Katharine Hamnett – The Fashion Warrior
In the boom of the Eighties consumer society, the English designer Kathrine Hamnett, at the time already established in world fashion circles, launched a line of oversized printed t-shirts sporting messages such as: “Worldwide Nuclear Ban Now”, “Preserve the Rainforests”, “Save the Whales”, “Education Not Missiles!” Within a few months they became a must not only for activists, but also for fashion lovers.
These became known as maxi t-shirts and Hamnett donated a percentage of the sale of each t-shirt to charity, this project was well received by the market; and in 1984 the British Fashion Council awarded the designer with the title of “Designer of the year". The same year, during an official meeting with Margaret Thatcher, the designer showed up in Downing Street wearing a maxi t-shirt with the words "58% Don't Want Pershing", provocatively reminding the "Iron Lady" that the majority of British did not approve of the UK's purchase of nuclear missiles.
Her t-shirts achieved cult status, becoming a hit with personalities from the world of music, cinema and art. Wham! in the video of the world hit "Wake me up before you go go" (1984) wore maxi Hamnett t-shirts: George Micheal, Andrew Ridgeley and the band wore ones with the words "Choose Life", while ad hoc t-shirts were created for the backing singers, emblazoned with part of the title of the song or “Go Go”.
British band members weren't the only celebrities who appreciated the designer's creations; among her clients, to name but a few, were Madonna, Princess Diana, Faye Dunaway, Norman Foster and Frankie goes to Hollywood, for who a special line called Frankie Says was created.
In less aware times, Katherine Hamnett had already realised that ecology and sustainability would be the future of fashion, as well as of the planet; and in 1989 the designer, at the peak of her career, began an in-depth study of the impact of the fashion industry, particularly on the environment, with particular reference to the cultivation of cotton (the main material used for the production of t-shirts).
Hamnett discovered that every year in developing countries, tens of thousands of farmers died from chemical pesticide poisoning and groundwater contamination; and millions of workers lived in slavery.
The following year in New York, in association with the Pesticide Action Network, she created the Enviromental Cotton 2000, a research and information project about pesticides used in the cotton industry. The spring summer collection of 1991 reflected the new commitments of the designer and was called "Green cotton by 2000" with reference to her desire to make the production of cotton ecological by 2000.
In 2003, following a trip to visit African cotton farmers, the designer decided to use exclusively organic cotton for her products. Since then she has reproduced in certified cotton all her "cult" t-shirts of the Eighties and those created in recent years, including those with the words "Not In My Name" and "No War" (created in 2003 following the invasion of Afghanistan by the USA), “Use A Condom” and “Save Africa” (designed in 2004 to raise awareness of the AIDS problem).
Born into a military family in 1947, Kathrine grew up in Europe and attended ten schools, including the Cheltenham Ladies’ college. She also attended Saint Martin's School of Art from where she graduated, after which she collaborated for 5 years with her classmate Anne Buck, creating the brand Tuttabankem.
From 1975, she was a freelance fashion designer in London, Paris, Milan, Hong Kong and New York until she founded the Katharine E. Hamnett women’s clothes label in 1979.
The designer is one of the pioneers of contemporary British fashion and has had a strong impact on the fashion world for over three decades. She gave a start to many fashion photographers who later became famous all over the world.
Ellen von Unwerth, Juergen Teller, and Terry Richardson spent the first few years of their careers working on Katharine Hamnett's commercials. She also introduced us to many of the world’s most famous supermodels: Claudia Schiffer, Nadja Auermann, Naomi Campbell have all appeared in her advertising campaigns and fashion shows.
In 2017 Kathrine reintroduced her brand to the market. With all lines being produced sustainably in Europe in compliance with EU labor law; being sold through selected international retailers and directly online to the consumer.
"The clothing industry is one of the most flourishing industries in the world. It employs one billion people, or one sixth of the world's population, but it is also one of the biggest polluters. It affects climate change and global warming.
Many textile workers around the world are forced to work in conditions bordering on slavery. We need to improve the way we make our clothes. I am committed to changing my way of working: by making only ethical clothing in an ethical way and as much as possible, with a low environmental impact, preserving artisanal techniques to demonstrate that it is really possible."
Hamnett and Westwood take part in a protest in London against pesticides that harm bees
Katharine Hamnett id no.17 august 1984
Katahrine Hamnett denim AD photography Juergen Teller, the face no 58 july 1993
AD Campaign 1989
Katharine Hamnett AD Kristen Mcmenamy, photography Juergen Teller i-D the sex issue no127 april 1994
Katharine Hamnett AD photography Elaine Constantine, dazed and confused 51 clean and serene issue february 1999
Katharine Hamnett denim AD photography Terry Richardson, dazed and confused 19 april 1996
Katharine Hamnett denim AD photography Juergen Teller, the face no58 july 1993
Katharine Hamnett, id no.17 august 1984
Katharine Hamnett photographed in her library 1985 self service n28 ss2008
Katharine Hamnett summer 1993 photography Chris Moore, the face number 53 february 1993
Katherine Hamnett ss1985
Katharine Hamnett photography Oliviero Toscani 1985
Katharine Hamnett AD Cordula Reyer by Juergen Teller, the face no72 september 1994
Kristen Mcmenamy Katharine Hamnett AD photography Juergen Teller, the face no 67 april 1994
London Kate Moss wears Katharine Hamnett photography Drew Jarrett, elle uk march 1998
Naomi Campbell wearing Katharine Hamnett SS2000
Margaret Tatcher 1984