Q&A: Anna Valentine
The owner and designer of the eponymous brand on her new ready-to-wear line, the joys of quiet simplicity, and the changing face of Marylebone
Interview: Jackie Modlinger
For me, Anna Valentine is the Jean Muir of today. And that’s the ultimate compliment.
Muir’s name was synonymous with her signature little navy matte jersey topstitched dress. “Quite a few people refer to her when they come here,” chuckles Anna. “We’re actually working on the ready-to-wear winter collection in a very similar jersey to the one she used, maybe mixing it with other fabrics. It’s a season-less fabric, so versatile. And you can travel with it. It’s so easy to put in a case.”
The similarity is not just the design ethos (although the two share that same dress-makery approach, a less-is-more philosophy with clean, fluid lines and a penchant for navy blue)—Anna is equally diminutive, despite being a self-confessed food-lover, and sports a signature ‘brop’ (half bob, half crop) courtesy of Joel at Daniel Galvin.
Like Muir, Anna had no formal fashion training. However, she explains, “there were actually quite a few creative talents in the family. My great-great grandparents were tailors and my great grandparents had a factory. They dyed straw for hats. There’s something in the blood.”
Initially, Anna aspired to be a ballet dancer, but then the genes kicked in and she enrolled on a pattern cutting course at a small school in Hammersmith. The die was cast.
“I think my very first job was a suit for someone, I did private work before I joined Antonia Robinson,” she says, referring to her erstwhile partner at Robinson Valentine. The Duchess of Cornwall’s wedding outfit put her on the map, and the rest is history.
Going solo, Anna has gone from strength to strength, moving from Kensington to Marylebone’s Cross Keys Mews, at the end of a tranquil cobbled mews. It’s an amazing space—housing both atelier and showroom, all white and light and minimal with exposed brickwork. This is definitely one for the secret address book.
Anna has recently moved seamlessly into ready-to-wear: a relatively new departure and a natural progression, designed to complement the couture collection. The collection is all about purity, minimalism, fabric and texture. Think cool, edgy, sport-luxe, athleisure pieces, translated into luxury fabrics and you get the picture. “It’s about trying to do something that is quiet and simple, but with enough detail to make it interesting,” explains Anna, whose designs are pared down, eliminated, perfect for today’s woman “on the go”—women like Anna herself.
When did you first realise your passion for fashion?
I was just passionate about making things, even at the age of four or five. I loved making clothes on dolls. ‘Daisy’ was my favourite. My mother also loved making clothes; she taught me to sew.
Was she an elegant dresser?
She didn’t have couture, but she would mix different brands. She always loved clothes, yes. She still does, and still looks very elegant. She wears my designs and she looks great.
What did your parents think of your career choice?
It was a natural thing. I think my mother was quite pleased that I did something creative, because she’s quite creative herself. I feel like she never had the opportunity to do what she really wanted to do.
Is it tougher to succeed without formal fashion training?
In the beginning, you probably approach it in a different way—there are definitely some years of learning, which you obviously would get from formal training, but you just learn on the job.
What prompted the move into ready-to-wear?
A lot of the clients who come here want pieces that are relaxed. When I do made-to-measure, it’s not all about dressing for events. I really enjoy the whole thing of putting a wardrobe together and being more versatile with your clothes, so it seemed like the right time to start doing something that people could pick up as well.
I don’t think people dress as formally now. A lot of women want things that are easy to travel in—they want a wardrobe of clothes that they can pack into a suitcase and everything works together—and people don’t want to spend hours going round the shops hunting for things, but they still love to have some nice pieces. Now when they come here, they can have a couture piece made and then a couple of ready-to-wear pieces too. It builds a look that’s very versatile.
Both the couture and ready-to-wear are approached in the same way, it’s just that the latter is made away from here—in India, rather than the atelier above the showroom—and of course, we don’t use quite such expensive fabrics. It’s still beautiful fabric, though, and we still do beautiful embroideries. The techniques are the same.
Sleeveless hoodie and shirt from Anna’s ready-to-wear SS17 line
Who is the Anna Valentine ready-to-wear woman?
I would say she’s probably quite confident, loves clothes, but is more concerned about style, rather than a slave to fashion. Someone who appreciates quality, I think that’s the thing. It’s the fabrics, the detailing—the feel of things.
Do you have a muse?
I try to think about different people who inspire me, but I don’t have one particular muse. I like to keep it like that. If you say you had a certain person in mind, people identify your designs with a particular look.
Who would you most like to see in your ready-to-wear?
Kristin Scott Thomas I think would be great and I love Stella Tennant—she always has a lovely style.
Did the Duchess of Cornwall’s wedding outfit make a big difference to your business?
lt probably raised awareness of the brand. There was a lot of publicity surrounding it, so obviously anything like that helps with the business, yes. I still do the occasional piece for her and she has a couple of pieces from the ready-to-wear.
Is there much crossover between the two labels?
I do have customers who buy both, very much so. I actually like to mix it up as well. I think it’s quite fun to do that. I do have some clients who just come for ready-to-wear, usually the younger ones. Definitely some of the daughters. It’s gradually being picked up by different stores. Mouki Mou on Chiltern Street has the collection and a couple of other shops in the UK—one in Edinburgh, one in Cheshire—as well as a few stores in the States, Japan, South Korea, and Italy.
What are your favourite pieces in the spring-summer 2017 collection?
I love the culottes-jumpsuit—we call it the ‘playsuit in indigo’—the cargo pants and the satin hoodies. I love those.
In your time here, what changes have you observed in Marylebone?
Chiltern Street has changed to become a real hub of interesting little boutiques and shops. Thankfully the farmer’s market is still around, it’s great. Marylebone Lane of course has improved since it’s been re-paved and is becoming more interesting as a street. I think what’s happening is that the high street is becoming more mainstream and the side streets more interesting.
Long dress from Anna’s ready-to-wear SS17 line
What are your favourite haunts?
I love Seymour Place, which is nearer to where I live. I love tapas bar Donostia and opposite they have a restaurant called Lurra, which is a Basque grill. One of my favourite places is Carousel on Blandford Street. It’s a pop-up restaurant—every month a different chef goes there. We like trying interesting food.
I like Blandford Comptoir and Daylesford—we buy organic as much as we can. Occasionally I nip into Caffe Caldesi because it’s lovely there—they do a fantastic pasta—and 108 Brasserie has really brightened up Marylebone Lane with the seating outside and the planting. I love Content Beauty / Wellbeing on Bulstrode Street, they do all organic body and face products. It’s fantastic, a great shop. I always go there.
You clearly love food. Are you a cook?
My husband Jonathan still does the cooking. We’ll buy chicken thighs from the market on Sundays. He cooks them in the oven with lemon and za’atar and spices, which is delicious.
We also buy things like turbot or dover sole from the farmer’s market, and there’s another stand there that does the most amazing Thai fishcakes—that’s another of our weekly staples. We also do a green juice every day, we take it in turns.
How do you juggle work and life?
Actually, I have a pretty good work-life balance. I do an exercise class three mornings a week before work, either spin at Psycle in Mortimer Street or pilates in Hanover Square twice a week—pilates is brilliant. Then I walk the dog—Genghis, our four-year old lurcher—the other mornings in Hyde Park. He goes to Regent’s Park at weekends. I also go to galleries and exhibitions in my spare time, for inspiration.
I’m going to have more pieces in here this year, I’m really going to make it so there’s a lot to pick up. I don’t want to call it a ‘concept’ store, because everyone’s doing that, so we’re going to make it a ‘salon’ where we do a presentation every few months of a different look. The collections are going to be smaller, but more frequent, so there’s always something new to see. It’s such an amazing space here and it’s in a great location.
I think this is the sort of thing that Marylebone needs. There are a lot of people who live around here who like the idea of having something a bit different.