Born: Bradford, England, 1951. Education: Studied at Hornsey and Chelsea Colleges of Art, 1969-73. Career: Pattern grader (with Ossie Clark and Celia Birtwell), then designer, Quorum, 1975-76; first collection under own label, 1976; designer, Barnett and Brown (with Sheilagh Brown), 1976-80; taught fashion at St. Martins School of Art, and textiles at Chelsea College of Art; freelance designer, Jaeger, Norman Hartnell, Salvador and Annalena, beginning in 1980; also designed own label range for Reldan. Awards: Bath Museum of Costume Dress of the Year award, 1983.
"Zandra Rhodes Conjures Medieval Spell in London," in Women's Wear Daily, 15 March 1983.
Brampton, Sally, "Showing the Rest of the World," in the Observer (London), 20 March 1983.
Petkanas, Christopher, "London: A Burst of Energy," in Women's Wear Daily, 11 October 1983.
"London Attracts U.S. Buyers," in Women's Wear Daily, 19 March 1984.
Jones, Mark, "Followers of Fashion," in Creative Review (London),December 1984.
Fallon, James, "Designers Set London Benefit to Fight Famine," in Women's Wear Daily, 6 August 1985.
——, "Designers Plan 'Fashion Aid' for Ethiopian Famine Relief," in DNR, 6 August 1985.
Kerrigan, Marybeth, and Etta Froio, "U.S. Stores Are Cool to London Styles, Prices," in Women's Wear Daily, 18 March 1986.
Mower, Sarah, "The Trick Up His Sleeve," in The Guardian (London), 21 August 1986.
Fallon, James, "House of Fraser to Open 1st London Unit," in Women's Wear Daily, 16 December 1986.
"Sheridan Barnett With a Twist," in Vogue (London), April 1987.
Fallon, James, "Hartnell Names Fratini to Design Spring 1990 Line," in Women's Wear Daily, 5 December 1989.
Thim, Dennis, "Bohan Nearing Deal to Design Hartnell Couture," in Women's Wear Daily, 19 June 1990.
Gabb, Annabella, "Blenheim's Traveling Show…," in Management Today, February 1991.
"We are dressmakers," insisted Sheridan Barnett in an interview with journalist Sarah Mower for The Guardian (21 August 1986). "I think it's ludicrous that designers should be made into superstars when they're just out of college. Nobody's a true dress designer until they've worked in the industry at least three years." Barnett passionately believes in the value of training, practice, and apprenticeship to the designer. To Barnett, design is a practical, problem-solving exercise that should be approached with organized discipline. He is not a prima donna, distracted by the whims and extravagances of an often superficial business. His first consideration is his customer and the practical needs they have, rather than the advancement or hype of his own name and talent. This could be one of the reasons why, outside the fashion business, Barnett is one of fashion's best kept secrets.
Barnett first produced a collection under his own label when he left the design group Quorum in 1976. His clothing was distributed by Lawrie Lewis, who went on to found Blenheim Dresswell in 1979. Along with designers like Hardy Amies, Jasper Conran, David Hicks, and Jean Muir, Barnett became known for making clothes for the woman of elegance and style. He quickly established a reputation for very wearable, simple, and affordable clothes and was always one step ahead of other designers, not only in ideas but also in his work. He introduced oversized jackets and ankle-length skirts a year ahead of the catwalk and two years before the High Street had caught on to the look. He also introduced silk pajamas before Parisian designers had even considered them. In many ways, he seemed to be developing a new modern formula to shape 1980s fashion and style. "It had to be interesting, well cut, original, comfortable—and a good fit," he declared.
Barnett aims for a sparseness of design, achieved through a process of elimination. His work has been described as "wearable and very clean, with good lines and beautiful fabrics," by Sheila Bernstein, vice president of Fashion Merchandising at AMC ( Women's Wear Daily, 1 March 1983). His 1984 collection was inspired by the "unorthodox approach to dressing" of literary heroines Vita Sackville-West and Djuna Barnes. Removing the frills, trims, and fuss he claims to hate, Barnett believes customers should add their own style to the clothes to complete a look or change it from day to day. He strongly adheres to perfection in cut, sometimes spending a week over one sleeve, resetting it over a hundred times according to his perception of how it should fit. "Of course nothing's ever perfect," he has declared, emphasizing how a designer should never be satisfied, as it breeds complacency.
Barnett regards himself as a professional freelance designer, a position he feels strongly suits his temperament. Apart from his own label collections, however, he has collaborated in several successful design liaisons during his career. During the 1970s, he was in partnership with designer Sheilagh Brown, trading as Barnett and Brown and designing their own collections. During the 1980s, he produced ready-to-wear collections for Jaeger and Norman Hartnell (with Victor Edelstein, Allan McClure, and Allan McRae) as well as his own label range for Reldan (where he joined the likes of Mondi, Jaegar, Frank Usher, and Windsmoor, and had his work sold at stores like House of Fraser, owned by the Al-Fayed family); he also worked variously as a lecturer in fashion schools. The early 1990s saw Barnett take a position as designer for the Marks & Spencer supplier Claremont.
Barnett claims not to mind that he has not become a household name in Britain, as have designers such as Bruce Oldfield and Jean Muir. He is, however, regarded within the industry as one of the best designers around. Although he admits things may have been different had he worked in America, his love of London and British culture is a major influence in his work and something he would have had to sacrifice had he gone abroad. His contributions go beyond clothing; Barnett is also a philanthropist at heart, contributing to the Fashion Aid Show in 1985 to help raise money for famine relief in Ethiopia. Barnett joined Zandra Rhodes, Katherine Hamnett, Jasper Conran, Bruce Oldfield, Rifat Ozbeck, Betty Jackson, Wendy Dagworthy, and Issey Miyake, among others. He also taught design at Central St. Martins College of Art & Design, where he numbered among his students Juan Carlos Antonio (John) Galliano, who would go on to his own success, selling his graduating collection, Les Incroyables, to the likes of Diana Ross, and would eventually design for Christian Dior.
Sheridan Barnett's ultimate contribution to fashion is the longevity his clothes have and his simplistic taste and style. He has remained a rare and constant favorite with customers and, amazingly, fashion editors, the people most likely to blow with the fashion wind. This reinforces his original aim for clothes that always look interesting and last for many years. "You can only achieve quality if you eliminate what is superfluous," he declared.
updated by Daryl F.Mallett