The Wardrobe with Hannah MacGibbon

Button-down

“I wear a baseball cap all the time,” says Hannah. “Maybe I think I’m always having a bad hair day!” Or maybe she can’t resist putting on this exquisite bespoke design in black wool and leather felt that she’s had made up by J SMITH ESQUIRE. “Justin has a lovely atelier in Elephant and Castle,” says Hannah. “Lock’s the hatter recommended him to me.” The coat is a vintage MAISON MARTIN MARGIELA man’s crombie — “I suit a big shoulder” — that she’s wearing over a POLO RALPH LAUREN Oxford shirt — “button-down, women’s, size large” — and SAINT LAURENT jeans. “They’re the only designer piece in my wardrobe. I like them because they’re high-waisted. I wear them with the hem turned up.” The man’s travel clutch is by LOUIS VUITTON; the trainers, REEBOK.

Classic

Anyone familiar with Hannah’s recent work will recognise the palette of her wardrobe: black, navy, camel and cream. “This cream cashmere sweater is from ANDERSON & SHEPPARD in Savile Row. It’s fabulous quality,” says Hannah. She also recommends looking for old-fashioned Ballantyne cashmeres in “those tourist shops with pictures of the Queen. It’s Scottish yarn and it doesn’t bobble.” The trousers were made to Hannah’s design by the master tailor HENRY ROSE. “I want my tailoring to look masculine. He knows how to do that. I go for a high waist, worn low-slung, and a low crotch,” says Hannah. She completes the look with a white REEBOK Classic. “The Classic always gave a great shape to the foot and a bit of height, and they’re really comfortable. I like the fact that they’re so plain — you can wear them with anything.” The camel cap with a suede peak is by J SMITH ESQUIRE.

Sporty

“I loved choosing the fabric for this coat,” says Hannah, who designed it for CHLOÉ’s A/W 2010 collection. “The crombie is a classic piece that relies entirely on traditional fabric in the right weight. So we went to a mill in Italy and spent a long time going through the archive.” Hannah says, however, that she is moving away from camel. “Much as I love it, it’s hard to get the right shade. More often than not, it’s too pink or too orange. It’s the most difficult of volours.” The CHAMPION sweatshirt is a piece she puts on daily — “It’s not a look; I just live in them!” — along with the track pants by SUNSPEL. “I always buy the men’s ones. I roll them up simply because they’re too long, so they have to have a good loop-back lining.” Trainers, REEBOK. Camel cap made, as before, by J SMITH ESQUIRE.

Bespoke

Another monochrome set is this outfit in pale grey. The wool cashmere shirt is semi-bespoke from ANDERSON & SHEPPARD. “There’s a wonderful woman there called Audie who does the yarns. And it’s all about choosing the right cashmere from Scotland,” says Hannah. “Having things made, you go right back to craftsmanship. It’s not about style, it’s about the value of something that has been beautifully made.” Around her shoulders, she wears a cashmere sweater by BALLANTYNE. The pleated trousers are made to her design by HENRY ROSE in wool cashmere. “You get to know your tailor over time,” she says. “It’s a really nice relationship.” The soft cashmere cap, she remarks, “is a bit like a riding hat.” Trainers, REEBOK.

Casual

“It’s kind of bad taste,” says Hannah of this outfit. “Like an old lady in Florida!” But it also reflects her past as a casual, when highly identifiable brands like Burberry and Aquascutum were the objects of her desire. “I couldn’t afford them back then,” she says, so it was with some delight that she discovered this AQUASCUTUM bucket hat and shirt at Camden Stables Market. “To me they’re fully functional working clothes, but people do stop me in the street to talk about what I’m wearing.” The beige trousers were made by HENRY ROSE. The trainers are REEBOK. The LOUIS VUITTON holdall is in constant use. “I take it on the Eurostar, to the gym, or if I go to Portobello Market on a Friday morning,” she says. “I don’t like things that are too ‘fashion’. The classic pieces tend to be better made, too. Though I’ll admit, perhaps this monogram print is a bit tongue-in-cheek. It’s the opposite of an It bag, isn’t it?”

When Hannah MacGibbon is spotted around London, she’s rarely without a baseball cap or a nifty trainer. This most retiring of designers – currently the silent incumbent of several beauty and fashion consultancies – doesn’t believe in Fashion, preferring the confidence and clarity offered by classic styles. Hannah says her talent as a designer lies in “creating the girl and her universe”. Her own will do nicely.

Anyone who’s lusted after a cape in the last decade can lay some of the blame at Hannah MacGibbon’s feet, which will most likely be shod in a size 4 white Reebok Classic. A desire for camel? A longing for a pegged trouser? That’ll be Hannah, too. MacGibbon is one of the fashion industry’s quiet but pervasive players, often in the right place, rarely in the spotlight.

Hannah was Phoebe Philo’s number two during the latter’s creative directorship of Chloé between 2001 and 2006 – a period when the label helped to redefine the way women wanted to dress with a mixture of free-spirited, sun-kissed levity and precise but feminine tailoring. Then from 2008 to 2011, Hannah herself took control, ramping up the label’s 1970s savoir faire.

In 2007, she took on the creation of the Chloé fragrance, which has remained one of the world’s top sellers. “I love smell and its connection to feelings, and I’m sensitive. So I went on my instinct, but it took a long time to get it right,” says Hannah. “I wanted it to be comforting and soft and clean, like soft skin in freshly laundered clothes.” The result is a creamy rose-based scent. But her main concern? That it would leave no trail. “It’s about intimacy,” she says.

These days, Hannah is a resident of north London’s Camden, where her wood-floored apartment is filled with fashion spillage (a black Hermès Constance on the mantelpiece; stair sides crammed with Nikes, Converse, Reeboks, and Gucci loafers in navy) and white lilies and tulips. “Flowers are a hangover from the Valentino days. Truffles too,” she says. She joined the Roman fashion house on completing her MA at Central Saint Martin’s in 1996. “Rome was a culture shock. I was working on a second line, and no one spoke English. There was no Skype, no email, no mobile. And I turned up in trainers, which caused a scandal. Now, of course, they sell them.”

Hannah was rescued by Carlos Souza, Valentino’s communications supremo, who spotted the daintily framed, heavy-fringed English girl in an outlying building. “He took me under his wing and introduced me to Mr Valentino. We had a lot of fun.” She was Valentino’s assistant for five years and became accustomed to wearing heels and floral dresses. “But most of all,” she says, “I learned that beauty goes beyond the dress and to understand the value of craft of the atelier: the hierarchy, the etiquette, the appreciation of how precious all this is. Not to take things for granted.”

Hannah’s work ever since has been infused with the grown-up gorgeousness of the Valentino canon – pleated mousseline, delicately appliquéd flowers, a femininity that is always elegant and never girlish. But growing up in north London has left an equal mark. “Kentish Town in the late ’70s was all about music and street culture. I would see my friends’ older brothers wearing Diadora and Tacchini tracksuits, and I’d go to Arsenal matches with my brother and dad, taking in what the casuals were wearing on the terraces,” she says.

Hannah’s family were left-field north London intellectuals – her father worked for the publisher Heinemann and the house was floor-to-ceiling books – but her social life happened on the nearby council estates, where appearances mattered most. “Not just the label but how you wore it: Burberry, Fila, Benetton… I got a Saturday job in a shop selling rip-off Wham! T-shirts so I could buy clothes. I remember buying a pair of Lois jeans for me and my brother, then boiling them in a massive pot with Persil to make them as faded as possible. I stitched the crease up the front with a hand sewing machine, frayed the hem, and made a slit down the side so they fitted perfectly over the trainer.”

For some people, these would be mere adolescent memories, but for Hannah, the same absolute particularity of fashion semantics still informs the way she puts together an outfit and designs a collection. She’s not the only designer to look to sportswear as an inspiration, but she’s especially uncompromising in the way she uses its language. The silhouette that results has a subtle softness and a bit of bagginess that a less determined designer would eschew. It’s not like sportswear, it is classic sportswear, with all the flow and the fabric that implies: high-waisted, not hipster.

The next scene she joined was the acid house one, which was emerging around 1987. Hannah’s friend Dave Roberts was at its heart as an organiser of the Sunrise parties, massive illegal raves on the outskirts of London. “Rave culture really changed the way we dressed,” she says. “I probably wore cotton Lycra cycling shorts, a bra top and an oversized Lee denim shirt tied at the waist to the first rave. Then the look got looser and I had a pair of baggy white OshKosh dungarees – second-hand from American Classics. You had to hunt around to get the right pair.” She didn’t, she says, have many clothes – just the right ones.

Hannah hasn’t lost her love of music – the first show she worked on with Philo opened with 808 State’s “Pacific State”, and the soundtrack in her house today is the calm chug of reggae. She went to Jamaica for the first time last year, staying in Discovery Bay. “On the first day, I swam across the bay to the other side, where I could hear reggae sound systems playing. There, guys were hanging out in white vests. I fell in love with the place.” The swim took around 50 minutes; Hannah used to swim for Camden when she was 14 and 15. “Swimming is like meditation,” she says. “But now I’ve learned to meditate properly as well. It’s helped me a lot.”

Her love of specificity has taken on a great maturity. The sought-after pieces have transmuted into tailored coats, shirts and trousers that Hannah has Savile Row’s Anderson & Sheppard and Henry Rose make to her specifications. Her mac is a vintage Burberry that’s been remodelled by her favourite seamstress, Isabella at My Beautiful Tailor in London’s Bruton Place, and reconditioned at her trusted dry cleaner, Swans in Primrose Hill. The ultimate tracksuit has shifted from the Club Sport number she purchased aged 15 to a man’s Sunspel track pant (“And always check the lining – Sunspel’s is best”) worn, perhaps, with a Champion sweatshirt.

While the fashion world wonders what Hannah will do next, here we look at what she wears on a daily basis. “It’s just my style; I’m not advocating it for everyone,” says Hannah. She probably said that about Chloé back in the day.