Beginning of Preen
Justin Thornton and Thea Bregazzi met at the age of 18 at art college on their native Isle of Man. But it was only five years later when they had both upped sticks (Bregazzi to the University of Central Lancashire; Thornton to the University of Winchester) and arrived in London years later that they became a couple.
After graduating, Thornton began collaborating with Bregazzi when his then-employer, Helen Storey, invited her to freelance on design projects.
The opened their first store in 1996 in a small shop in Notting Hills, Portobello Market. Two years later (1998) Preen went whole sale, and before the turn of the millennium (1999), they opened two shops in Tokyo.
Right from this start, their early, one off creations displayed many of the themes that Preen would revisit over the next decade: Victoriana, Recycling, deconstruction, utilitarian clothing, always with that masculine and feminine hard/soft mix the couple bring to their designs.
Sharing the same vision and attention detail, the synergy between Thornton and Bregazzi has produced some incredible collections.
Their debut collection at London Fashion Week for Spring/Summer 2001 composed of punkish elements; vintage lace and hand crafted effects, this collection received rave reviews, described as a sartorial traditional clash, with a very British sense of tongue-in-cheek chic. Liberty Ross wore their ‘rosary bead’ blouse to the British fashion awards straight from the runway, putting Preen firmly on the fashion map.
Subsequent collections have built on this early success, with increasing sales and extensive press attention. As a regular must-see show on London Fashion week schedule, Preen made the decision to move their twice yearly runway shows to New York Fashion Week for Spring/Summer 2008, becoming a much anticipated part of New York show calendar. Since showing in New York, the international exposure of Preen has magnified and sales doubled.
They came back to London for their Spring Summer 2013 show, receiving rave reviews. Spring /Summer 2008 saw the launch of ‘Preen Line’, their contemporary line, this gave the designers an avenue for the rock and roll, easy wear elements of their design, with a strong emphasis on effortless everyday cool.
This season, Thornton and Bregazzi took on the ruffly tendency—something that began with a bout of the Shy Di ’80s nostalgia that has been breaking out in London lately—by putting deep flounces on the shoulder line of a black pantsuit. Slightly weird but compelling things also happened with the satin blouses, whose boxy, piped shoulders looked as if they might’ve slipped off an armchair. There was a lot of playing around with ’70s smocks and that moment when hippies began getting involved with Art Nouveau gothic romanticism. And that’s when the strongest pieces started coming out: a series of velvet dresses in deep green, burgundy, and pink; midi skirts with dippy scarf hemlines; and then the razzle-dazzle sequins for the girls at the backstage door.
Now designing six women’s wear collections a year, with a style that is described as deconstructed chic with a minimal opulence, Justin and Thea have grown their label from a tiny shop in London’s Portobello Road, to selling in over 25 countries worldwide. Preen designs are worn by high profile women including Scarlett Johansson, Sienna Miller, Cate Blanchett, Kate Bosworth, Gwyneth Paltrow, Beyonce, Rhianna, Michelle Obama and Samantha Cameron.
Indeed, not only are they successful professionally, but personally as well, which accounts for what is perhaps their greatest collaboration—two little girls Fauve and Blythe. Inspired by their daughters Fauve and Blythe and described by the designers as “ a labour of love”, their first children’s wear collection was launched in 2014.
When asked why the introduced children’s clothing line- Fauve really likes to put on my dresses and ‘swish’ around the house. Also when I was young, my mum dressed my in mini versions of her clothes, which I just loved. So the Mini Preen idea was born. We ‘tested’ the designs on Fauve and her friends, and she was our fit model, which she hated, but she loves the finished products. And baby Blythe wears the tops as dresses– very cute!
What is your inspiration? Justin and Thea bring the same whimsicality to their kids’ collection-They take inspiration from our adult collections—the styles and prints, etc. Then shrink them! They use the exact same prints for Preen Mini as we they do for the adult’s Preen collection, but with smaller proportions! Striving for everything to have a relaxed feel while making it stand alone with modern distinctive style.
Research: Riette van Zyl.