Stella McCartney Biography
September 13, 1971 • London, England
While some may think that being the daughter of one of the world's most famous, respected, and wealthy rock stars would lead to plentiful advantages when building a career, British designer Stella McCartney might not completely agree. McCartney, daughter of Sir Paul—who happens to be a former member of the Beatles, perhaps the most popular and influential rock band ever—has talent and ambition to spare, but her fame-by-association has caused many to speculate that it is her family connections rather than her design collections that have propelled her career. Being a McCartney has its advantages—through family acquaintances, a teenaged Stella made important connections in the design world—but had she been lacking in talent and business sense, such connections would have been meaningless. Instead, McCartney proved that her combination of creativity, sense of style, and understanding of the fashion industry could make her a powerful force in fashion regardless of her parentage.
In 1997, less than two years after graduating from college, McCartney made headlines when she was hired as the creative director for Chloe, a respected design house in Paris, France. She spent four years at Chloe, helping to redefine the company's image and increasing the company's sales by appealing to young, hip consumers. In 2001 McCartney left Chloe to start her own company in partnership with the celebrated Gucci Group. She spent the following years issuing new collections, opening boutiques in New York, London, and Los Angeles, and, in 2003, launching a new fragrance line called Stella.
"I have a vision for the way I want a woman to dress, perhaps because I'm a woman and know what I like to wear.... It's not about what it looks like in the studio or on the runway. It's what it looks like on a real person that matters."
Down on the farm
McCartney was born in London in 1971, not long after the breakup of the Beatles. Her father, a musician of exceptional talent, went on to form the band Wings, in which her mother, Linda, played keyboards and sang backup. Linda McCartney also became known for her skilled photographic portraits of musicians and other subjects, and was an outspoken advocate for animal rights as well as an accomplished vegetarian cook and cookbook writer. While the McCartneys led an unconventional life, traveling around the world on tour with the band with their children in tow, they were determined that their home base would be a tranquil refuge from the rock-and-roll lifestyle. The family, including Stella, her half-sister Heather (from Linda McCartney's first marriage), sister Mary, and brother James, moved to a farm by the time Stella was ten years old. Living in a modest farmhouse, the family raised sheep, rode horses, and grew organic produce. Stella was heavily influenced by the family's back-to-nature lifestyle and her parents' values, becoming a vegetarian herself as well as a committed animal rights activist.
Jade Jagger, jewelry designer and famous offspring, has encountered much of the same skepticism that Stella McCartney has faced. As the daughter of Mick Jagger (1943–), lead singer of the Rolling Stones, and Bianca Jagger, a symbol of high fashion, Jade has struggled to establish an identity separate from that of her world-famous parents. Even as she has forged a successful design career, she still has critics suggesting that her professional accomplishments are due to her fame as a Jagger rather than her own talent.
Born in 1972, Jagger certainly had an unconventional upbringing as the daughter of one of rock music's most notorious bad boys. Her father has provided material for tabloid newspapers for most of his adult life, with one high-profile and stormy relationship after another (Mick and Bianca divorced around 1980). As a teenager Jade acquired a reputation for being a bit wild herself. She made headlines in 1988 when she was expelled from a prestigious private school in England for sneaking out to meet her boyfriend. And she was known for throwing, and attending, great parties. Jagger's lifestyle mellowed a bit when she became a mother in the early 1990s; she now has two daughters, Assisi and Amba.
Jagger has done some modeling and has long been a part of the fashion scene, but her vocation is designing jewelry. Jagger started her own company, Jade Inc., in 1998, creating and selling fine jewelry with a modern twist. In 2002 Jagger was hired as the creative director for the upscale British jewelry company Garrard. Once the Crown Jewelers—those responsible for crowns, tiaras, and other decorative items worn by British royalty—Garrard is a long-established traditional company that was formerly known as Asprey & Garrard. When those controlling the company split the brands into two separate firms, it was decided that Garrard, while remaining a provider of expensive luxury items, would also try to reach out to a younger and more informal crowd. Jagger was seen as the right person to navigate the company through this new territory.
In a 2002 article in WWD, Samantha Conti wrote that Jagger's goal at Garrard was to "blend the classic and the avant-garde, which means that blue diamond tiaras sell alongside funky gold dog tags, the rocks on some rings roll—literally—in a see-saw motion, and pendants are inspired by hip-hop and heraldry." Jagger designed a line of jewelry that playfully incorporated royal symbols such as crowns and family crests. While Jagger will never completely escape associations with her famous dad, she has forged a successful career independent of her family connections, earning praise for her funky and fashionable creations.
McCartney had known ever since her early teen years that she wanted to be a fashion designer; she was designing and making clothes by age thirteen. At age fifteen she had a brief internship in Paris with acclaimed designer Christian LaCroix. Later, during her university years, McCartney became an apprentice to tailor Edward Sexton, learning the finer points of tailoring on London's famed Savile Row, home to numerous traditional and highly respected custom clothing companies. She briefly worked at the French company Patou, makers of expensive custom-made clothes, but left the company in objection to their use of fur in some of their products.
McCartney attended Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London. Along with her fellow design students, McCartney designed a line of clothing to be displayed in a student fashion show as part of a graduation project. Like many of the other students, McCartney enlisted some friends to model her clothing during the show. Unlike her peers, however, McCartney's friends were supermodels Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss. Her models' fame, as well as her own celebrity stemming from her family ties (and the presence of her famous parents in the audience), attracted hordes of reporters and photographers from all over the world to the student show. Many of the other students resented the circus atmosphere and the fact that the press left the show immediately after McCartney's clothes had been shown. Some in the media and the fashion industry speculated that the extraordinary attention the young designer received had everything to do with her last name and little to do with her talent as a designer. But buyers for a number of upscale department stores, including Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus, disagreed, buying McCartney's line for sale in their stores.
A rapid rise
After her 1995 college graduation, McCartney opened her own boutique in London to sell her designs. Her designs featured a mix of crisp tailoring with lacy, romantic pieces, a combination that conveyed a sense of strong femininity. Her specialties were slip dresses and luxurious swishy silk skirts. "My mom always collected thrift-shop stuff—especially Italian slips," McCartney related to Time magazine's Ginia Bellafante. "I've always loved underwear and antique fabrics and lace for all their soft texture." Her designs were snapped up by fashion-conscious shoppers, including models, actresses, and musicians. In December of 1996, a man came into McCartney's boutique describing himself as the owner of a clothing store in Rome, Italy. He asked extensive questions about her collection and her ideas
Weeks later, Moufarrige offered the twenty-five-year-old designer a job as creative director of Chloe. Many in the fashion industry, including esteemed designer Karl Lagerfeld, who had previously held McCartney's position at Chloe, felt outraged that Moufarrige had hired a young and untested designer for such a significant position. McCartney soon silenced her critics, however, by bringing tremendous visibility and success to Chloe. Beginning with her first successful show with Chloe, in the fall of 1997, McCartney displayed her signature style of clean lines combined with delicate and sexy pieces. Critics acknowledged that her designs were not terribly bold or innovative, but they held tremendous appeal for consumers. McCartney not only improved the fortunes of Chloe, she also helped usher in a new trend in women's clothing that favored romantic, flirtatious styles over the plainer, nofrills look popular in the early 1990s. Just two years after she joined Chloe, Robin Givhan wrote in the Washington Post that under McCartney's direction, "Chloe has not just gotten substantially better. It has been transformed." McCartney's professional success, however, was tempered by personal tragedy during this period. In 1998 her mother died after a three-year battle with breast cancer.
In 2000 McCartney won the VH1/ Vogue Fashion and Music Designer of the Year Award. During that same year, she designed a bridal gown for one of the most high-profile weddings in the celebrity world—that of pop superstar (and McCartney pal) Madonna to filmmaker Guy Ritchie. During 2001 McCartney led Chloe in a new direction, overseeing the introduction of a more casual, less expensive clothing line called See. Her success at Chloe and increasing name recognition as a designer to watch generated numerous rumors that McCartney would not stay at the Paris company much longer. Her rapid rise through the ranks of the fashion industry led many to believe that she would soon strike out on her own and, after four years with the Paris firm, McCartney did in fact leave. She had struck a deal with the renowned Gucci Group to start her own design house.
The ups and downs of independence
McCartney wasted no time creating the first line for her new company, which bears her name and is half owned by Gucci. Just a few months after striking out on her own in the fall of 2001, she showed her first collection. The reception was not exactly favorable. McCartney deviated from her signature style, as reported by Lisa Armstrong at New York Metro.com: "McCartney, who'd become a reliable source of lovely, easy-on-the-eye garments, chose this moment to replace her stock-in-trade flirtiness with something more hard-core." Armstrong pointed out that the timing of the show did not help matters; it took place one month after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, in New York City and Washington, D.C., a time when people sought comfort, not confrontation. Fashion journalists wrote harsh reviews of the show, with McCartney's critics reiterating their opinion that the designer was famous simply because of her name. With her next few collections, however, McCartney once again proved her critics wrong. She returned to her roots, focusing on designing clothes that made women feel and look good.
In the fall of 2002 McCartney opened her first store, in New York City, to feature her new company's designs. Her second store opened the following spring in London, with a third opening in the Los Angeles area in the fall of 2003. In the stores, which are called simply "Stella McCartney," she sells her clothing as well as shoes, bags, and other accessories, including her own perfume, a scent called Stella. All of her products reflect McCartney's dedication to animal rights and other causes. In her clothing designs she emphasizes cottons and silks. Not one of her products, including shoes and bags, is made out of leather or fur. The company manufacturing her fragrance is prohibited from using genetically modified materials—that is, plants that have been altered by humans—and will not accept plants that were harvested by children or that are on any endangered species list. McCartney attributes her socially conscious attitude to the earthy styles of her parents, particularly her mother. She has also credited her mother with informing her fashion sensibility: the confidence to wear clothes she loves rather than following trends, a combination of vintage and modern looks, and the choice of a natural look over a highly polished one. Describing her mother's naturalness to Shane Watson of Harper's Bazaar, McCartney noted: "You look at people in her position now, and they're all manicured and their hair's straightened, and she was so not that, ever. She never waxed her legs, never dyed her hair, and that is so rare.... I mean, my mum really was the coolest chick in the world."
While the loss of her mother was devastating, McCartney has also experienced much personal and professional happiness in recent years. In August of 2003 she wed magazine publisher Alasdhair Willis in a small but elaborate ceremony. Taking place on a three-hundred-acre estate on the Scottish island of Bute, the wedding featured truck-loads of white roses imported from the Netherlands, a bagpipe band, and a fireworks display. Guests—including such celebrity pals as Gwyneth Paltrow, Liv Tyler, and Madonna—were transported in carriages pulled by Clydesdale horses. A large team of security guards kept the press at bay, ensuring a calm and private affair. On the professional front, McCartney has achieved increasing success with each new collection. Tom Ford, the former creative director of Gucci, told Armstrong why he has so much confidence in McCartney: "She has everything it takes to be successful—the drive, the will, and the intelligence. She has great style, great taste."
For More Information
"And I Love Her." People (September 15, 2003): p. 66.
Bellafante, Ginia. "Tired of Chic Simple? Welcome to the New Romance." Time (April 6, 1998): p. 66.
Conti, Samantha. "Jagger's New Jewels." WWD (September 16, 2002): p. 17.
Diamond, Kerry. "Stella's Sexy New Scent." Harper's Bazaar (September 2003): p. 248.
Fallon, James. "Life with Gucci." WWD (July 3, 2001): p. 1.
Givhan, Robin. Washington Post (January 29, 1999): p. C1.
Watson, Shane. "Twenty-four Hours with Stella McCartney." Harper's Bazaar (September 2002): p. 426.
Armstrong, Lisa. "Stella Nova." New York Metro.com. http://www.newyorkmetro.com/shopping/articles/02/fallfashion/stellanova/ (accessed on July 14, 2004).
Stella McCartney. http://www.stellamccartney.com/ (accessed on July 14, 2004).
"Who's Who: Stella McCartney." Vogue.com. http://www.vogue.co.uk/whos_who/Stella_McCartney/default.html# (accessed on July 14, 2004).