Interview: Lou Dalton

April 24, 2013

London certainly stands out these days out for its brash, sunglasses-bright take on men's fashion, but you'd have to get up close with a pair of bifocals to truly understand what makes Lou Dalton’s clothes so amazing. She's a subtle designer who updates classic styles in ideal cuts and really beautiful materials, drawing inspiration from British history to produce the kinds of pieces you'll keep forever, like a banging pair of plaid pants or a double-breasted wool blazer. Since getting her start at the age of 16 as an apprentice for a bespoke tailor, and seven seasons into her own eponymous line, Dalton has a killer eye for detail and real skill in sourcing fabrics. We asked Dalton about what motivates her to exercise such restraint, her first foray into designing shoes and why she loves the stylish romance of UK's rebellious heritage.

A lot of your clothes are motivated by your dad, who was a teddy boy in the '60s in London. Can you explain what a teddy boy is? It’s inspired by old rock & roll music, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis and all that, which is obviously very much American. You had this kind of scene where you had the mods and the rockers, and then just before that you had this scene called the teddy boys, which took inspiration from American culture and cowboy western kind of clothing, but it was slightly more edgy, with a punk edge, too.

What inspires you so much about it? It was quite a working class kind of movement, but my father had such a way with always being well dressed regardless of having money or not having money. There was always that foundation to be really well dressed.

What kind of clothes did he wear? He’d always wear a really crisp white shirt, a cromby type overcoat with a velvet lapel and a very skinny pant, and he always had a Cuban heel. And my father doesn’t drive a car, he just rides motorbikes. He’s 75 now and he still has all these motorbikes. He’s quite funny and he’d always have his hair greased back into a DA—a duck’s ass, as they used to call it. It’s just a funny thing really because I have these amazing photographs of him and my uncle, and they were both so well dressed, especially for a little village in Shopshear in the middle of England. It was quite unique, really.

In the UK, dressing well and rebellion seem to go hand in hand. All the subcultures and rebels look so good, and always have. Yeah, definitely. I think London is very good in being very open to experimenting. The art schools in the UK are renowned for that.

What inspired your fall collection? It was actually inspired by a film I had seen called Local Hero, which is a British film but it starts out in Texas and it’s about this Texas oil baron who has this wild dream of putting this whopping grey oil rig in this small Scottish town. My partner of 9 years works at an oil company, BP, and I met him in a remote Scottish island called Shetland. At one point, Shetland was the biggest oil port in Europe, so there’s a lot of trade and a lot of traffic going through there, so I wanted to bridge this kind of nipped-in conservative suiting that had this city boy element with this technical paneling. The PVC jacket was inspired by oil slicks. There was that sense of restriction, but also this sense of technical sportswear coming through, then mixing it in with something a bit more country.

That tartan is so great. It’s what we were talking about: bridging the old and the new, rebellion and tradition. I was reading about this guy—the British banned the Scottish from wearing tartan and he rebelled against it and he was head to toe in tartan. It goes back to the Jacobites. So it’s almost the foundation to what punk became. You can see how it all relates. That to me was kind of significant and really simple.

Tell me about the boots, which are your first foray into shoes and are amazing. It's a collaboration with Grenson, and they’re based on the kind of thing you’d wear when you’re foraging and so forth, monkey boots, but they're all very robust with these felted soles and metal clips that are clipped all around them. So it's a mix of city and country. I like that fall felt a little more cyberpunk, but a little more technical. I really feel like we nailed them, and people love them. If I was going to do a shoe, I wanted to do something proper, not just any old thing with my name on it.

Lou Dalton clothes have so much restraint—trends come and go, but your clothes are consistent and subtle. I do think they’re subtle. I always get asked if there’s a certain man who wears Lou Dalton and I said it’s somebody who’s got something to say but quietly and confidently. He’s not a shrinking violet, but he’s not the guns are blazing type either. For me, it’s about updating and innovating on the technical side—the pattern cutting and the construction is where I started. I think the thing that I have to keep maintaining is doing great research, great fabric research, great technical finishing and so forth. I don’t think it has to frighten the horses, but I want it to engage, and I want it to be thought-provoking.

In some ways, is it harder to be consistent and have restraint than it is to be trendy? Oh god yeah, I mean, you’re right. Following trends is the right approach if you're working for a big company, maybe, but I've always loved people like Dries Van Noten or Raf Simons, who know who they are.

You’re always inspired by the past, too. I love contemporary design, I love forward-thinking, and all of that. But when you’re a kid and things are tough, and you don’t have holidays, and you don’t go to the cinema, and you sit and spend time at your grandmother’s farm watching old movies on repeat and listening to the radio, the world service, the past can be key. It’s like a memory box: you build a collection of things on how you would have liked life to have been, and it’s living out those things. I’ve talked heavily about Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights as an inspiration. But I don’t want it to come across as some kind of nostalgia, throwback collection or whatever. I’m quite clear about pushing it forward with the technical side and the fabrication, making it modern.

It sounds like you’re a bit of romantic. I suppose I am.

Interview: Lou Dalton