At the age of just 27, Alex Christopher has arrived on the fashion radar and just keeps growing, constantly impressing with his distinctive and expanding mens, women’s, footwear and jewelry collections. Designer and owner of boutiques across the North of England, with an “Each to Their Own” boutique in Leeds, Sheffield and Manchester. The first boutique was opened in 2005, and the company soon grew as fast as the ideas in Alex’s head, with an online store being opened last year and proving to be equally as successful as the boutiques.
One of the most endearing things about this designer is his attitude to the company, and sheer determination to make it work. Little do most of even his most loyal customer realise, - Alex does everything on his own. From initial designs, to overseeing production, to hand delivering the items to his three boutiques - he is the one man band of the Northern fashion circle.
Described as one of the Norths leading designers, he has been working on a new collection designed especially for the red carpet. Snippets of his stunning collection were on show to a select bunch of guests and press at his Manchester boutique. Each garment carefully designed and produced by Alex Christopher himself, the quality and individuality of the collection is clear from the first glance.
Each piece uses strong tailoring and holds an exclusive feel, with only a few of each design being made. He uses classic ideas in a contemporary and always flattering way - draping and asymmetric neck lines give a quirky outlook on timeless cuts. One of the highlights was a genius mens suit, which Alex said has been in his head for the whole seven years he has run the business. It was definitely worth the wait.
On behalf of Business Boom Bolton I spoke to the commendable designer on the night, and here’s what he had to say about his business, customers and of course his new collection...
Your new collection is designed for the red carpet. If you could dress anyone, who would it be?
Right now, it would be Rita Ora. Unlike a lot of celebrities, you can tell she has a lot of impact in the way she dresses. She’s the type of girl who would look amazing in my designs, and she’s not scared to be a bit different. It’s such a shame when you see these celebrities that have so obviously been dressed by a stylist. They play it safe. It’s hard, because I think a lot of women are pigeon holed in fashion, few girls get out there and wear something different. Menswear is a lot easier to design, but its all a case of growing and adapting to trends but making sure I give every piece my own twist.
What made you decide to design limited edition garments rather than mass produce?
It was always my plan to make one off handmade pieces or a small number of one garment. It’s becoming harder though, especially with things like denim, which I have to manufacture in Bulgaria. I’d love to have it made in the UK because of the attention to detail you can get from British manufacture, but it’s three times more expensive. People forget I’m not a high street store, I do everything myself, so time and costs are two things which I have to think about all the time. I love it when girls come in here and buy a dress, then the number of comments they get from wearing something individual influence them to buy another dress for the next time they go out. I’ve heard them describe the brand as “like a drug”. I love that.
I can see why! Do you have plans to open any more boutiques, in the UK or world wide?
In global terms, I’ve had interest from Australia and the States. Actually, a psychic once told me that I’d end up in the U.S., but I’m not quite sure how to take that yet! For the moment, I’m sticking to the UK. For the business to expand to different countries I need to change so much about the way I run it, which I’m not ready to do yet. I need to understand the markets more too, over here I know my customer, but they could be completely different in another country. In terms of the UK, I’m hoping that by early next year I will have opened a store in Birmingham, then hopefully Newcastle and London are on the cards too. London is a difficult one to judge, because where in London would I open a brand new boutique?! I was thinking about Westfield, theres a bigger market for shoppers there, more footfall. Lots of people have asked me if I’ll move over to London and concentrate on the South if I opened an ETTO there, but I wont. I like the fact that this is a Northern brand and I want to take that with me. It’s just a general progression really, I have to use my business head which is sometimes hard to separate from my design head.
Have you thought about opening concessions?
Yeah I have thought about them, but again I’d need to change too much about the running of the business to make it work. I’ve thought about producing loads of my best selling pieces for wholesale, but I would ideally need a whole design team to pull off something like that and make it successful. People don’t realise that I’m completely doing this on my own. I create the designs, I source the fabrics, bring the fabrics back to the studio, make the samples, take them to the manufacturers, oversee the production, bring all the products back on my van... Then my girls separate them out for the different boutiques, and I put them back in my van and hand deliver them to each store. So when people come in and say it’s like All Saints it’s really frustrating - as brands we are worlds apart. A lot of customers have been coming in recently and asking me for things I designed three years ago, so it’s sometimes a hard choice between letting my creativity grow - risking designing something nobody wants, or remake my best sellers. Both have their advantages and set backs.
So, what gave you the idea for a red carpet collection?
When your clothes are seen on that red carpet, you get the most relevant feedback. And at the end of the day it is free publicity, as soon as you get that right celebrity, you get instant recognition.
You have been described as one of the leading designers of the North. How does that feel?
No pressure!! (laughs) Well, it’s a massive compliment obviously. The North can’t be that big though can it?! I always wanted to be a Northern brand, I want to be known for my roots. And more importantly I want people to realise you don’t have to go to St Martins - I didn’t! I want other creatives to understand the other avenues to being successful, and not just in fashion either, in any creative industry.
When was it you realised that fashion was an industry you wanted to be in?
Since I started going out, probably when I shouldn’t have been.... When I was 16,17, I found my self following fashions but I wanted to be different. Between the ages of 19 and 21 I was at my most flamboyant stage - but I’m too old for that now! I started ETTO when I was 20, so I’ve had a “flair”, so to speak, from an early age. Seven years down the line and here I am. That suit out there has been in my head for that full seven years. It’s so frustrating that it takes so long, but theres no way I would have been able to make something so complex when I was 20, I’ve had to teach myself pattern cutting which has taken a long time to perfect! It’s also taken me three years for me to get from designing my footwear range to actually having the samples in my hand.
I genuinely love both. They’re both so different - when I design for women I can be more creative, but theres also the worry that the products wont sell if I get too out of hand with designs. I love the feedback I get, mainly from the menswear actually. My customers put pictures up on their facebook and twitter, and the comments they get are amazing to read. For menswear it’s all about the individual twists on garments I know my customers want. I love the progression this gives me - my designs grow with me and my customers. As I said, theres more free reign with womenswear - men wont walk around with a backless top for example. I’m trying to incorporate more basics into my collection now, especially for menswear. I need to keep to my brand image and give them the little twists I’m known for, like with the new printed tees I’ve started producing. I give them an edge and tailor them to my customers needs. A lot of them really look after themselves, going to the gym and taking good care of their appearance. They don’t want clothing which hides their muscles, they want something slightly more fitted than what regular tees on the high street offer them. I’ve considered this when designing my shirts too - incorporating stretch into the fabrics of my formal shirts.
So, you’ve told me the differences between designing for the male and female market, is there any differences between marketing for the two genders?
Marketing is a funny one, it’s so important to keep my brand image in this side of the business too. If I suddenly made the women’s lookbook all pink and girly it wouldn’t represent me or my brand. I’m true to myself and the general image hasn’t changed since I started seven years ago. I grow as a designer but I keep my identity. With marketing I rely strongly on word of mouth and recommendation, and the use of social media has been totally priceless to me. I could pay for four full time members of staff to sit in an office on facebook and twitter for a year, and that would cost me the same amount as one advert in GQ. I just don’t see magazine advertising to be a viable form of marketing for a small, independent company like Alex Christopher. I need my customers to hear from their friends, come into the shop, and understand why I’m here - understand the story behind Alex Christopher and Each To Their Own.