I was invited
into the Daks studio to meet designer Sheila McKain Waid and talk through the brand and their SS13 collection. Sheila comes across as really un-fashiony, in flat sandals, minimal makeup and a lovely Marni top. Sheila likes to bake when she can’t sleep, so come fashion season the Daks office is filled with homemade cookies and banana bread. We start off the interview talking folk art…
Sheila: I was looking at your blog and the Shell House in Margate, it’s amazing. I love crazy folk artists like that, near my family’s home there’s this and he made the whole garden of Eden out of cement. That weird obsessive quality, it must have taken him 30 years to complete.
If you have a job and you’re creative, someone who’s obsessive and creative is just amazing
I loved the Museum of Everything, weird people making things out of tinfoil and every year they’d have a different exhibition. This guy made a whole world of circuses and moving trains and parts, it was all out of components, it was so crazy and brilliant. Can you imagine going to someone’s basement and discovering a whole world? Or just the fact that they did it their whole lives and nobody knows about it.
That’s the thing, doing it for yourself because you want to and not because you want to tell anyone about it. So how long have you been at Daks for?
Two and a half years. Before I was at Daks, I moved to London in 2004 and when I first came here I was freelancing so I did two years at Jaeger and then I did two more years, well I took time off to have a baby. I went to work at Jasper Conran for a year and a half and had another baby.
After that I did lots of freelance projects for people, various design houses. I did that for almost two years, the kids were quite small and I didn’t want something full-on.
It’s hard to give up that freedom
It was good for my psyche because it’s different when you get out of that world, it’s also quite intimidating to step back in. I think a lot of working women you have to take time off to have babies and you sort of lose confidence in a way. You need to rebuild it back up.
Especially fashion moves so quickly, you miss out a couple of seasons.
I had imagined a lovely life, painting by the sea, and then you get back and you realise oh I do love it, the clothes, the process.
It’s important when you do something creative.
At least enough of an element so that is kind of where it has the same feeling. Especially at the moment where the last couple of years we’ve focused making people rethink what we are as a brand. We are a heritage brand, when I started for me it was really exciting because you have all this heritage and you have an archive, it’s a lot to build on and a lot to work with. But then you’re also laboured with everybody’s perception for the last 125 years, everybody has a thought. Every single person I meet, you say where you do work and they have a story. Somebody bought something, I mean it’s nice, someone will tell you about their grandmother’s favourite raincoat but we’ve been pigeonholed in a certain way and people are looking for directional fashion have thought of us as traditional outerwear.
What proportion of the collections do you think comes from the archive and what proportion is more your creative taking things forward?
It might be hard to say X amount, maybe 5-10%, sometimes you’re in the archive and you’ll see a great stitch on a jumper on a picture from wherever, one year we fell in love with all these pictures we have of the queen in her shoes she was wearing so we did a version of that. One year we were looking at this racing driver, we used to dress the Daks racing team, so it’s great doing things like that.
It must be amazing to have that resource source of inspiration.
Right now it’s all being digitised, so you can go on and look things up at any point. Looking at a lot for Spring Summer 13, it’s always good to think, obviously everybody knows what’s happening in the world of fashion and there’s a movement and a feeling about what’s trending right now, what you feel, but also how do I make it relevant to the brand? There’s always that moment in the season where I stop myself and think, ok, what is Daks, is this right? Does this really make sense for us? Does this stay true to the brand?
It’s always a process of expanding out and taking it back in.
We have our check and I think that’s the big question for me every season, what do I do with it, how do I make people want to continue to buy it or look at it in a new way or rediscover it? Obviously it’s probably the most iconic feature of our brand. It’s about reinvention. It’s on everything from the huge quilted ball skirt, to covering it in plastic to creating it out of rope.
It’s a little bit like how menswear can really exciting, because of those parameters.
It’s funny we just did a project with CSM for the students to rethink our house check and how would they treat it, it was interesting to see how different people reconfigure it. Everyone who comes in here. After two weeks you’re seeing house check in your dreams, somehow there’s always an idea that floats to the surface so you’re always inspired by something. I tend to look at art, to go out and look at markets, there’s always something.
Filtering what’s in the air through a lens that’s already Daks and established and has a signature, rather than if you’re doing something for yourself, how do I want to represent what’s floating around?
I think I might borrow that line! Filtering it through my Daks lens.
That is what you want to do as a designer, you want to catch what’s floating around in the breeze.
And make it interesting to buyers and press and everything. It’s been a great challenge for me, sometimes [people say] how can you design for a British brand, you’re American?
That hadn’t even crossed my mind, because fashion labels are so international.
I think sometimes when you live in a culture or a country… I was back in America and I hadn’t been back, and I think looking at your country and they way people dress, the food they eat, particularly American, I felt like I was seeing it as a foreigner for the first time because I’ve been here so long now. I think that’s maybe true about British style, sometimes when a foreigner comes in you can see things that, for people who grew up here or have lived here their whole life it just becomes routine because you’re used to it. I remember the Guernsey sweater we did a couple of seasons ago, it was such a novelty to me, I had never seen it before. It was such a great look, an iconic British thing.
So where did you interest in fashion come from?
My mom will tell a story, she’s quite funny, it was daughter’s birthday and she gave my daughter’s present and I saw it and I was like, that’s amazing! I found out yesterday you have something similar, fashion plates?
Oh my go-od!
Like a head and a body?
It was like a dream!
Fashion Wheel, we were discussing this and I was at Heatherwick Studio exhibition and his inspiration was his Fuzzy Pumper Barber shop, the Play Doh thing..
When you were a kid were you into fashion?
I grew in Kansas, fashion didn’t exist, there’s no fashion. My mom was always making clothes, I mean she did, I have two sisters we were dressed the same in various sizes, there’s some great pictures you can imagine. So I learnt to sew really young.
Six or seven
Wow that’s incredible.
Now I think I would never let my daughter use a sewing machine.
That’s like Madeleine Vionnet who started sewing when she was 11 or something.
We used to make clothes for Barbies and dolls, my mom never throws anything away so she reels them out everytime we go home.
Can I interview your mum?!
So talk me through your plans for SS13.
I noticed a similarity between the 30s and the mid-90s, I was probably a combination of those two periods and as I mentioned earlier I always have to take that moment where I’ve gone one way on a track and think is this Daks? So I went through the archives and thought what is the Daks girl, what’s her story?
You can’t think about Britain in the summer without thinking about outerwear and raincoats, and our great history of outerwear on top of things, a playful outfit. Also what it is to be British, androgyny, masculine clothes on a woman. I came back to the house check, what do I want to do with it, what do I want to say with it?
I was thinking a lot about the abstract expressionist movement, particularly Jasper Johns Grey Series, I loved the fact it was painted on newsprint, there was this story underneath you can’t see because of this mark-marking, and you can feel the energy of the artist through the repetition of marks.