Katharine Hamnett is best known for her political t-shirts and her ethical business philosophy. She campaigned directly on issues such as the use of pesticides and the plight of cotton farmers, and badgered her licensees to reduce the environmental and social impact of her collections.Katharine Hamnett London has a wide selection of new designs – now all sustainably and ethically produced in Italy.
Katharine Hamnett was born on 16 August 1947, in Gravesend, Kent. Her mother was a socialite beauty and her father was an RAF defence attaché. Her father’s diplomatic career sent them to Bucharest.Hamnett graduated from Saint Martin’s School of Art.
With a college friend, Anne Buck, she founded Tuttabankem (a half-baked anagram of their surnames) which was a rapid success, selling to Browns and Saks. They dressed Liz Taylor and Marsha Hunt. Later, she went onto opening her own label.
She parted from both her husbands, graphic designer Richard Hamnett (she was born Katharine Appleton) and Jeffrey Pine, a painter. She had two sons, Samuel, in 1976, and William in 1981.
Katharine E. Hamnett clothes label was founded in 1979.Its first collection sold out at Joseph and picked up key retailers worldwide. In 1983 she started making protest T-shirts, shouting common sense in huge block letters.Outside her own label, in 1984 Hamnett was involved in the founding of Tanya Sarne’s Ghost label. Her clothes were stocked in 700 stores in 40 countries.Fans included Mick Jagger, Liz Taylor, Princess Diana, Boy George and Madonna; George Michael wore the Choose Life T-shirt in the video for Wham’s Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go. Early campaigns in moody monochrome were shot by influential photographers Ellen von Unwerth and Juergen Teller.
Hamnett’s oversized T-shirts with large block letter slogans, launched in 1983, were adopted by pop bands, including Wham!. George Michael wore his white “CHOOSE LIFE” shirt in the music video for “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.” The t-shirt also appeared in Queen’s video for “Hammer to Fall” (worn by Roger Taylor). Taylor wore Hamnett’s “WORLDWIDE NUCLEAR BAN NOW” shirt during Queen’s historic appearance at the first edition of the Rock in Rio festival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
In 1984, ZTT’s Paul Morley designed a series of “FRANKIE SAY…” T-shirts to promote the record label’s chart act Frankie Goes to Hollywood (FGTH). Morley has stated that these designs were consciously based on Hamnett’s slogan T-shirts. The official FGTH designs were particularly successful, and spawned many imitations of their own.Models such as Naomi Campbell have appeared in Hamnett shirts bearing the slogans “USE A CONDOM” and “PEACE.”
By the 1990s, the Hamnett brand had a multi-million pound turnover. The crunch came in 1989, when Hamnett, then 42 and at the peak of her success, initiated research into the impact of her industry on people and the planet.Hamnett won the first ever British Fashion Awards as well.
In 2015, Hamnett designed a t-shirt reading CHOOSE LOVE for the charity Help Refugees.Hamnett tried lobbying for change, using her collections as platforms for issues that galvanised her, and badgering licensees to reduce the impact of the collections. Hamnett stepped away from fashion to focus on activism and collaborations with charities. When she relaunched the label in 2017, with re-issues of archive pieces and irreproachable ethical and sustainable credentials, it was a completely different landscape.
1984: She was named Designer of the Year by the British Fashion Council.
1996: She was voted Britain’s favourite designer by readers of Cosmopolitan.
2011: Hamnett was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the New Year Honours, for services to the fashion industry.
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