Fashion designer Katharine Hamnett talks Brexit, secret cigarettes and recycled swimsuits

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Colin Crummy
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Determined to change the world for the better, what will the designer make of our existential questions?

What is the meaning of style?

It’s the persona you present. Every garment, every cut has a cultural reference, like this kind of person would wear this. It can be a lie, though. At the moment, people dress as lumberjacks when they work in IT.

What is the difference between right and wrong?

I like the Buddhist definition of ‘right livelihood’, that everything you do has to be for the good of all living things.

Where is your happy place? 

Usual boring sh*t: friends, family, dog, all sitting around the table having dinner.

Surf chic or modern utility? 

Both of them. It’s nice when you get the girls in Celine coats wearing amazing trainers. That’s a look.

Is it more important to be liked or respected? 

The most important thing is what you think of yourself.

If you could be remembered for one thing what would it be? 

Having helped fix the world.

Who or what is your greatest love? 

The miracle of existence. I’m in awe.

When did you last lie? 

To my kids quite recently, about not having smoked a cigarette when I had.

Does the supernatural exist?

Love is supernatural. Life is supernatural. Why should there not be more?

If you could change one thing in fashion, what would that be?

That there was fair employment and that all the processes were sustainable to improve the lives of the people involved in the making of it.

Are you fatalistic? 

Probably secretly. Why secretly? Because you can’t give up. Even if you think you’re losing, you have got to keep fighting.

What is your greatest fear? 

That we f*ck it up; that it’s over.

Animals or babies? 

Both. We are so similar. Even worms or snails seem to fall in love, it’s so amazing. 

What talent do you yearn for?

 I’d love to be able to sing like Amy Winehouse or Aretha Franklin.

Do you like to be complimented? 

I find compliments really hard to take. I asked a friend, who is incredibly beautiful, what she does when she is complimented. She said, just smile.

Do you have a high pain threshold?

 No, absolute zero.

What’s the one slogan you would put on a Katharine Hamnett T-shirt in 2019?

 Oh god. There are a lot. ‘Now or never.’ ‘Cancel Brexit.’ ‘I vote therefore I am.’

What book do you recommend most to others?

 I’m reading The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy. The way she describes characters’ feelings and how she makes you emote is extraordinary. 

The politics of emotions The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness gets Katherine’s vote

Which lesson has been the hardest to learn? 

When you’re starting out and people don’t like your clothes; not killing them is hard.

What item of clothing sums up happiness? 

A bathing costume. It says holidays, seaside, all of that. Of course, it has to be made from recycled sea plastic or fishing nets.

What have you never understood? 

Man’s inhumanity to man. How people can be so terrible.

What is the one thing you want to know before you die?

 That we fixed the planet.

Are you scared of dying or what happens when you die? 

I think you go out, back into the matter pool and with luck you get taken up into other life forms like plants, vegetables and the food chain. You become part of the continuum of life on this planet, we hope forever.

Pastels or beige? 

They are all beautiful. I always wear beige because I wear black and white and it goes with those a bit easier. I can do a complete transformation in personality if I dress entirely in pink. Maybe I should try that; I’m going to do pink.

Katharine wears the Cancel Brexit T-shirt, £25 

Photograph: Will Pine