Todd Lynn’s collection rocks the high street

EVERYONE wants to be a rock star,” says designer Todd Lynn. “Everyone has a favourite singer or idol that they want to look like.”

Todd Lynn and model at London Fashion Week. Picture: AFP
Todd Lynn and model at London Fashion Week. Picture: AFP
Todd Lynn and model at London Fashion Week. Picture: AFP

Lynn knows a thing or two about rock star wardrobes and dressing icons of the music industry, from rock, through punk to grunge and back again, and with his long black hair and icy blue eyes he owns a “with the band” vibe. That big latex coat that Marilyn Manson wore in The Beautiful People? Lynn. The beautifully crafted jackets Ronnie, Mick and Keith styled out on the Stones’ 40 Licks tour in 2002? Also Lynn. He’s dressed Courtney Love, PJ Harvey and U2, as well as another Manson (Shirley), Beyoncé, Marc Almond, Rihanna, and any number of rocker wannabes. Oh, and Billy Connolly.

“Yes, I did the costumes for a film he made in Canada, The Boondock Saints, in 1999, and made him a vest with six gun holsters on it. He was playing an assassin. It was a leather vest,” he says.

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Of course it was. Lynn is big on leather. And fur, python prints and metallics, all sharply tailored and adding up to his signature, sexy androgynous look that’s a hit with men and women.

Lynn’s catwalk shows are always a highlight of London Fashion Week, with this year’s menswear autumn/winter collections featuring androgynous models boasting Joey Ramone barnets parading down the catwalk in black, blue and white, with a splash of green and orange, to a soundtrack provided by garage punk duo Slave.

“My tribe is rock and roll,” says Lynn. “My designs have a rock and roll sensibility. It’s a cliché, but everyone likes it. Everyone wants to look taller, thinner and younger. We are in a period now where people aren’t defined by their age any more and can wear what they like.”

Thankfully, you don’t have to have a rock star budget to wear Todd Lynn. If the nearest you ever get to a tour bus is the double decker into town, don’t despair, because as well as his own high-end line, the 38-year-old designer also produces collections for Debenhams at a much more pocket-friendly price. One of 28 designers who collaborate with the department store, since 2013 he has followed in the footsteps of big names like Henry Holland, Marios Schwab, John Rocha, Julien Macdonald, Jasper Conran and Betty Jackson.

“I’m guessing they chose me because what I’m doing is producing something they don’t have from anyone else. There’s no point in competing with another brand that is selling well. It’s that rock and roll sensibility I think,” he says.

His Todd Lynn/Edition collection features outerwear, knitwear, leather and denim and last year included a line of handbags. The choice of Leah Weller, daughter of rock royalty Paul, to model the accessories provided just the right funky conflation of music business legacy and looks.

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“My Debenhams line has about 13 pieces this time and there are 18 or 19 handbags, but it varies. My own line has more designs in it, about 60. I produce collections twice a year and there’s a crossover, which I like.”

Lynn is determined that his high street line is not simply a knock-off of his more expensive designs but another version of them, keeping recognisable elements from iconic pieces in his 
main output. Think sharp androgyny, cool tailoring and the ultimate biker jacket.

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“Why should some people not be able to participate in fashion? Everyone has a different budget. Design is important for both lines. There’s no excuse for bad design, even on the high street, because the design part isn’t the biggest expense. ”

Born in Smiths Falls, Ontario, to schoolteachers Hugh and Heather, Lynn credits his birthplace with his obsession with outerwear.

“Outerwear is probably what I do best and that probably comes from Canada and dealing with the elements. I always have lots of layers on – even in summer, a thin cashmere jumper for a little layer of insulation.

“And Canada is built on fur. I don’t have any qualms about it. I also wear leather and like steak, but I’m very conscious where it comes from and check it’s all regulated. I won’t use fur from China. But a Bangladeshi factory collapsing and killing 1,200 people, that’s more of a problem than animal issues. Child labour, women’s rights, it’s important we take care of everything. It might make it more expensive but you can be sure it’s done properly,” he says.

“Clothing has two functions. It’s a protection thing to keep you dry and warm, but it also changes your mood and the way you carry yourself. You put something on and it changes your whole mood and perspective. You leave the house and feel amazing. You walk differently and everyone says you look great. That’s what people want and that’s the great thing that fashion gives.”

Lynn’s Scottish roots also give a hint as to his obsession with outerwear and being dressed for the elements.

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“Both of my parents have Scottish links. I have an ancestor who originated from Scotland, then went to Ireland, and the name was originally O’Flynn, which was changed over time. There’s also a Scottish connection on my mother’s side. All of my ancestors are from these parts,” he tells me.

“I feel at home in the UK and I don’t miss the winter. I get emails from my parents saying it’s minus 27 and I can’t comprehend what that is any more,” he says.

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When the Lynn family moved from Smiths Falls to Ottawa, 15-year-old Todd went to a performing arts school to study drama, but switched to fashion. “I wanted to be an actor and got a couple of jobs when I was a teenager in commercials, but it can be a bit boring, sitting around waiting. So I did costume and set design instead.”

A BA in fashion design at university in Toronto followed, and Lynn began designing bespoke items for musicians while he was still a student.

“I decided, ‘I’m going to make clothes for celebs, that could be what gets my name out there.’ Then it turned out that became my job. I would do music videos and album covers, but the first one I did clothes for was Marilyn Manson. He wasn’t very big at that point and needed things made for a tour, then he went on to become famous very quickly. It was collaborative. He had his image and I was coming up with ideas, adding to that. I don’t set out thinking I’m going to make a rock and roll outfit, it just happens naturally.”

Clutching his Manson designs, Lynn headed for Europe and wowed them in his interview for Central Saint Martins in London.

“[Fashion professor] Louise Wilson made me try them all on. He’s much taller than me, but they fitted.”

And so did Lynn. Graduating with an MA from the fashion hit factory, he went straight to work for Roland Mouret, creator of the Galaxy and Moon dresses. After several years as his pattern cutter and assistant, Mouret’s resignation saw Lynn set up his own label in 2006.

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“My degree in Canada was very technical, and I’ve always been enamoured by designers who can make a pattern, cut and sew; people like Azzedine Alaïa, Alexander McQueen.”

Looking back over his rise to fame, Lynn acknowledges he has worked hard but also made important contacts.

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“I haven’t had a rough ride. When I was at Saint Martins I met the stylist for U2 and went on the road with them. It’s interesting to see how all that works. Image is important because it lives for ever nowadays so people are more careful. In the past they were more experimental. Marilyn Manson was up for it and some people give you a lot of freedom. I did these coats for Ronnie Wood that were big, slashed, webbed. Where money isn’t a concern you can make something unique and specific. It was a bit like personalised couture.”

Has anyone ever said, no Todd, sorry, this time you’ve gone way too far?

“Maybe they’ve thought it, but haven’t said it!” he laughs. “But I think controversy is a good thing. I think people should relax a bit.

“I like when fashion looks odd, then after you’ve looked at it several times and a few weeks have passed, it doesn’t any more.”

What about dressing some of his more out there clients, Courtney Love, say? Does he ever worry about his carefully constructed clothing being ripped to ribbons by a rock chick on the razzle?

“No, that’s all part of it. I love that element. Courtney Love was really supportive when I started my collection from the beginning and I love her personality. She’s her own person as well as an icon. Get it right, get it wrong, it’s great. There’s a lot more to those people than their public persona. They are fashion junkies but they use fashion the way they want to. They are not slaves. They can do what they want. They’re not following a trend. They’re thinking about the moment.”

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As well as being clients, some of Lynn’s celebrity customers are friends too, PJ Harvey and Shirley Manson in particular.

“I’m not hanging out with celebs. I have a couple of friends who happen to be famous and that’s it. I’m working for clients and I’m very lucky to work with them, but I’m not hanging out at clubs with the rich and famous, drinking champagne.

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“But Shirley Manson is a friend, I love her. She’s incredible. I met her when I was working with U2 on tour and she’s just gorgeous, a sweetheart. I befriended her and she’s genius. But she’s always in LA,” he says.

“PJ Harvey too, is incredible and I like that her music is so conscious of image. Polly is lovely. I like seeing her in my clothes.”

It was Lynn who made Harvey the striking fringed white leather suit she wore in her This Is Love video. “I just went to her show at Somerset House and she’s still changing it up,” he says.

Because Lynn doesn’t water down his designs for the high street, the Debenhams collection appeals to consumers who like a bit of rebellion in their wardrobes. His own favourite piece from the latest Todd Lynn/EDITION collection is a biker jacket.

“It’s easy to love. For a lot of women leather jackets are scary, but they’re something that gets better with age. You can wear it in so many ways and we live in a world now where you can wear what you want. Women can wear tuxedos. We need a bit of rebellion.

“Debenhams are great because they are focused on style. Fit is important too. My whole mantra is buy half as much and spend twice as much. Spend £100 on one coat, not two for £50. And because we’re doing outerwear, there’s not much of a difference in quality, as opposed to doing dresses in either polyester or silk.

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“And the leather is amazing. I’m obsessed with the handbags. The Hobo bag sold best. They’re not the cheapest thing in the shop but they will last for ever. The better a piece, the longer it lasts. I have things in my wardrobe I bought years ago that are still valid, a Margiela jacket for instance.

“Obviously things are tweaked, complicated cuts or details taken out to make things easier. But often it’s the same pattern, the same cut and they’re ageless. It’s great everyone can get to Debenhams and wear these clothes. There’s no reason they shouldn’t feel the same way and that’s important that people who go in and buy these clothes love them and covet them and feel great.”

And the ideal Todd Lynn client?

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“Fearless with a heart full of rock and roll. A bit tattooed, or a bit polished. But not trying too hard to look cool.”

You know he means you. But don’t expect to find that Billy Connolly-style six-gun holster vest down the high street. n

Todd Lynn/EDITION at Debenhams, Spring/Summer 15 Collection is available at major Debenhams stores and online at Prices start from £55.