“Oh, I have those shoes!” Hamish Bowles explains on a cold November morning in American Vogue’s serene conference room, twelve floors above NYC’s frenetic Times Square (Condé Nast – the magazine’s parent company – will soon move downtown to Manhattan’s recently finished Freedom Tower). It’s frankly, a little surprising to hear him say this; the shoes are color-blocked statement sneakers. A bit of an atypical choice, you’d have thought, for someone we’d long regarded as… well, the ultimate dandy.
“These? They’re… they’re from Dover Street Market’s garage sale, or whatever they call it.” They came with a heavily slashed price-tag – thank God, we’re students – and are err, a little scuffed. We try to hide the scuffmarks on the toes, but it becomes clear that we needn’t bother. Our surprise at Bowles owning the trainers was unwarranted; it turns out he’s fun.
“Ahhh!” Bowles cries, excited. “They’re opening here!” (Dover Street Market opened in New York just before Christmas last year). Of course he would know this, being the walking embodiment of the Encyclopedia Britannica that he is. Bowles knows his fashion, be it store openings or the history of a design house, with a career in fashion media that spans three decades, and the title of International Editor-at-Large at Vogue. Of course he has a pair of statement, colour-blocked kicks – he has a bit of everything.
Seemingly full of surprises, we have more in common with Bowles that you’d first think. He was once also a Central Saint Martins student, who admittedly, like this writer, quit college early to take a job. Like he says, “I left thinking it was a role I’d have been thrilled to get when I graduated, let alone beforehand, so I never completed my degree.” But before his first fateful appointment at Harper’s & Queen (he was brought in to replace Amanda Harlech at the now defunct magazine, although technically today it’s known as Harper’s Bazaar), Bowles reaped the wild and enriching benefits that Saint Martins endlessly affords. It was both exciting and reassuring to hear of his days at CSM, from his feelings of intimidation brought about by the college’s pool of extraordinary talent, to nights (well, mornings) of heading straight from club to classroom on the old Charing Cross Road. Here, in his own words, Bowles recounts his days as a student:
On Day One:
“Central Saint Martins was indubitably my first choice… I’d sort of come out of a scholastic environment where no one really understood anything that was remotely interesting. And it was literally the first day, induction day, that I made friends who remain friends to this day. It was exhilarating, and not to say liberating to suddenly be surrounded by people who understood my interests and preoccupations – people who understood the language and the references, which no one had before.”
On Finding a Path:
“After my foundation year, I stayed on to do fashion – originally I had every intention of doing fashion design. In high school there’d been an expectation that I would go to University to read English… so, you know, the idea of going to Oxford was on the cards at one point. But I was ready for a change of environment. So I prepared my Saint Martins portfolio on my own… I didn’t really have a great relationship with my art teacher at the time. I just did it independent of her. But I must say, I started to miss the idea of writing, so when the possibility came up of doing the journalism and communications course, it was very appealing, because it was a way of combining all of my interests.”
On John Galliano:
“My first year at Saint Martins was also the year that John Galliano graduated. His talent was so vaunting and extraordinary even then. In fact, for our first ever design assignment, our tutor said, ‘I want to show you a student’s portfolio, for the standards we expect of you.’ She set it down and opened it, and our entire class just… quavered! John did the most exquisite and elaborate fashion illustrations.”
On His First Big Break:
“When I was on the course, the magazine Harpers and Queen used to do a teenage talent issue – they’d interview those who applied to work under the editors. I ended up doing menswear for that issue working with Mario Testino, who was just starting out and who was a friend of friends… but that was obviously a bonding experience. Anyway, they liked the way that was going, and I think they were less keen on what the girl doing the women’s fashion pages was producing… so they asked me back to do freelance things. Also, at the time, Australian Harper’s Bazaar was just starting up with a very young and very dynamic editor named Lee Tulloch. She came to see me and was super enthusiastic – she essentially made me European contributor. It was an incredibly lucky break. It gave me access to the collections, we did a cover with Boy George… all kinds of exciting projects.”
…Then This Happened:
“When I went back to Harpers & Queen, it was when Amanda Harlech had just left to go and work full-time with John Galliano, and so they offered me her job. I took it extremely excited and never completed my degree.”