Lee Paton is a luxury ready-to-wear & bespoke couturier, who received his formative training at the London College of Fashion. A design internship and career at Alexander McQueen quickly followed, with a specialisation in historic and military tailoring on London’s Savile Row. Paton now heads his luxury British fashion house, which was launched in 2010 and offers made-to-measure and bespoke services. His clothes incorporate the best of his Scottish and French roots, giving rise to designs which are an amalgamation of classic British tailoring and time-honoured Parisian couture techniques.His clothes have been featured in publications such as ‘Vogue Italia’, ‘Marie Claire’, ‘Kaltblut’ and ‘Schön’, and have been worn by celebrities such as Nicole Scherzinger for ‘X Factor’.
On Wednesday 1st June, Lee Paton launched his Autumn-Winter 2016 collection, which was showcased at the Penthouse and Pavilion of The Dorchester in London. The Penthouse suite was set up in true 80s glam, with props such as birdcages and a typewriter, and softly lit by candles and natural lighting streaming in through floor-length, drawn curtains. The atmosphere was hushed, with the occasional peal of laughter and clinking of glasses as guests moved slowly in between rooms, taking in the opulent creations on display.
Paton’s new AW16 collection follows on from his AW15 collection “For Elizabeth” and SS16’s “La Dame En Noir.” The collection was available to view alongside the AW15 and SS16 ready-to-wear collections, and boasted a rich variety of couture gowns, capes, coats, skirts and tops in sumptuous materials such as pillow-soft cashmere, luscious napa leather, silk chiffon, velvet and organza, and beautifully woven, traditional tweed wool. The clothes were embellished with Swarovski crystal pearls, plush feathers, heavily detailed embroidery, and glass and sequins that dazzled under the sunlight streaming in from the Pavilion.
Amidst these stands Paton himself in the centre of the main room, dressed simply in a minimalist white lab coat and tie with a neatly trimmed beard; seemingly at odds with the lavish detailing and richness of his newest collection. The collection itself is inspired by the glamorous 80s and 90s women of Hollywood’s golden era; women such as actress Luise Rainer whom Paton met at London’s Savoy Hotel, and who admitted using her Oscars as a doorstop, as well as his personal friend Mildred Shay, who lived her 90s with the same zest she had as a young actress in the 1930s. In Paton’s words, his AW16 collection - aptly titled “The Guest That Never Checked Out” - is intended to be a meeting point between “Faye Dunaway photographed lounging by the pool at Chateau Marmot” and “Phyllis Gordon shopping for bananas with her pet cheetah.”
When discussing the inspiration behind the collection, Lee tells me that he had in mind, “Women who would wake up late in the morning and live on a diet of crackers and champagne” and as such the collection was imbued with “a very traditional, glamorous Hollywood but in a more contemporary way.”
Looking around the rooms, I can easily imagine Phyllis Gordon wearing some of Paton’s clothes in her heyday whilst dining at restaurants with the pet marmoset she sometimes carried in her handbag. A flaxen gold, structured top with richly embellished short sleeves catches my eye as a potential outfit du jour. The sleeves are encrusted with dusty gold sequins and exquisite needlework which paint an embroidered botanical design of shaded shocking pink, purple and white silk thread flowers nestled between iridescent green leaves and stems. Proof, if any were needed, that one can dress with the prudent sensuality of an eccentric Hollywood siren from the 1930s, yet remain in touch with the times.
I ask him if he feels more pressure to exceed expectations since the launch of his first collection, and his answer hints that the best is yet to come, “There’s probably more pressure to have things finished perfectly. I think a couple of years ago when I had my first ever presentation things were overlooked a little bit. People didn’t really look at the details as much, under as much scrutiny. But now, I think everybody, no matter what level it is - journalists, stylists, bloggers - they expect things to be finished. Every hem to be perfect, every stitch to be in the right place...Its made me driven to have things finished as perfectly as physically possible.”
In the same way a scientist’s medium is his apparatus, a bespoke tailor’s medium is his cloth, which Paton masterfully sculpts using age-old techniques such as hand knit, embroidery and crochet. Paton’s previous collections have even made use of taxidermy to accessorise. Paton’s description of his design process seems to be roughly bipartite, divided between being, “...very dependent on how much beadwork, embroidery, the details of the garment” there is, as well as focused on, “coming up with new embroidery tactics, right down to deciding how to do the hand-knits. For example, in one of the recent collections it was hand-knitted mink cashmere that was used to try and have the exact finish that we wanted.”
In order to expertly apply these hand-crafted bespoke tailoring techniques, Paton looks to his Scottish and French roots, “My family heritage is based between Scotland and France so I try to incorporate the best of both fashion worlds - traditional British tailoring with French couture, and what I’m trying to do through the work that I do is to add a sense of luxury and personal attention to every single garment that leaves the atelier, every single garment even if its online as a simple t-shirt...Every garment has to be delivered to the customer, and exactly what quality they want it to be.”
One such example and a personal favourite, is a long-sleeved white cotton top with a scoop neck and an appliqué leopard head drooping over the left shoulder. The cut, sizing and proportion of the appliqué to the top, and the simple yet bold juxtaposition between the muted orange and inky black of the leopard against the stark white background was in effect elegance revisited by modernity.
Whilst at the viewing, I couldn't help but conjecture about Paton and his team who were all dressed in austere white lab coats. Perhaps a symbol of the degree of precision and the meticulous thought process that goes into each of his creations? After all, donning lab apparel, particularly “white coats”, are usually used as a synecdoche to denote the separation between the public and scientists, or in this case, the spectator and creative designer. Valerie Steele of New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology said a few years back that donning a lab coat is like saying, “We are not ordinary citizens with emotional problems and worries like everyone else; we are objective and rational scientists who look at the world differently and much more deeply. And this ‘better’ way of thinking gives us power.”
It is this combination of form and function, studied technique and natural materials, rationality and creativity, that Paton and his team seem to embody through the symbol of the white lab coat, and which formed a common theme which ran like a thread through the tapestry of his work. This, combined with Paton’s gentle but intent manner of speaking and carefully worded explanations, bring to mind the image of a brilliant scientist busily concocting stunning creations in his laboratory with the help of his army of fashion myrmidons.
As our conversation draws to a close, it becomes clear to me that Paton envisions a very specific type of woman wearing his clothes, “Generally the female private clients that we have really vary in their background and why they’re purchasing pieces; whether they’re wearing them as an investment piece for a one-off event, or if they’re buying more sort of day-time tailoring. The type of woman is always very sophisticated and elegant.” When asked who his ideal woman would be to dress, he quirks an eyebrow in thought before confidently replying, “Nicole Kidman. She’d look perfect in this dress (gestures to the Ostrich Feather Silk Gown). Just generally somebody who’s sophisticated and elegant and when the garment’s on her everything speaks for itself...and I think she’d be perfect.”
Oh how I wish I could be Nicole Kidman for a day...
(All photos taken by the author)