Why the Scottish designer jumped at the chance to create T-shirts and badges for a cause close to his heart
Christopher Kane is all heart this month as he teams up with Heart Research UK in their bid to take on heart disease in Scotland, the country’s biggest killer. The internationally-acclaimed Scottish designer has lent his trademark wit and style to a collection of limited edition T-shirts and badges for the charity’s Heart of Scotland campaign. With personal experience of the heartache caused by the disease, after his father and brother died of heart attacks, this is a collaboration that he tells us is very close to his heart.
“My dad died of a heart attack when I was 20, then my oldest brother died of a heart attack at 52 last year,” he tells me at the launch of the campaign in Edinburgh.
“When that happens, it’s a huge shock. So obviously I have heart disease in my family and when I speak to people in Scotland, everyone is affected by it, either directly or through someone they know. It’s a nationwide epidemic and people are dying.
“So we need to get the message out there about exercise, drinking less, diet, cutting stress in our lives, and the T-shirts and badges are my way of helping to do that. They’re not expensive, will bring in donations and if more people see them and fundraise to help family and friends, the designs are doing their job.”
Lanarkshire-born and bred, 36-year-old Kane stole the hearts of the fashion world when he graduated from Central Saint Martins and immediately launched his own label from his bedroom in 2006. With his rebellious and light-hearted take – who else could make us covet pimped-up Crocs or go ape for Gorilla T-shirts – and perfectionism in execution, it was no surprise to see luxury goods conglomerate Kering snap up a 51 per cent share of the business in 2013 and boost him to new heights. Now with Kane having just resumed full control of his eponymous brand himself, it’s back to the designer and elder sister, business partner and muse, Tammy, being hands-on at the heart of things.
The youngest of five children born to a dinner-lady mum and draughtsman dad in the village of Newarthill near Motherwell, Kane has catwalked off with four British Fashion Awards and the prestigious Vogue Fashion Fund, and the “frow” at his London Fashion Week shows is the place to be. Celebrity fans include Michelle Obama, Alexa Chung, the Duchess of Cambridge and Rihanna, and his More Joy T-shirt is a must have among the fashion crowd. But most of all, it’s us he wants to see wearing his latest designs.
Inspired by biology, science, sex, art and growing up in Scotland, Kane is all over denim, neon and applique. Last year it was the 1970s The Joy of Sex manual that inspired his AW collection, including the Lovers Lace dress that made Kate and William smile when opening Dundee’s V&A.
All of this makes him a perfect fit to champion the Heart of Scotland campaign and he’s come up with four striking neon heart-shaped badges with messages – Life, Brave, Care and Love – and a one-of-a-kind T shirt with a heart illustration, to be on sale across the country and online.
“I wanted the T-shirt to be really bright and bold, graphic. I’ve always been obsessed with science, nature and sci-fi, but the human anatomy is really intriguing. So the design is a dissected heart branded with words relevant for the campaign – Love, Life, Brave, Care, Help and Heart. It’s hand-drawn from an old school book, that... em, never went back.” He laughs, sporting the black version, decorated with a pink heart badge inscribed with the slogan “Care”.
“The badges are a softer heart-shape, prettier, but bold and simple, from my love of Care Bears. “Hopefully the designs will get the younger generation’s attention because that’s important. Everyone needs to be aware of heart disease.”
Now more aware of the risks, Kane has undergone a lifestyle overhaul. “I’ve been going to the gym, drinking less, eating better, cutting stress. Because stress in daily life can make you sick and we inflict it on ourselves with our devices (here he taps his mobile). An hour in the gym is an hour I’m away from that and not thinking about work.”
The Heart of Scotland appeal wants volunteers to join a dedicated week of fundraising events, big and small, and celebrations (details on their website), building up to 21 June, Heart of Scotland Day, which looks like becoming an annual event. All of the money raised in Scotland will be spent in Scotland, funding pioneering medical research into the prevention, treatment and cure of heart disease, because it’s a disease that hits harder north of the Border where the economic cost is a staggering £1.8 billion.
Cardiovascular (heart and circulatory) disease (CVD) causes more than a quarter (27 per cent) of all deaths in Scotland, at 15,000 a year. Forty one people died of CVD today in Scotland. And tomorrow, another 41 will die. Rates are falling, but they’re still too high and it’s up to us to do something about it.
Coronary heart disease (CHD) – a particular type of cardiovascular disease, where the arteries that supply the heart muscle become narrowed by fatty material, causing heart attacks – is Scotland’s single biggest killer. In Scotland the death rate from CHD is 46 per cent higher than the rate for south-east England, where the rate is the lowest in the UK.
Heart Research UK have been investing in research, training and education to improve heart health for more than 50 years and driven prevention, treatment and cure of heart disease, including £10.2m in medical research as well as £2.2m on innovative community-based lifestyle projects across the UK.
Sam Wells, chief operating officer at Heart Research UK said: “There’ll be few people in Scotland who haven’t been affected by heart disease. The Heart of Scotland campaign will fund ground-breaking research into heart disease so we can keep those we love around for longer.
“We were so excited to see Christopher’s fabulous designs and his wonderful generosity means the campaign will be off to a flying start.”
Now we can all afford our very own piece of Christopher Kane, and know it’s also helping Heart Research UK and the Heart of Scotland Appeal to help us help ourselves.
Why are you teaming up with Heart Research UK on the Heart of Scotland Appeal?
It’s a cause that is literally so close to my heart. Anything that can raise awareness and potentially save lives is always worthwhile.
Have you been affected by heart disease yourself?
Yes I have. My father died of a sudden heart attack in his sleep in 2002. I was 20 years old at the time and I will never forget the suffering and pain we all endured. I also lost my oldest brother Robert, aged 52, last July, again to a heart attack. It was a huge shock.
What does it mean to be working with a charity aimed at tackling heart disease in Scotland in particular?
Growing up in Scotland, in a working class environment, heart disease was always prevalent. So many of my parents’ family and friends passed at an early age from “heart attacks” and no-one blinked an eye – it was the norm, it was expected, it was never a surprise (heartbreaking but never a surprise). So it’s good to be part (albeit in a small way) of educating and reinforcing preventive measures. This saves so much heartache, which I have experienced first hand, and reduces costs to the NHS.
Why do you think the death rate from coronary heart disease is 46 per cent higher in Scotland than in south east England?
Poor diet, obesity, poverty, stress, bad habits and general lack of education in health, I believe these are all contributing factors in the high prevalence of individuals with heart disease. We should teach kids at a young age to maintain their health. Sadly poverty can restrict any person’s ability to eat healthily. Food banks are saving lives every day, but imagine the stress that people feel trying to provide for or feed their families. Again, all of the above are contributing factors. If we can break one link in that chain, then we could be saving lives.
Why did you decide to design T-shirts and badges to support the campaign?
I use biology and science references a lot in my work. I really loved the idea of being quite factual with an illustration of a real heart. Neon colours always make me stop and pay attention. Obviously I wanted it to look fantastic so that people would want to buy it but most importantly I want it to send out a subliminal message. I want people to really think about themselves or family members who might be showing signs of heart disease.
What or who is your Heart of Scotland?
The tangible part is my late parents. My intangible heart of Scotland is the smells, the scenery, the sense of spirit, the generosity, the wit and the humour of those I grew up with. All of these things I carry with me, and reflect upon most days. I take inspiration every day in my memories of growing up in Scotland. I am so proud to be a Scot.
You stopped drinking and switched to no dairy, no sugar last year, will that benefit your heart? And will you be getting a smaller T-shirt?
That’s right, I did three months of no dairy, sugar or alcohol and I have to say I feel much better for it. I am a little more relaxed now but try to stay away from sugar, dairy and white carbs and do weight training three to four times a week to keep fit. I think any form of fitness that gets your heart pumping for an hour plus a day is bound to help. And no, I will always buy large – I hate skintight clothes.
You’re known for your sense of humour; does laughing help us stay healthy at all?
Am I known for that? Well that’s nice, ha-ha. I really do believe that laughing and having fun is what keeps a healthy mind.
What was the last thing you laughed at?
Last thing I laughed at? My seven-year-old niece posing in the mirror.
Are you pleased to have bought back the Christopher Kane brand from Kering and what does it mean for you?
Yes very pleased; I am grateful to them for the opportunity, but know for sure that it’s better for us to run the business on our own terms.
What is your measure of success if it’s not money?
I won’t lie. I am very privileged to have acclaimed actresses/singers and models wear my designs, but there is something so brilliant when it’s just a normal person. The other day I was in a cab and when it stopped at the lights a woman walked past wearing one of my coats – it made my day.
Which everyday item will you give the Croc treatment to next?
That would be telling…
Religion, sex, art, what else are your themes?
Science, biology and the unexpected I guess. I am a curious person and not a snob when it comes to inspiration. Honestly, my working-class background gives me an infinite amount of inspiration; I am very lucky and grateful for the dark humour and crazy characters of growing up in Newarthill.
What will be the next More Joy best-seller from the latest collection?
The tee will always be a winner, it’s easy for everyone to pull on… who knows, you’ll just have to wait and see.
What is the strongest clothing memory you have from childhood?
I won’t say her name but I had a neighbour who always looked fab to me. She was always so much more put together than the other housewives, maybe because she only had two kids when my mum had five and our neighbours had five to seven kids!
How did losing both your parents change your outlook?
I will be forever heartbroken about my mum and dad passing away. I miss them every day. It hasn’t always been easy but I understood early on that this is how life is and you have a choice about how you handle these life-changing events. I am very ambitious and love my work, it has served me well to get over grief twice. I recall my dad very casually saying to my sister and me to ‘just do it, make your own destiny’, and it’s stayed with me ever since. They were the funniest and most hardworking people ever; they will always be my inspiration.
What was the best moment from spring London Fashion Week?
Ha ha, when I got to have a glass of champagne when it was all over!
Who do you want to see wearing your T-shirts and badges?
I want to see the everyday person wearing the T-shirts and badges. The whole point of this is to spread the message that heart disease is out of control and it could touch one of us at any time if we don’t look after ourselves.
To buy Christopher Kane T-shirts
To get your exclusive Heart of Scotland T-shirts – available in white and black, £19.95, visit heartofscotland.org.uk/shop
To get your exclusive Heart of Scotland badges, (suggested donation £1 per badge). Text HEART to 88080