Born: London, 12 December 1959. Education: Attended Bryanston School, Dorset; studied at Parsons School of Design, New York,
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Dubbed the "Calvin Klein of London," Jasper Conran creates menswear and womenswear collections that epitomize urbane, classic lines. As the British Fashion Council's Fashion Designer of the Year in 1986, Conran has balanced British imagination with international chic. His designs are inspired by early garments of Coco Chanel and the American look of Claire McCardell's monastic and "popover" dresses but the outcome reflecting modern sophistication, not retro style. He is known for updated, yet elegant, versions of traditional British tweed suits.
Conran attended Parsons School of Design in New York, and his first collection was produced for Henri Bendel in the United States. He returned the the UK and worked briefly for the British company, Wallis, as design consultant, producing its Special Label. He introduced his first independent womenswear collection in 1978 showing black cashmere trousers, and coats and jackets lined with cream satin. This established his hallmark use of expensive fabrics such as silk, cashmere, taffeta, and lines with classic cuts. Vogue writer Emma Soames observed that British fashion editors discovered Conran early, as the refined simplicity of his work contrasted sharply with other British designers of the time (for example Vivienne Westwood, Katherine Hamnett, and Rifat Ozbek). Main pieces from his collections changed very little from season to season, allowing many of his garments to be regarded as long-term wardrobe investments. For two years running, 1982 and 1983, Conran won the Fil D'Or International Linen award.
Color has been an important factor in the overall look of Conran's collections: i.e., the brightly colored cashmere jackets in cerise, orange, chrome yellow, and mint green, produced for the 1992 collection, and earlier eveningwear in fuchsia, cobalt, and kelly green organza highlighting the clean lines of each garment. Silk separates have since been designed in ice blue, cocoa, bright red, and sorbet tints. As his designs moved into the new millennium, Conran, who continues to be considered one of the most successful designers in the UK, toned down his color pallette. His early 2001 womenswear collection featured baby blues, dusky pinks, white, beige, and black. Skinny tie-belts, diamond prints, and tube tops were reinvented, trousers were low-waisted, and A-line leather skirts and satin frocks were suggested for evening wear. His menswear collection was an updated version of the classic English gentleman look featuring double-breasted jackets, sleeveless pleated shirts, and pinstripes.
While in many collections Conran has produced undemanding and straightforward designs, he occasionally incorporated elements characteristic of what might be expected of British fashion fantasy—furtrimmed suits and wedding dresses, trumpet-hem jersey skirts, bold plaid toppers over leather jacketed pantsuits, and brightly coloured chevron-patterned sweaters with white flannel pleated skirts. The 1950s nostalgia of Grace Kelly and Breakfast at Tiffany's inspired Conran to design enormous bell-shaped coats, boxy cropped jackets, and little flirtatious minis with stiff, standaway backs in white cotton poplin for his 1986 collection. The English seaside set the background for a 1920s classic approach with oversized three-quarter-length wool tailored jackets and palazzo pants in the early 1990s.
In 1988 Conran began his menswear line, maintaining the same classic designs as his women's collections. A black-and-white ticking stripe cotton jacket with matching high-buttoned waistcoat and tapered trousers depicted a quintessentially English style, while the importance of color was maintained in Conran's intense red suede blazer and waistcoat. Also in the late 1980s, Conran designed a less expensive, Jasper "J" Conran collection for the Debenhams department store and produced a collection of bridal wear for Caroline Castigliano.
Extending himself beyond the typical fashion scene, Conran organized the "Fashion Aid" charity evening for African famine relief in 1985 and ventured into costume design for Jean Anouith's ballet, The Rehearsal and subsequently to the theatre for a London revival of My Fair Lady, and David Brintley's Edward II, performed by the Birmingham Royal Ballet in 1997. His theatrical flair for color and defined style readily translated to the stage. In 1991 Conran received the Laurence Olivier award for Costume Designer of the Year. Conran also became very outspoken about governmental attempts to regulate the fashion industry; he went public with his personal battle with anorexia in an attempt to shed some light on the nature of this condition. He believes it is an oversimplification to assume that eating disorders are caused by subliminal messages from the fashion industry.
In 1990 Conran signed a ten-year licensing agreement with the Marchpole Group Plc, the UK subsidiary of Bidermanns S.A., to produce and market his men's clothing lines. Michael Reiney, managing director of Marchpole, described Conran (Bidermann's first British designer) as a "very talented guy who has not had the opportunity to expand himself to his fullest extent. We believe he has great potential." This arrangement would allow for Conran's menswear designs to penetrate the market in Continental Europe and the U.S., and to expand his men's collection to include coats and accessories. Conran would also be able to produce a more affordable line of menswear as well.
Conran's contribution to the British fashion scene is well recognized. He has a strong commercial sense positioning him solidly within the international arena, with clients who included Diana, the late Princess of Wales. The timeless quality of his classic designs has ensured him a place alongside Calvin Klein, Karl Lagerfeld, and Perry Ellis.
updated by Christine Miner Minderovic