LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Sketching glamorous frocks for a new collection, casting models for a catwalk show and starring in a popular reality television series are all part of a day's work for American-born designer Ben de Lisi.
Known for his signature floor-skimming dresses, the 52-year-old de Lisi unveiled his Autumn/Winter 2008 collection at London Fashion Week on Sunday.
In addition to his independent label, he designs a diffusion line for British department-store group Debenhams, does interior design, and acts as mentor to competing designers on the television series Project Catwalk, hosted by Kelly Osbourne.
Ten days before his catwalk show, de Lisi spoke to Reuters about his life and career in his exclusive Belgravia boutique.
Q: How did you end up in fashion?
A: "I studied sculpture and painting but I didn't want to be a starving artist, so I started painting fabric for a young designer in America. Then I learned how to sew and create, one thing led to another, and I started to design clothes."
Q: Why did you come to London (in 1982)?
A: "I followed my heart."
Q: How has the London fashion scene changed over the years?
A: "I think people have become better dressed, they understand quality, whereas when I first moved here it was more about disposable fashion and trend than anything else."
Q: What do you think of all these big names (Luella, Vivienne Westwood, Stella McCartney) coming back to London?
A: People don't just come back to London because they love London, they do it because it's a good business move. It has nothing to do with dedication or loyalty.
Q: What can we expect from your new collection?
A: "It's an urban color palette - pewters, graphites, granites, bronzes... It has a 70s vibe, and is both sweet and fierce. For example, you have a pretty party dress and the top is all beautiful black lace, the bottom is PVC."
Q: How did you end up on "Project Catwalk"?
A: "I was asked to do Project Catwalk three years ago, this is my third season. As the mentor, I can impart my knowledge to the designers and cultivate them. I love the whole medium of television, I'm very good at it and I don't give criticism gratuitously, it has to be constructive."
Q: Do you enjoy working with Kelly Osbourne?
A: "I do enjoy working with Kelly. She has a very definitive style and character... we have very different opinions. I think she respects me for the many years of experience I have. I've been in the business longer than she's been alive!"
Q: Given Osbourne's relative inexperience, does it strike you as odd that she is hosting this?
A: "No. It's the power of celebrity -- she is the daughter of rock royalty."
Q: What is your studio like?
A: "The studio is underneath the shop and it's a big mess because there are sewing machines, rolls of fabric and patterns everywhere. It's an old building so there are lots of little rooms connected by tunnels -- like a little treasure trail!"
Q: Where do you create your collections?
A: "I sketch and design at home. My house is a safe-haven for me. Then I come to the shop, talk to my staff, we all brainstorm. Here, we actually make and create the samples, and get the collection done. I just keep an eye on things. But in the run-up to fashion week, because I'm impetuous, I will sit at a sewing machines to help get things done. I'm quite hands on."
Q: Are you going to check out the competition during fashion week and attend other shows?
A: "No I never go. I don't want to second guess myself."
Q: Do you choose the models for your show?
A: "We do castings just two day before the show because the models are in the United States (for New York Fashion Week). We just have to look for 16 girls - and we're not sure we're going to find the right models. It all depends on who is here."
Q: If a model doesn't turn up on the day, what do you do?
A: "Steal a model from someone else."
Q: Is preparing a collection for fashion week stressful?
A: "It definitely zaps you. You work to a fever pitch and then you have this anti-climax afterwards, and you have to fill your time with something else. Then again, you have the next collection for which you have to buy fabrics."
Q: Where do you get your fabrics?
A: "I go to a show in Paris called Premiere Vision and look at the fabrics there. I also deal with some agents who have some really beautiful collections. Generally my fabrics are Italian, French, Swiss, Umbrian..."
Q: What do you usually wear?
A: "For work, it has to be Thomas Pink fitted white shirts, Edwin jeans dark blue. My dressing up outfit is Kilgour suits because they are the sexiest suits alive. I stick to it because I know my style it's classic with a boyish twist to it."
Editing by Paul Casciato