Margaret Howell is a contemporary British clothing designer who has worked successfully in men’s and women’s clothing. Howell has been a strong, if quiet, presence in British design for over five decades.
After graduating from a fine art degree at Goldsmiths College, London in 1969, Howell started making accessories. Her hand-made beads and knitted accessories came to the attention of Vogue and other fashion magazines, encouraging her to go on to designing clothes.
Howell found inspiration in the fine make and fabric of a man’s vintage shirt. She chose quality shirting, usually associated with Jermyn Street bespoke shirts, but used a softer construction, giving a more casual fit.
Howell started her business from a modest flat in Blackheath, South East London, with her then partner Paul Renshaw. It was an immediate, if somewhat unexpected, success. As the business expanded, the pair converted a derelict premises into a purpose-built workshop, located on Old Dover Road, Blackheath.
Early wholesale customers were Paul Smith, Ralph Lauren, Browns and Joseph Ettedgui.This led to Ettedgui entering into a partnership with Howell, funding the first dedicated men’s shop on South Molton Street, London in 1977.
The number of women who bought from the shop prompted the introduction of designs for both men and women.The first independently owned Margaret Howell shop opened on St Christopher’s Place, London in 1980 after the partnership with Ettedgui came to an end.The 1980s were a period of expansion for the label, with a license signed with Washo Co Ltd to manufacture and sell Margaret Howell designs in Japan.
In 2002 Howell collaborated with architect William Russell on the design of a flagship shop and design studio at 34 Wigmore Street, London.The shop serves as a showcase for the men’s and women’s clothing collections together with books, ceramics and furniture with a focus on mid-century modern design.The shop is also used as a space to present exhibitions drawing attention to British design and architecture including Ercol furniture, Anglepoise lamps and Span Housing.
An annual company calendar extends this interest with subjects including photography (Edwin Smith 2015), graphic design (The Design Centre 2017) and lighting (John and Sylvia Reid 2020). Profits of the calendar sales are donated to the company’s chosen charity, Open City.
In 2003 the company launched a second line, MHL.Taking inspiration from the functional detail and durability of workwear, the collection aims to capture the authenticity and character of these items.
Howell continues to work with many of the British manufacturers and fabric suppliers that she worked with at the beginning of her career, such as Harris Tweed, Fox Brothers, David and John Anderson, Spence Bryson Linens and several Scottish knitwear mills.
Today, Margaret Howell is sold worldwide with 12 own shops in Europe, over 120 outlets in Japan and an established online business.