As a young boy growing up in rural Somerset, England, Louis Heal first became curious about women and their clothing while watching his mother get dressed up for dinner parties, and noticing the dress of other women around him, such as the lavish stylings of his grandmother.
A browse through the debut Spring/Summer 2012 collection of this recent London College of Fashion graduate is proof enough of the influence these glamorous women had on the young designer’s career in evening wear.
A collection that is unabashedly sexy, both Heal’s bold creative vision and sharp eye for design detail is nothing if not impressive for a first-timer straight out of school. It was during his second year of school, while honing his skill through an internship at Alexander McQueen, that he decided upon a simpler style of design. “I suppose it made me realize my signature whilst I was there,” he shares. “ I’m very grateful for [this], as you cannot develop as a designer until you know who you are.”
Currently directing all his creative energy into his own line, the designer coyly admits that, should a certain man come a-knocking, he would jump ship in a heart beat. “Tom Ford is my idol,” gushes Heal. “He can do no wrong in my eyes. I would love to one day work in his design team.”
Coincidentally, we spotted a young Ford in Heal’s work before he made mention of his fashion idol. Good taste and an intuitive sense for fashion compels us to resolutely recommend you keep your eye on this one; we sure will.
Let’s start from the beginning. What’s your background?
My background is not exactly what you would expect from an aspiring designer, I grew up in rural Somerset, in the middle of nowhere, really. As a child it gave me the best possible playground I could imagine, but as a teenager I longed to go elsewhere. I’m only 23, and plan to stay around for quite some time, but I can see myself moving back there in my later years. It is truly a beautiful place and will always be home.
Being so young, and having already accomplished so much, I imagine your interest in fashion started early on. When did it become a part of your life?
Always. I know that may sound like a cliché but it’s true. I was raised around women: my grandmother, mother and two older sisters. I used to sit at my mother’s dressing table admiring her getting ready for dinner parties and social occasions, [and] my grandmother is very extravagant in her styling. I used to play for hours in her wardrobe room. From an very early age, I started making observations on women’s clothing — how they fitted, the fabric — and I believe this to have contributed to my chosen career path today.
Why the London College of Fashion?
I had a friend a couple of years above myself who studied there, and she would always feed me back information, which confirmed my choice. I knew I wanted to be in London, and I felt London College of Fashion suited my character better than other universities.
Any ideas as to why you might have been a standout applicant?
I have no idea why I got accepted over other applicants, I guess they saw something they liked. I was very lucky in the fact that I managed to do my foundation year at Bristol School of Art, which was the top arts College nearby home. The school has a great history and maybe that helped.
Outside of school, was there any experience in a workplace environment that especially helped hone your skills?
In second year I did a placement at Alexander McQueen; I went for the obvious choice. It was an honour to work alongside the team there, but it was fairly daunting as there are so many people. As much as I tried, it just was not my style; I’m simpler and I suppose it made me realize my signature whilst I was there, which I’m very grateful for, as you can not develop as a designer until you know who you are.
Did you spend time working with any other labels that influenced your creative vision?
The following summer I interned at Manjit Deu. It was a smaller team and gave me the opportunity to be hands on. During my final collection, Manjit mentored me; having someone who has been in the same boat is a huge help; because of this, my collection [was] finished…to a professional standard.
That is quite a feat. Let’s talk about the woman your designs are created for; who is she?
It could be any woman. As long as she is confident in her own skin and wants to make an impact, then she can pull off any of my designs.
Aside from this confident woman, what is the inspiration behind your S/S 12 collection?
It was about the visual language that clothing possesses, optimizing on associations and contradicting them against one another. Incorporating a difference within the one outfit, which changes depending on the environment, hence why I used multiple reflective fabrics.
Does your AW12 line stick to a similar concept?
The new AW12 collection developed on from this same idea and used a more organic form of disguise, yet maintaining the sleek silhouette from before. I feel the new season’s collection appeals to a more mature audience.
If you could pick any woman (dead or alive) to wear a piece from your collections, who would it be and which piece would you have them wear?
That is easy for me: Rosie Huntington Whitely, and it would be the red leopard devore gown from A/W 12. She is my perfect woman, the ultimate representation for my brand, and on a personal level, her background appeals to me as she grew up on a farm in Devon. I’m a sucker for a country girl.
What designers inspire you? For us, we see the Gucci and Tom Ford woman in your designs–very powerful with an intense sex appeal…
Wow, thank you. I take that as a massive compliment and you’d be correct. Tom Ford is my idol, he can do no wrong in my eyes, I would love to one day work in his design team. Gucci did something similar to my AW leopard print in their AW12 collection, I suppose we must be on the same wavelength. Another would be Versace; if I was a woman I would be head to toe in Versace…and Louis Heal, of course.
The majority of your collection is glamorous evening wear. Is this the area you hope to stay focused on?
I hope so, it’s what I feel I do best. In my future collections I want to expand the variation to suit all evening occasions. I’ve included accessories in my collections to date, which I also wish to continue with.
Think you’ll stick to the solo path, or is there a certain fashion house/label you dream of working for? You mentioned Tom Ford…
At the moment I’m concentrating solely on the here and now, who knows what the future holds. But as I said before, if the opportunity came knocking from Tom Ford, I would be skipping around London with joy.
What draws you to your current city of residence?
London will always be my favourite city, its been a catalyst for my skills, and a home from home. There are endless things to inspire you around every corner, and you’ll never be without something to do. I have met some amazing individuals here. I’ve come to count myself as a true Londoner these days.
Is London a hospitable place for up-and-coming designers?
This is where I get serious and the issue is one I’m passionate about. I have met many young designers who I count as talented, but they have only remained up-and-coming. Honestly, there is not much support to aspiring designers available, and it’s one of the hardest, if not the hardest industries to get a break [in], there is a lot of hoping involved. Lately I think of it as more a case of endurance.
Perhaps there are other cities then you hope to work in?
If there was one place to tempt me away from my London comforts it would be Paris. I’ve visited Paris on many holidays and [will] always be in adoration of it. Yet, I refuse to contemplate relocating there until I know the language, which I plan to start soon, as it’s been on my “to do” list for a while.