Johnathan Saunders

SAUNDERS, Jonathan

Born Glasgow, Scotland, 1977.
The son of Jehovah’s Witness ministers, Jonathan Saunders left home at 16, leaving behind the ‘tremendous guilt’ associated with fashion: “Even though I’m naturally quite rebellious, for a long time at home I buried my interest in fashion.” He funded himself through college by doing part-time jobs, studying furniture design before switching to printed textiles at Glasgow School of Art. He graduated in 1999 and went on to gain an MA with distinction in the same discipline at London’s St Martin’s in 2002. His highly acclaimed graduate show – an explosion of acid-bright screen-printed chiffon kaftans inspired by the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine album cover – won him the Lancome Colour Award and attracted much attention. Just two days later Alexander McQueen commissioned him: the vibrant bird of paradise print he came up with became one of the most photographed looks of spring 2003. That September, Saunders made his debut at London Fashion Week, aged just 25, with the help of sponsorship from Topshop and Fashion East. Six months later one of his geometric dresses appeared on the cover of British Vogue, an unprecedented honour for such a new designer. Harrods and Harvey Nichols placed orders for his designs, and Saunders was also taken on as a consultant for fashion houses Chloé and Pucci. At the latter, Christian Lacroix asked him to design new prints that were not based on Emilio Pucci’s archives, a first for the company. Indeed, Saunders is now acclaimed as the ‘Pucci for the digital generation’. Describing his prints as ‘somebody’s art-work on a piece of clothing, simple as that’, Saunders is inspired by sources as diverse as designer Rudi Gernreich to Japanese Manga cartoons and Andy Warhol. ‘I’ve always loved abstract imagery and that lends itself very well to textiles, but I also wanted to see how relevant that was to fashion,’ he says. ‘Previously, I found that textiles within fashion were almost secondary.’ Saunders creates his unique signature prints by hand, using traditional techniques, sometimes using 20 screens per design. It’s a painstaking, meticulous process. He has a silhouette-conscious approach to print: instead of designing the fabric and then cutting it to make clothes, Saunders first constructs a garment out of plain panels and then designs print specifically for each panel. His colours aren’t for the faint-hearted: Saunders himself describes the women who’d wear his clothes as being confident, brave and having a sense of humour. Saunders has also focused on sharp tailoring: ‘I don’t want to be known only for prints. I want to offer a complete wardrobe, not just a bunch of cocktail dresses.’ In September 2006 Saunders was awarded the Fashion Enterprise Award by the British Fashion Council. His autumn/winter 2007 collection, with its series of colour-blocked dresses, received rave reviews. In February 2008 Saunders won Elle magazine’s British Designer of the Year, and later that year he produced a capsule collection for Target, and replaced Rifat Ozbek as creative director of Italian brand Pollini, showing his first collection in Milan in September. He has also designed for Topshop 2004. After nine seasons showing in London, he showed in New York for the first time in 2008, returning to London in 2010. His label gained international exposure in January 2011 when Michelle Obama wore a Jonathan Saunders autumn 2008 dress to a public event. He began a collaboration with Debenhams in February 2011, and there are plans for a make-up line.

Photo; Jonathan Saunders.