The Interview: Alice Temperley On Juggling Life, Work And Motherhood

BY Jade Chilton / Feb 12 2020 / 17:05 PM

On a recent visit to celebrate the opening of her Middle East flagship, Jade Chilton caught up with the fashion powerhouse to ask her what it takes to run her eponymous empire whilst also juggling motherhood

The Interview: Alice Temperley On Juggling Life, Work And Motherhood
Alice Temperley

Alice Temperley – the fashion designer forever associated with her quintessentially British and feminine designs – is in Dubai to celebrate with her gang of loyal clients and the UAE press the opening of her flagship store in The Dubai Mall's Fashion Avenue. As well as attending the Abu Dhabi Dream Ball with Harper’s Bazaar Arabia as a special guest, she and her team will also shoot her SS20 campaign at the Bab Al Shams Desert Resort. 

Alice Temperley SS20 Collection

The Creative Director is no stranger to the region. Along with numerous jaunts for campaign shoots, press events and parties, she was once flown in to design a wedding gown for Abu Dhabi royalty. For this trip however, Alice announced her arrival on her Instagram Stories; “Middle East, here I come... Friends DM me.” The message was followed by a photograph of a packed rail filled with Temperley London’s signature sequins, romantic flowing silks and an abundance of detailed, printed pieces, all steamed and ready to go ahead of her jam-packed schedule.  

I’m here, not only to celebrate the opening of the shiny new 1,500 square foot boutique, but also to talk about how Alice manages that elusive work/ life balance, whatmakes a “nice boss”, advice she would offer to budding fashion designers and how she counters burnout.

Twenty years ago, Temperley was a striving designer who had just embarked on creating her namesake fashion brand only a year after graduating with a Masters from London’s Royal College of Art. “I make clothes because I love them. When I first started, I was doing absolutely everything on my own and it was extremely challenging,” she says about launching her label. “I put my first collection together – it was small, with just 25 pieces that I had hand-printed and hand-embroidered. But I managed to secure around 20 stockists. It was a very exciting time.”

But it was when she began the hard graft of producing and shipping the collection that she learned hard lessons about business. “I had so many logistics to consider,” she explains. “Setting up a business is not easy but being young, strong, driven, and possibly a little naïve, I think worked to my advantage. As the business started to grow, I started finding loyal, hard-working people who understood the industry to come and join me.”

From there, the brand’s ascent was swift. Alice dressed UK royalty and dozens of celebrities, picking up multiple awards and accolades along the way, not to mention receiving an MBE for her contribution to the fashion industry. “Receiving an MBE from Her Majesty The Queen was one of the most humbling experiences,” she says. “It made me feel very proud of our achievements and was testimony that building a British luxury lifestyle brand was the right thing to do.”

Britain, and being British, is something she has always celebrated and has been commended for. In 2006 she was reported as the ‘designer making the biggest waves in British fashion’ and more recently, was described as the ‘English Ralph Lauren’.

“I am very proud of my heritage and being British,” continues the 44-year old. “Since the Victorian age, Great Britain has always been a place where different cultures meet. I try to take inspiration from my land as well as further afield.” It’s no surprise that she’s hugely encouraging of young British designers working today, “I’m such a supporter of emerging British talent – of which there is plenty.” I ask her what tough-love advice she would offer to anyone trying to crack the industry in 2020. “I have worked very hard and found that staying true to yourself and following your instincts is key,” she says. “It’s important to grow and respect your brand identity. Customers start knowing what’s unique to your style.”

In a world where glossing over our setbacks and promoting our shinier moments has become the norm, I ask if she’s experienced failures amid the career highs that taught her something. “I try not to think of anything as a failure – everything should be a learning experience even if it doesn’t quite go to plan,” she says. “Certainly, when I was starting out, I found it an enormous learning curve and I really had to think on my feet and learn really quickly.”

Her love of fashion began when she was a child growing up in rural Somerset, England. “I was always interested in making things,” she smiles. “I would sneak scraps of material and was constantly coming up with new ideas. As a family, we are all very creative and so this streak was always encouraged in me. I loved sketching, painting and making things all day.”

Working in her at-home studio in Somerset

Watching black and white movies was a huge source of inspiration. “When I was 11 I was obsessed with the glamour of them and this is when I first started creating garments. The costumes of those films – often designed by Edith Head [multi Oscar-winning costume designer] – were so glamorous it was like escapism into another world for me.”

As with many successful women thriving in their careers, Alice switches between multiple roles; Creative Director, bridal designer and mother to her 11-year-old son, Fox London Temperley von Bennigsen Mackiewicz. From the outside she looks like she’s attained that mythical balance. On behalf of all working mums, myself included, I ask her how she does it.

“I had no idea how much having a child would change my whole world,” she admits. “Your child is your focus and everything else comes second. Being a working mother means my life is a constant juggling act. Fox comes first and I try and fit my hectic work schedule around him and my family in Somerset. The best move I made for my son, myself and my company was to move my life there. Now I spend four days a week at my home in the country where I have a beautiful studio which helps bring my creativity out. It’s a quiet space where I can really focus.”

Motherhood aside, there must be a huge mental toll that comes with working at the helm of Temperley London. Is it even plausible to achieve self-care between designing “three collections at a time” and jumping on flights to the Middle East? “Somerset is my safe place,” she says of her eight-bedroom manor house that was once owned by newspaper magnate Lord Beaverbrook. “It’s where I grew up and where I can reconnect. It is so important to recharge your batteries, clear your head and spend time with family and friends. Some of my fondest memories are the times I have spent with my family and my son Fox in Somerset. Whether it’s bike rides, having a picnic on the banks of the river or picking apples in my father’s orchard.”

Country life, she finds, recharges her mind for the bustle of London as she works across multiple projects and collections simultaneously. “When I’m back in London my team have my full attention,” she explains. “I spend a lot of time with them brainstorming in the studio that feels like a hive of activity.” Alice modestly reckons her team would describe her as a “nice boss” and says she often shares a joke with them. Although, she adds, “We don’t do laziness. This industry is hard work – there’s no place or time for attitude.”

On that note, what does she look for in a Temperley London recruit? “Passion and drive for the role,” she answers immediately. “Being brave, decisive and always pushing to learn more. We are like one big family at work. I sometimes think I have probably spent more time with some of my team than members of my family so it’s incredibly important we all work well together. Everyone who works for me is incredibly passionate about what they do and that is something we bond over. We all work very hard but also remember to have fun while doing it.”

Two decades on from the creation of Temperley London and it’s a brand that still feels relevant today, which tells you a lot about her spirit. What’s next? “This is just the beginning,” she smiles. “I’m excited for what the next 20 years will bring. Temperley London looks, lives and breathes a lifestyle. I want to make that a reality.”

From Harper's BAZAAR Arabia February 2020 Issue

Images courtesy of Alice Temperley