The quiet beauty of Margaret Howell’s work reveals itself over time: the quality of a jacket that develops a charming, weathered patina as it’s worn in over the years, or the sense that her hefty knits are robust enough to be passed on from generation to generation. It informs her approach to seasonal collections, too. Rather than unveiling a dramatically new offering every six months, each lookbook feels like an incremental step forward from the last; and with her meticulously managed archive, they often riff on patterns and silhouettes from collections crafted many decades ago. The new twists and tweaks are always there—you just have to look a little more closely than usual to find them.
This time around, changes came in the magnified proportions Howell has been playing around with over the past few seasons. There were casual, workwear-inflected blazers that came boxy and oversized—cut in everything from luxurious black velvet to thick, satisfyingly chunky gray tweed to tough Japanese moleskins—as well as shirts with playfully exaggerated large collars and baggy trousers that were deliberately sliced above the ankle for a shape that felt firmly of the moment. A particular highlight was a pair of waxed fisherman’s jackets in butter yellow and hunter green, popping from the pages of Howell’s stylishly-assembled lookbook.
“I think some of the archive pieces are still very relevant, but obviously we always give them a new interpretation with fabric, color, or length,” said Howell of this process of rediscovering and updating. “We do design very wearable clothes, but it’s great fun to mix them up and find there’s something fresh in them still.” She noted that when pulling a standard ’70s shirt from the archive and laying it alongside one from 2022, they look like they’re made for David and Goliath. It’s the kind of thing you only notice when you have an archive as extensive as hers, speaking not only to her impressive knowledge of fashion history but also her ability to keep her eye trained on the now—to use that erudition to keep evolving.
Another way in which the 75-year-old designer’s endless curiosity continues to shine is in her shrewd instinct for collaboration—whether her decades-long relationships with the textile mills she visits every season in person to touch and feel their latest fabrications, or her ongoing partnerships with specialist garment manufacturers like the coat makers Mackintosh and cobblers Tricker’s, each of whom features in Howell’s current collection. The most intriguing addition, however, is the Japanese sportswear giant Mizuno, with whom Howell has developed rainproof ponchos and sneakers, and is now working on swimwear.
The idea of slinky swimsuits cut from technical fabrics entering the rarefied world of Howell’s designs, which one tends to associate with a certain kind of mid-century-obsessed, chic London literary type or discerning Tokyo design junkie, is not as strange as it might initially seem. “It’s always been casual, hasn’t it?” Howell said of her work. “It’s meant for an active life, and for the individual choice of putting this with that. It all relates to really useful clothing—that was always the stimulus for me.” She’s right: however palpably luxurious and impeccably-made, her designs have always served as something of a riposte to the buttoned-up codes of Britain’s style heritage. So it’s a delight to see that, after 50 years in the business, Howell is still willing to plunge into new waters.