Since launching her eponymous brand in the 1970s, Margaret Howell has become known for creating timeless staples, whether it’s oversized shirts or weather-proof outerwear. Her signature (and oft emulated) aesthetic has secured her a loyal fanbase, with customers returning to her over and over again for long-lasting pieces that form the building blocks of their wardrobes.
“What I’m interested in is designing clothes for the working active lifestyle,” Howell tells Vogue ahead of the launch of her spring/summer 2022 collection, which is being shown digitally at London Fashion Week. “The clothes have got to work and function well, and be made well. It’s slightly off being actual fashion; it’s more clothes design.”
Carefully-chosen materials are, of course, at the heart of Howell’s brand ethos. “I still work with the fabrics I’ve always loved: Irish linen, cotton shirting, corduroy,” she says. Part of the appeal of workwear, made from denim twill, she adds, is its ability to age well: “That’s another thing that I find attractive, the wearing in of clothes and the appearance they get.”
While Howell is wary of giving others advice on how to dress (“it depends on the person’s lifestyle, doesn’t it?”), there’s much to be gleaned from her the designer’s own personal style. “I live in trousers, jeans and T-shirts – casual clothing for my sort of my lifestyle,” she says.
A parka that she’s worn for the past three or four years is a particular favourite. “That gets such a lot of use because I like to walk up from Charing Cross to work every day,” she explains. “It’s lightweight, waterproof, and then it goes over puffer jackets in the winter – it’s a practical piece that you can rely on.”
During the pandemic, waterproof trousers also became a vital essential, with practically always being at the forefront of the designer’s mind. “To get out every day during lockdown in the winter months, I’d wear waterproof trousers because I could get caught in the rain,” she says. “And I liked to get out on the bike and get out for a brisk walk.”
Has her approach to her own wardrobe changed much over the years? “It’s stayed fairly constant,” Howell responds. “I used to wear skirts a bit more when I was younger. [But] I think I’ve always had this androgynous style as well – the clothes I like, even for women, are adaptations or what would probably have just been for men at one time.”
For Howell, it’s always been about creating fuss-free basics. “My style isn’t smart and buttoned up; I mean of course there are things that are beautiful quality, but it still has that element of comfort, casualness or informality,” she concludes. “You’ve got to wear it to enjoy it; it doesn’t shout out at you.”