Hackney People: Alex Noble
The designer talks making costumes for the stars and balancing his love for fashion, music and charity work
"I WAS always ambitious,” says Alex Noble, "and I always knew I wanted to do big things. It’s just the process of figuring out how that’s been difficult.”
His job title attests to this. He is an artist, stylist and fashion designer. From his Hackney home and workspace, he has created costumes for A-listers. His most recent creations, however, have been more democratic: t-shirts made from offcuts from fashion houses, sold at the Hackney Shop, run by the Council and Hackney Walk fashion hub. Forty per cent of the proceeds support a centre in Bangladesh for the children of garment workers.
“Even as a kid I was interested in fashion and costume. It came from watching ‘Clash of the Titans’ and other sci-fi mythological films. Plus, I grew up with my mum’s collection of Grace Jones records, so I always aspired to work in music,” he says.
After studying womenswear at London College of Fashion he found a job at Selfridges, where he began creating window displays. Alex recalls: “It was an amazing experience. I learnt so much about business, from scheduling to ordering and more.”
After two years he set up shop on his own, juggling the roles of stylist, designer and putting on exhibitions. If that sounds like a busy life, it’s because it was. “But when you are trying to get your name out, you really have to put the effort in,” he explains.
Plus, it worked. Stylists began to take note of his work, and he found himself making costumes for increasingly high profile musicians. In 2010, while Alex was curating the exhibitions and shows at Dalston Superstore, Lady Gaga posed for cameras at the Brit Awards, holding a trio of awards and wearing a lace body suit that Alex had made.
He worked for Vogue and Dazed and Confused as well as brands like Thierry Mugler and Diesel. He showed at London Fashion Week for three consecutive seasons, and even found time to put together a solo exhibition of his own art work at the londonnewcastle gallery.
Ever ambitious, however, Alex began to feel restless. He recalls: “I felt I had been run into the ground by the fashion world. It can be such a bubble. I was putting everything into it, and trying to find time to sleep and eat as well, and still being perpetually skint. “The balance wasn’t right. I wanted to educate myself and be part of something more meaningful.”
So, at the age of 32, he decided to put this aspect of his work to better use. In 2014, his new not-for-profit initiative EMG (or ‘Everything Must Go’) launched its first ‘salvage tees’, t-shirts made of repurposed fabrics by 15 of London’s most interesting designers. Each was a one-off, composed of off-cut fabrics from fashion houses including Zandra Rhodes and Giles Deacon.
They were sold to raise funds for charities. That summer they raised £3,694 to support the children of poor garment workers in Bangladesh. “I spent three weeks in the slums in Bangladesh. It was life changing,” says Alex.
He has also been staging a return to music, working with singer Laura Mvula, for example. “It’s been a really joyful return to costume,” explains Alex. Adding: “I love EMG and making the t-shirts. But I need to exercise my avant garde madness as well otherwise the balance is all wrong.”
Back to the juggling act once more, then.