Colin McDowell has been in the fashion business for over thirty years although he never studied fashion, going to a traditional university to read English Literature instead. He became involved in fashion after trying his hand as an actor, artist and educator.
He learned the trade of fashion design in Italy in the seventies, working in Rome as a designer at ready-to-wear and couture levels. He is the only fashion journalist who has been on the other side of the catwalk and he not only understands the aesthetic of fashion design from first hand knowledge but also the creative stress and strain that goes into a collection and fashion show. Apart form his work as a designer, his experience in Italy was wide and included editing a trade magazine and arranging exhibitions.
McDowell returned to London in the early eighties where he briefly lectured at St Martins School of Art and had the privilege of teaching John Galliano. He began to write for newspapers and soon had work published in all the quality titles, pre-eminently The Guardian.
From there he moved to The Sunday Times to become its fashion writer, a role that continued with the introduction of Style, for which he still writes.
His time in teaching made him aware of the fact that there were few reference works for fashion students to consult. To answer the need, he wrote his ground-breaking Directory of Twentieth Century Fashion, a work of reference listing all the important designers of the twentieth century. It became a standard work and it set off a flurry of imitations. McDowell went on to write 16 further books on fashion and dress, including two popular novels set in the Italian fashion world. He is currently working on book projects with the publisher Phaidon.
In 2004, McDowell founded Fashion Fringe, an initiative for finding, funding and mentoring young British designers in order to combat the two evils of London fashion at the time: lack of funding and the brain-drain to more prosperous fashion capitals. He is the creative director of its development, Fashion Fringe @ Covent Garden.
Colin McDowell takes a broad view of fashion as a cultural force. He has run The Edinburgh Fashion Festival and is currently international creative director of The Singapore Fashion Festival. His interests are increasingly focused on the ethical questions that arise from the sourcing and manufacture of fabrics and clothing, especially in relation to third world economies. He has chaired several ethical conferences, including most recently one in Sri Lanka.
McDowell travels widely giving lectures and contributing to seminars and conferences. He is a regular broadcaster on TV and radio as a writer and presenter of programmes as well as a ‘talking head’ about fashion and clothes, especially their sociological significance.
He has Honorary Doctorates from The University of the Arts (London) and Heriot Watts University, Edinburgh. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and was appointed MBE in the New Year Honours List 2008.
Colin has written over 22 books on fashion and related subjects, including the seminal McDowell’s Directory of Twentieth Century Fashion; Shoes: Fashion and Fantasy; Hats: Status, Style and Glamour; Drawing Fashion (in conjunction with an exhibition of the same name that he curated for the Design Museum); and Fashion Today. Colin’s latest book is The Anatomy of Fashion: Why We Dress The Way We Do was published in October 2013 by Phaidon.