The Isle of Man is better known for motorcycle racing than producing fashion designers. But Justin Thornton and Thea Bregazzi, the duo behind Preen both originated and first met there at the age of eighteen before running off to study fashion.
By the end of the 1990’s, their tiny studio-cum-shop off London’s Portobello Road had become a secret destination for those in the know, attracting the attention of stylists and those in the public eye who were drawn to the brand’s seemingly effortless mix of unfussy femininity with quirky rock ‘n roll touches. A particular favourite with stylists working with British celebrities, the Preen magic soon found a high demand amongst the internationally famous with the likes of Kate Moss, Thandie Newton, Chloë Sevigny, Amy Winehouse and Lindsay Lohan all eager to get some of the action.
The SS11 collection sees Preen in a cool and muted mood with white, pale blue and nude beige being the strongly dominant colours almost drawn from an Impressionist rendition of some picturesque beach or nature spot baking under a hot summer sun viewed from the shade. It’s the palette that forms the cohesive element to the collection that, like many other current collections, does not emphasise a single length or silhouette over others. But of course, there are a number of leitmotifs that run through this collection, each given Preen’s own pared down feel: the bell-shaped skirts just above the knee; the gently flared skirt worn shorter to give a baby doll impact or longer for a more serene impression; natty trouser and light blazer combinations.
There’s a subtle feel of certain elements of the 1970’s about it all in the Biba-esque printed silk chiffons of billowing blouses and maxi skirts or the elegant lines of the trouser and jacket combinations more reminiscent of the slinky elegance of classic Halston from later on in the 1970’s. And, in layers of post-modernity, there are a few nods to the 1920’s filtered through the 1970’s revival of ‘The Great Gatsby’.
But, on the whole, once again Preen is about the restrained luxury of fabrics such as twill, silk and crepe that hang elegantly and feel good to wear. Though naturally very precise in their emphasis points, the silhouettes and plain colours do a lot to bring the attention back to the wearer herself rather than what she is wearing. Here there is no camouflage attempting to hide the woman beneath under attention-grabbing gestures, which is a very good thing since honesty can be the best policy. Misguided attempts to overshadow small imperfections, as we have often seen, can go horribly wrong.
Adaptable, durable and understated, once again Preen has produced a collection that embraces the timeless classicism at which a small number of British designers have actually excelled over the years. One gets the distinct feeling that any number of the items in this collection too could easily become the happy owner’s ‘old reliable’ that works well on many different occasions whilst always feeling fresh and in touch with fashion.