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2 March 2022

Jenny Packham’s Q&A: “What’s currently bugging me? Sourcing recycled sequins”

The fashion designer discusses her early love of textiles, Josephine Baker and her dream of making costumes for Dita Von Teese.

By New Statesman

Jenny Packham was born in Southampton in 1965. A fashion designer with an eponymous line, her dresses have been worn by the Duchess of Cambridge and Jennifer Aniston.

What’s your earliest memory?

I remember lying in my cot playing with the cotton tassels of my blanket and enjoying the flowery prints of my mother’s dresses. My love of textiles started early.

Who are your heroes?

As a child, my dad. He looked like the actor Roger Moore – James Bond – and seemed to be able to do anything, possibly even save the world. He’s still my hero today.

[See also: Alice Boyes Q&A: “I wish people didn’t constantly talk about how exhausting parenting is”]

What book last changed your thinking?

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Everything is F*cked by Mark Manson. I wish this book had been part of my school syllabus. Understanding human behaviour, our own and that of others, is crucial.

What would be your “Mastermind” specialist subject?

Colour and the history of how we used our natural resources to mimic nature. In particular, the bugs that gave their lives so that our ancestors could dress to impress, before the creatures were spared by the invention of chemical colours.

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

Take me back to the House of Tutankhamun, please. Something wondrous happened there – it was like Studio 54, BC-style. There was nothing like it before or after. The artefacts and especially the jewellery jump out like a Chanel handbag in a jumble sale.

Which political figure do you look up to?

Josephine Baker, the first black woman to star in a major motion picture. She aided the French Resistance during the Second World War and her contributions to the US civil rights movement are renowned.

[See also: Maxim Q&A: “Prince once said to me: Own your own music”]

What TV show could you not live without?

I could live without a TV. In fact, I think it may be a better life.

Who would paint your portrait?

Frederic Leighton or John Singer Sargent. I’d loved to be painted all wrapped up in decadent fabrics and romanticism.

What’s your theme tune?

“Every Day I Write the Book” by Elvis Costello. After listening to this track aged 14 I decided I would try and live my life like a good book. An interesting plot is paramount, some disastrous anecdotal moments, a love story, and a happy ending. So far so good.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

“Never work with your partner.” I’m sure the person who said it meant well but my husband and I have proved them wrong every day for 35 years.

What’s currently bugging you?

I’m sourcing recycled sequins. It’s not easy but I will unearth them soon.

What single thing would make your life better?

I wish my dog, Byron, could talk to me.

When were you happiest?

I have moments of happiness every day.

[See also: Sian Conway-Wood Q&A: “On climate, there’s too much talk and not enough action”]

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

I’d be a burlesque dancer on tour with Dita Von Teese. And, if I got dropped from the troupe (which would probably be quite likely as I can’t even touch my toes), I could fix up the costumes and make fabulous new ones en route.

Are we all doomed?

Hope is the secret to human survival and without it we are all doomed. I am just desperate for some honest and inspired leadership to turn our hope into action.

“How To Make a Dress: Adventures in the Art of Style” by Jenny Packham is published by Ebury

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This article appears in the 02 Mar 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Hero of our Times