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Meet the alumnus: Fleet Bigwood

05 November 2017 by Roger Tredre

We’re sitting in a quiet corner at Central Saint Martins next to the MA Fashion studios. We’re with Texprint alumnus Fleet Bigwood, the textile designer with arguably the most secretive career in the fashion industry.

Fleet is showing us a book that he has published that is so secret it will never appear in any bookshop. One hundred copies only, distributed to a hand-picked list of clients. It features an astonishing panorama of the fashion houses and designers he has worked with over a 25-year career. And – incredible but true – none of them want him to talk about it!

We start laughing at the bizarre nature of his career and the bizarre nature of this interview. We can’t discuss anything, and we certainly can’t photograph anything. Because Fleet Bigwood has built his career on taking on special commissions for leading international fashion houses and designers that are credited to the commissioner contractually and never to Fleet himself.

The studio in Clapham, south London

Is there anything we can talk about? “Er,” says Fleet, brow furrowed, looking a little anxious. “Early McQueen?”

Bigwood taught Alexander McQueen at Central Saint Martins, the college where he still lectures and is pathway tutor of Textiles for Fashion on the MA Fashion course. “When McQueen graduated, only Isabella Blow showed any interest. There was a sense of anger and frustration about him. Between us, we decided we would do something together. So I made fabrics, he cut clothes, he made fabrics – and he launched. The first three seasons I was paid with one pair of Converse shoes. There was no money, not a penny to be had.”

Image from 'the Bigwood book', early Alexander McQueen

Then a call came from New York. “I got offered a position at Donna Karan for what was then a vast amount of money, and I obviously had to take that. I was Donna’s Director of Print for 20 years.”

There was a point when his contractual obligations at Donna Karan allowed him to work elsewhere as long as it wasn’t with direct competitors in America. Among the few names he will mention is Phoebe Philo, with whom he worked very happily at Chloe. “Phoebe and McQueen are some of the most creative, visionary designers I’ve ever worked with. Both unorthodox, both obsessional characters, both trying to push boundaries.”

When he’s not at CSM, Bigwood works from his studio in Clapham, south London, with partner Birgitte Appleyard. The business is titled David Fleet Bigwood, but don’t look for a website – it’s all a secret!

The studio in Clapham, south London

Bigwood studied at Camberwell College of Art and then added an MA in printed textiles at Saint Martins College of Art (CSM’s former name). On graduating, he was selected for Texprint. “It was a fantastic experience. They were very organised and really helped me to see where I might fit into the textiles world. I realised quickly that I was never going to be a studio designer. I’m too fidgety. I love the fact that at CSM I can flit around from one student to another. I don’t have to sit down all day.”

The studio in Clapham, south London

He could be a global fashion name, but Fleet Bigwood is content being a backroom creative. “I am quite happy to morph into the aesthetic of a particular client. If I had the money, I still wouldn’t choose to do my own label collection. I am happiest being creative behind the scenes.”

The briefs he receives are unpredictable, ranging from thorough mood boards to “something just the size of a postage stamp”. His exceptional ability to empathise with a designer and adapt to the designer’s creative handwriting puts him in a league of his own. But ssshh! We’ve already said too much…

The studio in Clapham, south London


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