WWD: You were at British Vogue for more than 20 years. What’s been the biggest editorial-to-retail transition?
Kate Phelan: It’s a new language, a whole different world really, but then you always find the parallels. It’s still fashion, it’s still creating, still developing a vision. What’s been fascinating for me is learning the language, seeing the process that it takes to get an idea to the shop floor.
WWD: It’s prom season here in the U.S. What did you wear to yours?
Phelan: When I was growing up we didn’t have proms and when I got to university it was really about how drunk we could get, not about what we were going to wear (laughs). But the whole idea of the prom has taken off big-time in the U.K. and we’ve certainly started venturing more into prom and eveningwear.
WWD: London, like New York, is a walking town. How do you manage cobblestone and uneven sidewalks while wearing the latest towering heels?
Phelan: Oh my God, I have to say I chicken out. I never stroll anywhere, I’m always racing so I wear flats and then have heels in my bag for when I need them. But more often than not they end up staying in the bag.
WWD: You’re a fan of designer Mary Katrantzou. What other young or up-and-comers are you excited about?
Phelan: I think J.W. Anderson is going to be a huge star and Thomas Tait is coming along. I love that Topshop has a platform to really help them at a very early stage, and we are taking on the sponsorship of The British Fashion Council’s NewGen program for another 10 years, which is really good because we help them understand the retail side as that plays a huge part in the next stage of their careers.
WWD: What’s one thing people would be surprised to know about you?
Phelan: Oh gosh, that I’ve got a clothing allotment? No, I guess just that I like to sort of peel the fashion off and go home. I kick of my shoes and put on my sloppy joes. My daughter always says to me, “Why do my friends always have to see you looking so scruffy?” But I suppose I’m very English in that I love being in the countryside and walking my dogs. And I have a weird fascination with reading cookery books.
In Fashion Talks, running every Monday on WWD.com, we chat with retailers and designers about what they love, what they loathe, and what’s driving them right now.