Five Questions for Mikel Rosen

By Julissa James

A creator of London Fashion Week in the 1980s, Mikel Rosen has spent 40 years in the industry.

According to Mikel Rosen, fashion is finished. It’s a surprising declaration from the industry vet dressed in a vintage leather fringe jacket, heavy metal adornments and designer moccasins — think punk-meets-tribal — but let him explain: “It’s all been done,” he says, “especially when you’ve been around as long as I have.” In his 40-year career, Rosen, who co-created London Fashion Week in the 1980s, has seen shape-shifts rivaling those of David Bowie, one of his earliest inspirations. He’s worked as a designer, stylist, show producer and instructor at his alma mater, Central Saint Martins, where he helped mold fashion designers like Phoebe Philo, John Galliano and the late Alexander McQueen. Since moving to San Francisco in 2011, he’s taught at the Academy of Art University and the Art Institute. Now, he’s focusing his energy on what he calls extensions of fashion — one of them being interior design in the Bay Area.

Can you paint a picture of the London scene in the early ’80s, and how it led to the creation of Fashion Week? I’d been working in design for four or five years, and it led to putting collections on the runway. Two of my students were helping me produce shows — a boy called David [Holah] and a girl called Stevie [Stewart]…. I said, ‘You should work together and do your own thing.’ They created a cult company called Body Map. We did this mad show in 1982 in London. We had no money, we asked people on the street to model … and we had Boy George. It worked. … The statements made were so powerful that it registered with the British Fashion Council, and they eventually asked me and another public relations person to make London Fashion Week official.

What sparked your creative nature? [In Manchester, England] I went to a T. Rex concert, and the show opened with a mime artist. This mime artist was called David Bowie. Then, a band came to my town called Humble Pie, and their support act was David Bowie. When I get there, there’s a guy sitting on a stool with curly Bob Dylan hair playing “Space Oddity” on acoustic. The next time, it was David Bowie and the Spiders from Mars playing the Ziggy Stardust shows; I could not believe I was there. I ran around as a 17-year-old from venue to venue in the north of England seeing as many shows as possible. … I thought, ‘If I go to Central Saint Martins in London, I can study fashion and textile design and do the clothes for the Ziggy Stardust concerts.’ That’s what got me into fashion: music.

You say fashion is done. What happened to it? Nowadays, fashion is a product. It doesn’t matter if that product is high fashion or high street fashion — it’s just merchandise. … But there’s very few people doing design of fashion [anymore]. In the original days, it was Christian Dior, Cristóbal Balenciaga, Madeleine Vionnet, Elsa Schiaparelli, Coco Chanel — these people gave us a look. … Then it went onto a few more people who did that: Azzedine Alaïa, who recently passed away. And if someone walked in with a big-shouldered jacket and razor cut trousers with the waistband down to the pubic [bone], we say, “That’s Alexander McQueen.”… Now, we’re left with Comme des Garçons … and Rick Owens.

What do you think about the fashion scene in San Francisco? There isn’t one. It had its own style in the past. If you go back to the revolution in the 1960s and ’70s, the whole flower-hippy-trippy [thing] — what Gucci is doing now, and what was going on in London around the time with Mr. Fish[an influential counterculture designer in England] and Carnaby Street — San Francisco had it. But we passed that moment. Most places don’t have fashion anymore because there isn’t fashion anymore. … I didn’t move [here] for fashion, I moved here to have an easier life perhaps and discover America.

How does your background in fashion relate to your work in interiors? There’s a scene in The Devil Wears Prada where [Anne Hathaway] doesn’t see the difference between [two cerulean] belts, and Meryl Streep [expertly explains] why what happens at the top in couture dictates the trend every time. In interior design, it happens the same way. Let’s take the devoré velvet that was big at one stage — where they emboss the velvet to make it translucent — and they started making pillow cases and drapes out of it. I say to my client, “OK, devoré velvet is happening now in couture on the runway, it’s going to dictate into homewear, but is it what you really want? Would you buy that for your closet and wear it in two years?”


This image of Naomi Campbell in Rifat Ozbek was a major fashion moment for Rosen — it’s the look he styled for the Turkish-born designer’s runway shows in the mid-’80s, which helped him nab his first British Designer of the Year award in 1988. Rosen is moved by the ensemble’s eclecticism; it’s something he strives for in his interior design work (at right). Rosen channels the same “eclectic approach of culture mixes” from the fashion image (at left) in this recent interior design commission. The Healdsburg country home brings Rosen’s taste — “classic with an ethnic twist, past with future” — to the table.

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