At home with Margaret Howell

At home with British clothing designer Margaret Howell, who talks relaxation, treasured objects and her creative process

Margaret Howell at home by white wall
Objects found on the beach by Margaret Howell
(Image credit: Photography by Margaret Howell on iPhone)

Here, as seen in the March 2023 Style Issue of Wallpaper* and accompanied by her own iPhone photographs, we talk domestic bliss with British clothing designer Margaret Howell, who splits her time between south-east London and a holiday home on the Suffolk coast. 

At home with Margaret Howell

Designer Margaret Howell at home by white wall

Margaret Howell

(Image credit: Photography by Ellen Nolan, courtesy of Margaret Howell)

Wallpaper*: Can you tell us a little about your home?

Margaret Howell: I live in south-east London, but my neighbourhood is very leafy and green. There are ponds, Georgian terraces, graceful church spires, and a few hints of modernist architecture. I also really appreciate the independent butchers, fishmongers and bakeries that are all within walking distance. 

W*: Where and when do you find that you are most productive?

MH: It can be anytime, anywhere. I get a lot of my written work done on my train journeys between Suffolk and London. 

W*: Where is your favourite place at home?

MH: Relaxing in my little bathtub with a view of the setting sun on a summer’s evening, listening to In Tune Mixtape on BBC Radio 3.

W*: What do you collect?

MH: I’m not the kind of collector who goes out looking for a particular type of thing. But every so often I find something that attracts me, usually on the beach, that could be the start of a collection. There was a time when I used to collect pebbles with patterns that resembled engraved numbers and letters.

Margaret howell close up in denim jeans

Howell wearing the Levi’s ‘Big E’ jeans that belonged to her father in the 1960s

(Image credit: Photography by Margaret Howell on iPhone)

W*: What excites you about clothing?

MH: Achieving the spirit and character of an idea. Getting the right fabric for the right concept, and perfecting the proportions, fit and detail. 

W*: What are the ideal conditions for creating?

MH: When I started my career in the early 1970s, I would put some music on, sit down with pencil and paper, and think: ‘What would I like to wear?’ and then start drawing.

W*: Do you have any rituals? 

MH: I like to start the day with some form of outdoor exercise; walking, swimming or cycling. It gives me my fix for the day. 

W*: What are you working on at the moment?

MH: A/W 2023.

Photograph of a page in a book with a woman on it

One of Howell’s favourite photographs, Girl Jiving, Southam Street, 1957, by Roger Mayne

(Image credit: Photography by Margaret Howell on iPhone)

W*: Is there a particular part of the process of creating a collection you especially enjoy?

MH: As a design director, I enjoy editing at all stages of creation, keeping an eye on proportion and detail. But a collection, whether for a show or photography, requires a different kind of editing. I also enjoy working with a stylist on our collection release when we can be experimental and can exaggerate our clothes in a freer way. 

W*: Where do you go for inspiration? 

MH: At one level, when I’m walking in the countryside. But very often I find inspiration from social documentary photographs of people in real situations, past or present. Occasionally I notice someone on the street whose style I respond to – it could simply be a group of workmen in their overalls. 

W*: Do you have a favourite item of clothing? 

MH: A pair of Levi’s ‘Big E’ jeans that belonged to my father in the 1960s. I love the wide, straight-leg style and the toughness of the denim, as well as the sentimental value.

W*: How do you switch off?  

MH: Cooking supper with a glass of wine.

Photograph of bike with bike shoes next to it

Howell’s bike and walking shoes

(Image credit: Photography by Margaret Howell on iPhone)

W*: Outside of your home, what is your favourite place in the world?

MH: Lying on an empty beach after a sea swim, being warmed by the sun.

W*: Can you tell us a memorable view?

MH: On the train from Suffolk back to London, the sight of the Stour Estuary and mudflats. An expansive view that never fails to disappoint, whether at high or low tide.

W*: What are you currently reading? 

MH: I was given Alan Bennett’s Pandemic Diaries at Christmas. I love the way he combines humour and poignancy. 

W*: What is your favourite indulgence?

MH: A Japanese massage.

Pebbles with 3 and 0 engraved on them

Collected pebbles featuring naturally engraved numbers

(Image credit: Photography by Margaret Howell on iPhone)

W*: What would you serve if Wallpaper* came for dinner? 

MH: Something homemade. Like a steak and kidney pie, or a casserole. 

W*: Is there an item at home that you particularly treasure?

MH: I have a small, framed photograph of an image I took to use up the last shot on a roll of black-and-white film. It later turned out to have enormous personal significance. 

W*: If you weren’t a clothing designer, what would you be?

MH: I don’t know, but I can’t imagine a job where I wasn’t being creative in some way. Perhaps a gardener, but I think I would have trouble remembering the Latin names! 

Sketch of clothing by Margaret Howell

An early sketch by Howell

(Image credit: Photography by Margaret Howell on iPhone)

W*: What one piece of advice would you give for the next generation? 

MH: Buy only what you really need. 

W*: What’s next on your to-do list?

MH: Sorting out my photographs. I have taken pictures for well over 60 years, and on several occasions I have tried but been unsuccessful in cataloguing them.

A version of this story appears in the March 2023 Style Issue of Wallpaper*, available now in print, on the Wallpaper* app on Apple iOS, and to subscribers of Apple News +. Subscribe to Wallpaper* today

margarethowell.co.uk

Fashion Features Editor

Jack Moss is the Fashion Features Editor at Wallpaper*. Having previously held roles at 10, 10 Men and AnOther magazines, he joined the team in 2022. His work has a particular focus on the moments where fashion and style intersect with other creative disciplines – among them art and design – as well as championing a new generation of international talent and profiling the industry’s leading figures and brands. 

With contributions from