Simon Kneen is Creative Director and Executive Vice President of Design at Banana Republic. He recently returned to the U.K. to receive a Doctor of Arts honoris causa from his alma mater, Kingston University of London, in recognition of his 30-year commitment and success in the fashion and design industry. Simon reflects here on his time as a design student at Kingston and what he means by “giving through design.”
As I walked around the campus of Kingston University, the feelings of excitement, intrigue and hope about what the fashion industry could be to me returned, and filled my body with energy.
First, to ground you in where the fashion world was at time I was a university student – there was no web, no blogs, no laptops and believe it or not, not even a fax machine. Apart from the very few magazines, there was nothing available about Fashion other than its history. At Kingston, we were all hungry, actually starving for information that really didn't exist.
We knew about Saint-Laurent, Dior, but if we wanted to know about the newest design icons of the day like Kenzo, Claude Montana and Thierry Mugler, we had to travel from London to Paris where we would stay in the flea-bitten hotels, and beg, steal and borrow to get into any of the Paris fashion week shows to see the latest in design. That hunger and curiosity for information stays with me today and my obsessive sense of discovery keeps me perpetually in motion, always looking forward.
During that time, fashion was never so alive, exciting – and changing. Designers were not only creating amazing clothes on the runway but creating Lifestyle brands off the runway through fabulous stores that reflected the “life to live” in the clothes they were designing. This changed retail and how designers were thinking of design.
For me, it changed my perspective on the fashion industry. I will never forget the excitement that I felt in this period as I witnessed the frontiers of fashion fall away, and the sky opening up to endless opportunities for designers like me to give people more than just beautiful clothes.
I am lucky to say that this world of fashion has naturally become my professional home. Here my job reaches beyond just creating clothes and accessories. As Creative Director of Banana Republic, I can reach the lives of many by bringing quality, style and hopefully something that will make their lives a little better.
I am often asked about my so-called success, my design mantra and what inspires me. For me, it has never been about an ambitious master plan toward success, or designing everything perpetually under a singular rigorous aesthetic note until you get it right or understood. I have simply followed an instinctive impulse to give. Design is really about another art form all-together – the Art of Giving.
I believe that that road toward something really good, or dare I say great, is that all design – not just Fashion design – is well beyond creativity and innovation, art and culture and doing all-nighters to get your project done on time. I really believe that you have to give generously through your design the very best of what you can invent. You have to believe that everything you do is going to make the world – maybe in some very small way – a better place to be.
Photo courtesy of Christina Lilly Photography