marchioness > digital > Kathryn Hewitson: 'I've always been contrary'
Interview by Lucy Vipond —  Edited by Jessica Fynn

Kathryn Hewitson: 'I've always been contrary'

Marchioness meets designer and founder of Pristine, Kathryn Hewitson to chat FASHION FANTASIES, BAD TASTE, TOO-SHORT SKIRTS, LATE ‘70S UNDERGROUND BRITISH PUNK, SEX SHOP BY VIVIENNE WESTWOOD, BEING THE AGITATOR and the RIOTOUS ROMANCES that inspired her upcoming SS/22 collection.
© Anna Sampson

Kathryn Hewitson answers the door in fishnets, barbed wire printed shorts by her fashion label Pristine, and a faded pink Jayne Mansfield printed tee reading ‘porno’ in a glitzy font. She exudes a jaded sort of glamour, her platinum blonde hair in perfectly dismantled pin curls; she is how I wanted to look as a teen, but with the wit I aspire to in my early twenties.


Before Kathryn takes me up to her home studio, I apologise in advance as I have a tendency to flash people with my barely there skirt, but her quick dismissal could’ve been predicted. Pristine isn't for the prudish, their signature design being the ‘too-short skirt’ often embossed with a woman’s crotch in vintage lingerie. In under a year, Kathryn’s irreverence has established Pristine and amassed a cult following from her home, her clothing worn by darlings Brooke Candy, Bimini Bon-Boulash, Olivia Rodrigo and angsty fashion it-girls alike. Think Alberto Vargas’ pin up meets grunge heroine, that is Pristine. It is classic beauty with an anti-establishment attitude, perfectly disillusioned and self-aware.


“I don’t know where else I would go to buy a great little dress,” Kathryn frankly shares, referring to luxury fashion no longer utilising the fineries available to them but maintaining the steep price. Pristine prioritises craftsmanship. French lace, fine silks and tartan woven in Scotland are staples, to help maintain these mills but also because Kathryn couldn’t help resist. Meeting someone in fashion who still has the same awestruck fascination they possessed when they began is a special rarity. You can see it in her clothes, frothy and slick; they’re arousing to look at. A love letter to the stylish women who have inspired her.


Post-university, internships and time at designers Meadham Kirchhoff (RIP) and Ashley Wiliams, Kathryn has remained unshaken by the exploitative system, pretension and other industry cliches, rather she remains dedicated to changing these norms. Offering opinions backed by action, she is thriving in her defiance. It is quite punk, if punk had its shit together. 



What are your earliest memories of fashion?


God, that's hard. I was one of those kids that was always obsessed with clothes. All my friends were Tomboys and I was obsessed with Barbies and everything had to be pink, which is sort of a cliche. I remember wearing pink sparkly cowboy hats, stupid crap like that when I was eight. No one in my family is like that. I'm not one of those people that would say, ‘Oh, my mum was so glamorous, I would watch her put lipstick on’. That wasn't really my experience. I don't really know where it came from, to be honest, but it's been there since I was tiny. I was strutting around as a four year old like, ‘I want to be a fashion designer’.


How was high school? Did you have loads of friends?


Absolutely not! No, I'm from West Cumbria so proper rural, middle of nowhere living. I was the weirdo, which I don't regret. I was bullied a lot, but it never really bothered me all that much. In my head, and this makes me sound like an arsehole, I was like, ‘I don't care, you can take the piss all you want, but I'd rather be me than you.’ I have always liked the same stuff since I was in my teens and first got on the internet. It makes me feel warm and fuzzy to think teenage me would love the stuff that I’m making now. 


What were you finding on the internet? 


Oh, hanging about on The Distiller’s fan forum. I remember spending loads of time on this forum when I was about fourteen. It was mainly girls in America that were just into cool stuff, good music and sharing ways they were gonna customise their t-shirts. Quite innocent stuff, but my dad was really paranoid about the internet. He would be like ‘what are you doing? They’re going to steal our bank details’. I suppose you can see the difference between what I cared about, versus my family just not getting it.


Did you have fantasies of what London would be like?


I've said it to friends before, but I feel the London that I imagined used to exist, it doesn't exist anymore. Especially because of all the things I'm so obsessed with: underground British punk culture from the late 70s and 80s. You imagine this amazing place, there are still pockets of that, but London doesn't feel like this buzzy hub of excitement because everyone's just too broke. Maybe there's more to it than that, like the internet. I'm disappointed in what London is, to be honest. I don't know if I'd move, but me and my boyfriend talk about it all the time, and I just don't know where else we would go. Every now and again, I'm like maybe we should try to move to LA. I’ve never been there, I just like the idea, but then America has got its own whole host of problems.


You described your first brand, Kathryn Hewitson, as a vanity project. What did you mean by that?


Oh, it never existed. I made a collection and then got too scared to do anything with it. This was in 2016. I was thinking about this earlier today. When I was a kid, I would have imagined this company would be in my own name and I would be the face of it. It's hard when you love what you do to draw a line. It’s really not good for you to become consumingly obsessed. Ultimately, it's going to take on a life of its own for it to work and do well. It's not just about what I want and what I like, it's about what the customers care about as well. That doesn't mean you have to completely sell out, but I need it to work and make money. That feels like a bit of a dirty thing; for so long, people have looked down on the idea of making commercial clothes. I think because 99% of the people, especially in London, have these small brands and they're just rich people that want an expensive, cool hobby. The ones that aren't, they go out of business really quickly. I can't be ashamed of wanting to make things that sell. I still want it to be fun, interesting, nicely made and whatever. I think if you were looking to buy from a small designer, you want something that feels a bit special. 


Going independent in fashion is brave, what led you to Pristine?


I had ongoing health issues and finally felt on top of all of that in late 2019. I was like next year, I'm going to dedicate myself to working on this brand. I went into my last job thinking ‘this is the last job I'm going to have’. Obviously, 2020 turned into an absolute shit show. I was still working on and off through most of it, but I had that little bit of extra time off which helped. I basically spent the year working on samples, selling half the bloody things I owned on Depop and working either full time or part time based on furlough. Towards the end of the year, I had a collection ready and began planning the shoot. That was when the internet was just losing their mind about corsets. I was like I'm going to take advantage of this demand and make a few quid to help fund all the shoots, because it's so expensive. This was November of last year, I made a couple in a black organic cotton and put them on Depop. It went mad, I got so many orders. 


I said to my work that I was going to have to go, and gave them my notice. I didn't tell my parents until literally my last day because I knew that they'd be terrified. I was terrified, my boyfriend was terrified, but you've just got to trust your gut. My last day was going to be the day after I launched. I was either going in there really pleased or shitting myself and begging for my job back. Fortunately, things went really well and it's kept going ever since. It's up and down but it's steady. I thought I would be doing this on the side for years and years. The fact I launched and it instantly became my job is amazing. Stressful and overwhelming, but I feel lucky. I don't know if it's luck or what it is, but the best case scenario happened, which feels so rare. Up until this point in my life, everything that I've managed to work towards, I've had to work really fucking hard for. This is the thing I thought would be the biggest struggle, and it's not been easy, but there's been the least resistance.


Where do your design ideas come from?


It's annoying sometimes you can't remember the exact thought process that led you to an idea. The other day, I was lying in bed to go to sleep then I jumped up and ran in here. My boyfriend was like, ‘what are you doing?’ I was like, ‘I just had an idea that's really good’ as I frantically sketch, like, if I forget this in the morning I'm going to regret it. That is one of the pieces that I’m working on for the new collection that I'm most excited about. Things seem to happen quite organically.


The tongue-in-cheek Angelyne skirt has become a signature, what was the rationale behind it?


It’s a really cute little shape. It's a bit short but I think that's the way to go with the skirt - your legs look great! It feels a bit punk, it's a bit of a fuck you to someone walking down the street. It's got a sense of humour about it, but that doesn't mean it's not made out of silk that's far too expensive. 


COLLECTION & STYLING Pristine PHOTOGRAPHY Anna Sampson HAIR Jenny Green MAKEUP Grace Ellington MODELS Isabella Stokes & Bella Haynes STYLING ASSISTANT Keala Seitz LATEX House of Harlot

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COLLECTION & STYLING Pristine PHOTOGRAPHY Anna Sampson HAIR Jenny Green MAKEUP Grace Ellington MODELS Isabella Stokes & Bella Haynes STYLING ASSISTANT Keala Seitz LATEX House of Harlot

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COLLECTION & STYLING Pristine PHOTOGRAPHY Anna Sampson HAIR Jenny Green MAKEUP Grace Ellington MODELS Isabella Stokes & Bella Haynes STYLING ASSISTANT Keala Seitz LATEX House of Harlot

press to zoom

COLLECTION & STYLING Pristine PHOTOGRAPHY Anna Sampson HAIR Jenny Green MAKEUP Grace Ellington MODELS Isabella Stokes & Bella Haynes STYLING ASSISTANT Keala Seitz LATEX House of Harlot

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The right people seem to be finding your brand.


It seems like it. The growth that I've had on social media I still find mind blowing. I started sampling things for the new collection, I made a toile and posted a picture on Instagram the other day. The response from people was mad. It's so nice to realise that when I'm coming up with these ideas for new pieces I'm developing this inbuilt understanding of the middle ground between my personal taste versus what people are going to want. Not in a money making sense, more that the brand is taking on its own identity. Personally, I've never really been a big user of Instagram. I suppose it's easier when you have something physical to share with people, there's a purpose for it. I've never really felt comfortable taking photos of my outfits, even though I wish I did, because I have good outfits. 


Where did your love of ‘bad taste’ come from? I know you’re a big John Waters fan!


I've always been contrary. I think being able to annoy somebody is actually really powerful. Not to the point of advocating for violence or intentionally being offensive, but there's something to be said for poking fun at someone, being an agitator, it's just quite funny. My favourite John Waters film is probably Female Trouble. When I was younger, me and my friends were obsessed with the idea that ‘crime enhances one's beauty’. 


Where do you go shopping for yourself? 


I hardly buy clothes now because I tend to wear my own. The only things I'll buy now are the stuff that I don't necessarily make, like shoes. I’m still an advocate of eBay, which doesn't seem to get the love that it deserves these days, but you get bargains on there. Occasionally I’ll get things from other small brands. This t-shirt’s from this amazing girl in LA that's called Hollywood Lowbrow, the prints are amazing. There are certain things I’m obsessed with finding, pieces that are in my head and if I ever come across them and have the money, I would love to own them. I have Saved Searches for everything. I can't remember the exact season, but this Miu Miu collection had all these amazing leather jackets with star applique. There's been other things in the past that have been on that list and I've actually got them but sold them to fund this. I don't necessarily regret it. It's nice to have had those things. I had an amazing Dior saddlebag that I bought years and years ago, it was all pink and had ‘filth’ in a rancid font across it. I loved it, but sold it to buy fabric. Oh, you know the Prada collection that was all chandeliers? I had a pair of shoes from that and they were brilliant. I think it's fun, hunting down special pieces. I really want a Luella bag that’s handle is a giant safety pin, you don't really see them anywhere. Usually you find these things, it might take 10 years, but eventually you will find them.


What is something you geek out on? 


Can I say making clothes? No, it's bad. I'm having the realisation that I need to try and force myself to find a hobby, because now the thing that was always my hobby is now my job. I need to find something to do that means that I can switch off from what I'm doing, I just don’t know what it is yet. I bought some oil paint, but I'm too hyperactive to do something that you do for an hour and then come back to it in three weeks. Maybe I need some kind of exercise? I've never come across anything that brings me as much pleasure as making clothes…This is what I’m obsessed with: baths! It's the only time I'm not frantically trying to find something else to do. Literally, baths. It’s my happy place. My boyfriend jokes that I like to hang out in the bath the way that other people do in the living room. I will read, I will watch things, I will have a drink. A bath in the morning with a coffee is a very nice way to start the day. 


How do you create your work environment? 


I tend to listen to a lot of podcasts. Do you know who Madeline Pendleton is? There's an American brand called Tunnel Vision and they make what I would wear when I was a teenager; it's like ethically made Hot Topic. Madeline has this podcast where she's talking about politics. It's all America-centric, talking about how fucked the military and the health service is from a purely socialist or communist perspective. It’s entirely not what I would have expected, she's talking about Tunnel Vision and how she runs it like a cooperative. She pays everyone in the company the same and profit shares with all the people that work with her. She gives me hope that you can actually grow something in a way that isn't entirely evil. It's called Pick Me Up, I'm Scared. 

Every now and again, I'll listen to music when I'm working. I feel I do things so much faster and better because I'm in the groove. It depends what mood I'm in. Most of the music I'm into is quite rowdy and if it's like 10 o'clock in the morning, it's not necessarily what you feel like.


Give us some recommendations? 


My favourite album would probably be the first Go-Gos album. People don’t give The Go Go's enough appreciation. They're incredible. They also sum up quite well the feeling of my clothes, they come from the LA punk scene, but ultimately ended up being this huge pop band. All of their songs, despite being incredibly catchy and quite popish in their style, still have a sting in their tail. 


Tell us about your next collection coming out in March? 


The new collection that I'm working on is really over the top romantic. I was looking through all the old Frederick's of Hollywood catalogues from the 50s, 60s and 70s. Some of the graphics are amazing, one of the pages had this huge slogan ‘riotous romances’. It's funny, I wasn’t looking for the text, but I read that and it evocatively summed up exactly how I was feeling. It's so cringe, but it's true, the universe just kind of puts things together in the right way, or maybe it's in your own head, and you just see patterns for a certain reason. 


I’m bloody excited about it. I love the idea of doing a real life event, I don’t know if that's going to happen or not, based on the pandemic and financially. You just get seduced by the idea of creating that world. My boyfriend has been using it as an excuse for all the records he's been buying over the last two months. He's like, ‘I could DJ at your party and I could play this’. When the time comes for something like that to happen it will be amazing but I don’t know if it will be in March. Everything is expensive. Especially when I get really carried away with fabrics. I got these laces, they came earlier and they’re just the most beautiful thing. They literally just arrived before you did. When you leave I’m probably going to stare at them for an hour, then go in the bath and think about them.


What does the future look like for Pristine? 


The child in me would have said ‘I want to be a huge brand that has stores everywhere and is a household name’, but I don't want that. I want a nice life and I don't think you can be as huge as that without there being sacrifices. I don't want the stress that comes with that either. I want to have something that's kind of no bigger than this and own a decent amount of money and share profits with people, so everyone can have a bit of a nice existence making great things. I love the idea of a store in theory. I fantasise about Sex, Vivienne Westwood’s shop in the 70s, and the idea that people would go on this pilgrimage from all over the world to this place. I just love the idea of creating that world; how it would be decorated, the pieces we would sell and how it would smell. The problem is, for it to be successful, the brand would have to be established enough that it could be anywhere and people would want to go, which is a long way away. With the way that rent is I don't know if it could pay for itself these days. I don't want to end up like fucking Betsey Johnson and be making naff bedding for TK Maxx. You still want to have integrity. I don't want to be in my bedroom doing this forever, but at the same time if I am, that's okay.


What frightens you?


Dying. It is the obvious one. I had breast cancer when I was 24. These things get portrayed in films and the media and stuff like you come out the other side with such a thirst for life. I spent a good few months being absolutely terrified I was going to die and actually, that stays with you. I definitely have a slightly over the top fear of death which has got worse after that. I suppose you just got to think it's motivating. I’m also really excited with where things are going in my life at the moment and I suppose the counter of that is you feel like it's all going to get taken away from you any moment. Which can happen and I'd be fine, but I don't want it.


What keeps you optimistic?


Every time I walk past the Amazon Fresh in Dalston there's no one in it! It makes me think that maybe society is not completely ruined. 


© COLLECTION & STYLING Pristine  PHOTOGRAPHY Anna Sampson  HAIR Jenny Green  

MAKEUP Grace Ellington  MODELS Isabella Stokes & Bella Haynes  

STYLING ASSISTANT Keala Seitz  LATEX House of Harlot