The Wardrobe with Kate Phelan

The White Shirt

“You need a shirt for every part of your wardrobe this season,” says Kate. “It’s the story. Which suits me, as I’ve always been a fan of shirts and blouses, especially white ones.” To keeps things interesting, she says the trick is to find one with an outstanding detail, like the elongated cuff of this silk blouse by 3.1 PHILLIP LIM at Matchesfashion.com. The khaki jeans are by NEIL BARRETT.

The Black Shirt

“You can’t go wrong with monochrome,” according to Kate. She might wear this insanely elegant LANVIN silk shirt in the evening and swap it for a playful T-shirt in the day. Either is fine with a chic pair of trousers. “And cream is real glamour,” she says. “These trousers by MARNI are utterly classic, with a flat front and side pockets and a flare that’s as wide as your foot – so flattering.”

The Trench Coat

Kate wears her own MARGARET HOWELL trench coat from a couple of seasons ago. “I really admire the authenticity of her clothes and the tiny twists she applies to bring them up to date,” says Kate. Here, it’s the generous sleeve, which stops the coat looking too gentlemanly. “It’s nice to keep the sense of volume and practical comfort with a loose shirt, like this khaki army shirt from TOPSHOP.”

Khaki

“You can wear khaki with just about any colour,” says Kate. “And khaki jeans, like these by NEIL BARRETT, are good for balancing something luxurious, like the 3.1 PHILLIP LIM blouse. It’s a throwback to the battered old LEVI’S, CHANEL jacket and loafers combination that we all wore back in the ’80s. The CÉLINE sandals are my own, from Spring-Summer 2011 – there’s enough of a wedge for some height, but they’re great to walk in.”

The Tuxedo Jacket

“The heels only come on in the evening for me,” Kate admits. “They slow me down too much in the day. These MANOLO BLAHNIK pumps are the perfect complement to a tuxedo jacket, though, like this one by NEIL BARRETT, which I’ve matched with my own CÉLINE trousers. They’re definitely a piece that’s meant to have a long life. The shirt is by CHLOÉ, a name synonymous with perfect shirts in my book.”

Simplicity and pragmatism: two qualities that help to keep stylist Kate Phelan at the top of her game, and define a great wardrobe full of precise pieces.

For one of fashion’s most respected figures, Kate Phelan does not, in her own words, “live my life along fashion lines.” When we meet on a Monday morning, she’s just spent the weekend on her allotment in Putney Vale on London’s south side. “In this industry, you’re meant to look and be fabulous all the time,” she says, “but I’ve always hidden away a bit.”

Kate, 47, thought she’d be turning the lights out at British Vogue, where she worked for 19 years and rose to be fashion director. But then she surprised everyone by moving to Topshop last autumn to become the fast-fashion empire’s creative director – taking up a new role created just for her. “I’d led a charmed life,” she says. “It was time.”

The fashion world had changed around her. Kate started at UK Vogue in 1987, when it was still edited by Anna Wintour, initially interning under the inspirational guidance of styling star Sarajane Hoare; spent a few years on the then-infant – and, radical for its time – Marie Claire; returned to Vogue under Alexandra Shulman; and, over the years, watched it morph into the rather more high-street-facing title it is today.

“In the early days at Vogue, we’d go off on a shoot with Peter Lindbergh and do a couple of shots before a three-hour lunch of fruits de mer,” says Kate. “I remember a wonderful time in Deauville, when it was Linda Evangelista’s 21st birthday on the day of the shoot. Or maybe her 18th. Anyway, it was a lot more wine and fruits de mer than work,” says Kate. “But when we did work, there was an amazing sense of creating something unique.” Her own shoots, working with photographers of a Tim Walker/Terry Richardson vintage, are notable for her ability to spot those singular pieces that define the season, and her focus is on graphic clarity. Her own wardrobe – of navy V-necks, black polo necks, crisply cut jackets and, above all, white shirts – isn’t dissimilar.

Her connection to Topshop is nothing new. She’d been styling the advertising shoots for the last six years and was finally brought more firmly into the fold following a dinner hosted by its owner, Philip Green, at Harry’s Bar last February, where a particularly decisive conversation took place. “I think I realised that maybe I didn’t want to be the oldest person on the shoot, jumping on and off planes, looking after 16-year-old models,” she says. “Though I still get to do a bit of that.” Now her job entails overseeing the look and feel of the vast rumbling fashion machine that Topshop is. Between October and December, she travelled to Toronto for a store opening, performed spokeswomanly duties at a press day in New York, checked up on a new site in Las Vegas, and went to Melbourne for another store opening. She has also begun getting used to working with a team of 300.

It’s unlikely that her new job will give her any more time to tend her vegetable patch, however, where she grows, “Oh, you know, the usual: aubergines, potatoes, cabbages, chillies – everything you need.”