In conversation with fashion editor, Catherine Hayward
Written by Nick Carvell
Even if you don’t know stylist Catherine Hayward by name, you’ll have seen her work while browsing the newsstands. As Fashion Director of the British edition of Esquire magazine since the early 2000s, she has styled countless celebrity covers for the publication - not to mention hundreds of fashion photoshoots inside, as well as commercials and all manner of influential men who get snapped on the red carpet. Whichever of these you might have glimpsed, the thing that shines through in the way Catherine styles is her deep knowledge of tailoring history and her ever-evolving interest in the way clothes are worn.
It’s a point of view she’s continued to express with the creative projects she’s pursued since last year, when she left Esquire to go solo. Having worked in the fashion industry for almost three decades, this move has re-ignited a passion in her career, not just liberating her from the constant churn of having to please advertisers at a magazine, but by coinciding with a palpable cultural shift: increasingly blurred gender lines between menswear and womenswear that are liberating more people than ever to dress exactly how they want.
“I find it really exciting to see someone like Harry Styles, who is so super famous, wearing a dress on the cover of Vogue,” says Catherine. “People being mean about how someone else chooses to express themselves comes from a place of fear and insecurity. It’s great to see famous people blurring those gender lines, wearing what they want and using their voice to silence critics and empower others to be themselves - whatever form that takes.”
Here, Catherine ventures to the other side of the camera to style out New & Lingwood's latest collection - and speaks to us about her career, the defining characteristics of British style, and what it’s like to be one of the few women in a menswear world still dominated by men.
How did you get into the fashion world?
I grew up in Crawley, Sussex before going to what is now the University of Gloucestershire to study for a BA in fashion and textile design with art history.
What was it growing up that made you want to go to uni to study fashion design?
Looking back, my mum and dad were very into clothes, they always would get dressed up for ‘dos’ and my dad was an obsessive Sunday night shoe polisher. My grandmother was the family dressmaker and knitter. She’d be able to whip up an Aran jumper in the space of a conversation. But I’d say it was all mostly subliminal. I remember I was constantly sketching princesses and ballgowns as a kid. When I did my foundation course, it was the era of Madonna’s Blonde Ambition tour and her Jean Paul Gaultier corsets, so I actually started out making corsets when I started out at uni. For my first year freshers ball I made a corset out of a pair of curtains I bought at a charity shop - I think I still have it somewhere (although I had to be cut out of it!).
What caused the move from women’s corsets to menswear?
The reason I got into menswear was actually quite weird. When we were halfway through our second year, there were about 25 of us on my course and everyone was doing womenswear - so my friend and I decided that if we did menswear, the queues for the equipment, the overlockers and felt seamers, would be less because fewer people would need it!
That’s not the only reason, of course - I joke! Looking back, I guess the signs were there from my childhood. My natural style has always been quite tomboyish. I was never a frilly skirt girl. I have always loved jeans and I remember the excitement of going to look for old pairs of Levis 501s to wear on the King’s Road. It was always the boys’ clothes that stood out to me the movies I loved as a child - Cary Grant and Gene Kelly’s costumes, John Travolta’s leather jacket in Grease, flared jeans and cardigans that Starsky and Hutch wore - those were the holy grail for me.”
So after studying fashion design you ended up as an editor and stylist… How did that happen?
When I was doing my degree we learned how to make all sorts of parts of men’s clothing, and I remember getting to use the frilling machine and breaking it. The practical stuff just didn’t seem to flow for me like it did for my classmates. However, I loved the designing and illustrating. In fact, it was towards the end of my time on my course that my tutor noticed my final portfolio looked more like a magazine - and she was the one who told me about the internship at GQ, which is where I ended up starting my styling career after I graduated in 1993.
This was only a few years after GQ launched its UK edition. What was it like to work for the title back then?
When I started at GQ we were the naughty kids, kept in a building around the corner from Vogue House on Hanover Street. This was when Peter Howarth was the Style Editor. During that time the work was really interesting because I had to style a lot of features in the magazine, not just fashion shoots - so I got to work with a lot of people outside of the immediate fashion industry. It was also a really exciting time to work in menswear with the boom in men’s magazines like Loaded and FHM, but also the launch of hugely influential labels like Prada Sport and Jil Sander. I ended up staying for ten years, working my way up from the Fashion Assistant to the Fashion Editor before moving over to be Fashion Director of Esquire in 2003 - a position I left earlier this year.
After nearly 30 years, what keeps you interested in styling?
It’s interesting you should ask that - and I’ve been thinking about it a lot since leaving Esquire. When you work at a big magazine like that, there is a constant list of advertisers whose work you need to feature to keep them happy - to keep them placing advertisements on the pages. You can be creative within these limitations to a certain extent, but now I’m out of it I can see just how restrictive that was. I wanted to break free from that strict corporate world. I recently got to put Bethany Williams on a cover of The Hollywood Reporter that I styled and no-one said anything to the contrary. That was incredibly liberating and really got me excited about my career once again.
I think I’d known that somewhere in the back of my mind since 2017. That year I took some time out to do a commercial job with the photographer Kourtney Roy, shooting on location in Las Vegas for ten days. For that, I had free reign to borrow some high end things, buy some second hand things, and take some pieces with me from emerging designers - it was a really lovely mix of how we all dress. I realised that doing that was the reason I loved being a stylist, and how much I missed being able to do that in my 9-5. What kept me going was the people I got to meet in that role, not just the designers, but also the people I got to style for features - the sportspeople, the politicians, the musicians. People are really what keeps me interested.
Is there a particular person you’ve met who has really changed your perspective on fashion?
Recently I’ve started working with Benedict Cumberbatch. I shot him in the summer, and since then I’ve been styling him for a few of his events. What’s lovely about him is that because he’s a properly famous person that lots of people know whatever their age, he’s got a platform and, rather than wear whatever big labels want him to, he’s made a decision to really shine a spotlight on younger designers who are concentrated on sustainability, as well as the idea of upcycling. He’s already got a lot of suits through his line of work, for example, so he now gets his tailor to tweaks them for events, rather than wearing something new. I admire that.
What’s it like to be a woman in the still overwhelmingly male-dominated world of men’s magazines?
I always find I get an interesting reaction to being a woman who works in menswear. People I meet still seem surprised that I do, even within the industry, and often ask why I work in this industry. There are plenty of men who work in womenswear from designers to editors, but I don’t see many of them ever get asked: “Why are you doing womenswear?”. There’s an element of everyday sexism to it.
What is something that annoys you about the style world?
It annoys me that so much style writing is centred on telling people what to wear. That dictatorial tone that some publications have. I especially hate the phrase “must haves” - nothing is “must have”, especially in an era when we should all be thinking more about the fashion industry’s impact on the world from an environmental perspective.
And finally, what do you think defines British style?
I think what people usually say when they think about British style is Savile Row and tailoring. However, I think it’s more to do with the bloody-minded British psyche. We hate being told what to do. We break rules more than following them. We have an anarchic spirit that runs deep. And I think that’s the reason that most of the big fashion colleges are here in the UK and why so many underground fashion scenes have been born here. I think we’re incredibly experiential when it comes to clothes in a way that many nations aren’t, whatever your style might be.
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