“I can still remember the first Joseph pants I bought, that I saved and saved for. I think I lived on beans on toast for a month,” says Louise Trotter – now the London-born label’s Creative Director – as we sit at the kitchen table of her Paris apartment. Off-duty and now post-shoot, she’s dressed in Vetements jeans, a T-shirt and nerdy-cool specs. “But at that time, you had to have a pair of Joseph pants – it was a rite of passage. Putting that first pair on was a milestone; I felt like I’d made it.”
She wasn’t alone. In the ’90s, swathes of women flocked to Joseph’s game-changing store on London’s Fulham Road as the label – and its charismatic founder, Joseph Ettedgui – reached cult status. Today, thanks to Trotter, Joseph has become a serious fashion contender once again, transformed from the go-to for chic forever basics to a byword for quiet, contemporary cool. It’s currently the best-dressed’s favorite destination for elevated wardrobe essentials, reimagined with enough creativity to make them fresh and exciting, and balanced with an ease that guarantees they’ll be worn on repeat. Put simply, these are clothes that you can really get excited about.
Paris is home not only to Trotter, her husband and three children, but also to the Joseph design studio; the rest of the business is based in London and Trotter is a Eurostar regular, dividing her time between the two; a feat that she finds sits neatly with the mood of the label. “While I’m here in France, I become very much part of this sense of classicism,” she says. “You shop for cheese in the cheese shop, and you go for your bread at the boulangerie. In the UK, people are very much fashion-led; there are trends and cults and everybody follows them. I find that when I’m in London I start to desire and want things, I become a consumer, whereas in Paris I’m a bit more content and edited, and I think the two of those things work together really well.”
Trotter has been in creative control of the label since 2009 and her passion for it runs deep, which is why she has worked hard to stick to Ettedgui’s blueprint. “Fashion changes and things change but, for me, the Joseph woman is the thing that I always try to keep consistent,” she says. With this in mind, she comes back to the same two themes again and again: uniform and a masculine/feminine mix. The first is inspired in part by the memory of hacking her school uniform to pieces and putting it back together (“That sense of rebellion is something I always remember when I think of uniform”), and by the uniform that Ettedgui created for women; his pragmatic, masculine approach to giving them the perfect, reliable pant or shirt. As for the second: “Androgynous is a word that always comes up, because Joseph is a masculine-feminine brand,” says Trotter. “It’s not necessarily about a kind of typical beauty. It’s often a beauty that is slightly flawed, or has its own sense of intellect. The Joseph woman isn’t buying Joseph because it has an obvious logo or obvious recognition. It commands somebody who has a greater sense of their own style. Wearing Joseph isn’t about joining a club, it’s about wearing it your way.”
Fashion changes and things change but, for me, the Joseph woman is the thing that I always try to keep consistent”
Scroll through the Joseph FW17 collection and you’ll see that it’s an embodiment of this philosophy. It’s in the clothes, obviously, from souped-up classics like the navy pea coat and khaki pants that opened the runway show on a swaggering Adwoa Aboah, to the compelling must-haves like the chunky pink rollneck sweater and cherry-red wide-leg pants. But it’s in the women wearing them, too; a joyful parade of gorgeous, interesting, attitude-filled women.
“This season, we cast very much individually, there was no formula,” says Trotter. “Every girl was told, ‘We cast you because of you and your personality; we just want you to be that girl, walk as you want to walk.’ It was amazing how empowered the girls felt, and I believe that really came across.”
It’s not necessarily about a kind of typical beauty. It’s often a beauty that is slightly flawed, or has its own sense of intellect”
Trotter, who grew up in Sunderland in England, became determined to be a fashion designer as soon as she understood what one was, in part inspired by the women in her life: some of her earliest memories are of watching her grandmother, a seamstress, hard at work over a sewing machine, and of her mother waking her in the middle of the night to fit little jackets and dresses that she was making on her. It wasn’t exactly a common ambition among her peers.
“I grew up in the north-east of England in the ’70s and ’80s, and saying you wanted to be a fashion designer was like saying you wanted to be an astronaut and fly to the moon,” she laughs. “I think my parents and a lot of the teachers used to be like, ‘She’s actually quite intelligent, she doesn’t have to do that.’”
Undeterred, Trotter studied in Newcastle before making her way to London and then Paris. She crossed paths with Joseph Ettedgui early in her career while working for Whistles and its founder, Lucille Lewin. “They were like nemeses and he’d say hello to me to annoy her,” laughs Trotter.
Over the past eight and a half years she’s expanded the line to include shoes and bags, added a menswear collection and, most transformatively – and after much hesitation – bagged a permanent spot on the London Fashion Week schedule. It hasn’t just given the label a wider audience, it’s also raised the bar in terms of the quality of the clothes, giving Trotter and her team a focus and forcing them to really think about what they’re trying to do.
“It’s interesting, having this really commercial pre-collection, and then having strong pieces that form a show,” she says. “Because individually, you can take some of those strong pieces and mix them with some of the luxury essential pieces. I like it because it represents a woman’s wardrobe today. We all have loads of white T-shirts, jeans and black pants, and then we buy one or two of those must-have items every season. And that’s the way I also see the shows: you can buy those pieces and wear them against the core collection.”
While she insists that she’s not the archetypal Joseph woman (instead she name-checks the likes of model Stella Tennant), the mix of femininity and practicality that she brings to the clothes is what makes them so appealing. “I believe clothes are not just there to look pretty, they’re something to really live in and wear,” she says. “I hate it when clothes don’t fit or they’re uncomfortable or they don’t perform, when they just sit in your wardrobe. So that’s the challenge I give myself and the design team: to make sure we’re making clothes that people really want to wear, and feel good in, and will feel relevant in.” Now that’s a philosophy to get behind.
The people featured in this story are not associated with NET-A-PORTER and do not endorse it or the products shown.