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Friday, 8 November, 2002, 16:52 GMT
Wayne Hemingway: Earnest about design
Wayne Hemingway: Bargain-hunter

Founder of the Red or Dead label, Wayne Hemingway has made a savage attack on profits made by the fashion industry. He may have made a fortune, but he's lost none of his zeal in the pursuit of value for money.
"I've got a big mouth", says Wayne Hemingway. And when he sees a rip-off, he has to tell the world.

"Parts of the fashion industry stink," he says. "Designer fashion is the emperor's new clothes."

Julien Macdonald
The models love him, but Hemingway dismisses Julien Macdonald
In a forthcoming television documentary, he berates some of British fashion's star names, including Hamish Morrow and Julien Macdonald.

Hemingway claims that some of the fashion houses sell clothes at mark-ups of as much as 1,000%.

His contempt for the people who buy them is clear - "more money than sense" - and if he boasts about the clothes he wears, it's because he's acquired a bargain.

"At the moment everything I'm wearing is second-hand, apart from my underclothes," Hemingway told BBC News Online.

Camden Market
He started at London's fashionable Camden Market
Second-hand is how it all began. Born in Morecambe, he spent his adolescent years in Blackburn before leaving home for University College, London, where he acquired a degree in Geography.

But his passion was music and it was to raise money to buy equipment for his band in 1981 that he and his girlfriend, Gerardine, also from Lancashire, sold their own clothes at a Camden market stall.

"It was £6 rent for the stall and we took £80 the first day. It just took off from there," said Hemingway.

Mohawk father

Gerardine became his wife and though neither had any training in fashion, they formed Red or Dead.

Viv Nicholson
Viv Nicholson ran off with Hemingway's father
"We chose the name not just as an ironic reference to the Cold War, but as a proud reminder of my ancestry."

Hemingway's father is a Mohawk Indian chief, Billy Two Rivers, now a champion of Native American rights in Quebec, but when Wayne was born, a heavyweight wrestling champion in Britain.

But he left home when Wayne was three and ran off with Viv Nicholson, the pools winner who enjoyed dubious fame through her declaration that she would "spend, spend, spend".

Red or Dead wasn't on the breadline for long.

It was given an early boost by an order from the New York department store Macy's, and the company became famous for its footwear, especially its revival of Doc Marten boots. Stores opened around Britain and franchises abroad.

Gerardine and Wayne Hemingway
Gerardine and Wayne Hemingway
"We wanted to be the first designer company that sold to everyday people," says Hemingway.

That was achieved by selling to Top Shop and Miss Selfridge. But while it helped their balance sheet, it meant the cold shoulder from London Fashion Week.

"They said designer fashion was all about elitism. I've still got letters from them which actually say that."

Paraded on the pier

But the industry relented, and Red or Dead went on to win the prestigious Streetstyle Designer of the Year Award in three consecutive years, while Hemingway later became a cheeky fashion tipster on breakfast television.

A 1993 Red or Dead catwalk finale
A 1993 Red or Dead catwalk finale

Wayne Hemingway attributes his sense of style to his mother. "My mother's taste was a massive influence on me. She's the reason I am like I am."

As a boy, dressed by his mother and grandmother as a Beatle or a mod, he would be paraded on Morecambe pier.

He had a special bond with his grandmother, and derives much pleasure from the art collection he inherited from her, most of it purchased from Freeman's and Littlewoods' mail order catalogues.

Such paintings, including prints of white horses against blue skies and waifs with big eyes, are celebrated in Hemingway's book, Just Above the Mantelpiece.

Housing project

It is kitsch to most people, but Hemingway rejects the label. "To call it kitsch is to say the majority of people who buy art have no taste. And that includes my Nan."

Wayne and Gerardine still operate their burgeoning design and consultancy business from a large house in Wembley, north London, but the Hemingways live in West Sussex, "near the coast".

However, it's at the other end of England that the partnership's "most stimulating" project has begun, a mass-market housing development of 688 homes in Gateshead.

Needless to say, the fact that he and his wife have no architectural training hasn't deterred them a bit.

Their mission statement is the same as ever: "It's got to be affordable and make people happy."


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