production. I asked Christopher Bailey if it would be possible to use some of this for my collection, and even though everyone else in the company had told me it wasn't possible he was so kind and caring. He completely understood my situation and agreed! I was lucky enough to be given the fabric that otherwise would have been discarded which I used to create my collection. Swarovski then donated their unsellable stock crystal. 

Sustainability is the most important way to consider fashion today. Fashion is the second most polluting industry in the world and as an emerging designer, I have to consider how I can reduce this environmental impact without compromising on style. I wanted to show that sustainability can be associated with modern and interesting design. Sustainable thinking transcends industries and it is now time we all, regardless of our field incorporate it into our process.

 

How would you describe the person who wears your clothes?

I began my final year saying that I want people to wear my clothes — they might not know where they would wear them — but wanting to wear them none the less. It's so important to me. She is not afraid to wear a floor length dress just to walk around her home and feel fabulous, she wears clothes to feel special and beautiful. I have never really been interested in "fashions." I am interested in making clothes that make people feel comfortable and beautiful.

Rita Ora has been wearing a lot of your work. How does it feel to get the celebrity stamp of approval?

Karen Clarkson, Rita's stylist, got in touch after the show. I went to meet her on a Thursday afternoon and after a very busy three days, Rita left for Berlin wearing a custom PATRICK McDOWELL jumpsuit on Monday morning. Karen is wonderful and supportive of young designers, she actually liked the jumpsuit so much she ordered one for herself. It is amazing to know that people like Karen, Rita, and M.I.A. who are supporting the work I do. I really believe we're all a product of the people around us and I've been so lucky with who's been around me post-graduation.

What's next?

I'm speaking to buyers and stockists for my graduate collection and setting up a studio and website. I plan to start small with limited quantities of each piece while working on collection 2. I am so excited to see what the future holds and you can follow all of my progress through Instagram

Finally, if you could imagine 5 historical or famous people wearing your designs, who would you choose?

Photoshop courtesy Delphine Lewis

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