A natural fit: Margaret Howell on her fashion tribute to Barbara Hepworth

The fashion designer reveals how the first major Barbara Hepworth exhibition in London for almost 50 years at Tate Britain inspired a range of clothes

For Margaret Howell, designing a collection in homage to Barbara Hepworth felt like the most natural thing in the world. “I was always inspired by what she wore anyway,” says the designer. “The short duffel coat, the dungarees, the things people wear when they’re at art school.”

British sculptor in her studio at St. Ives, England, on September 17, 1963.
British sculptor in her studio at St. Ives, England, on September 17, 1963. Photograph: ASSOCIATED PRESS

The collection Howell has designed will be part of the merchandise around Tate Britain’s new retrospective of the British sculptor’s work, which opens later this month. It does indeed include dungarees and a short duffel coat, as well as an apron, an artist’s smock and silk scarves with a print employing the patterns from a pebble that Howell found on a Suffolk beach. If that works with Hepworth’s aesthetic of turning natural forms into abstraction, the clothes speak of her lifestyle, getting messy with materials in her studio. “When I had visited her studio in St Ives, the thing that stuck in my mind was the rail of aprons and shirts splattered with plaster of paris,” says Howell. “I liked the colours – indigo, tan, the colours of workwear.” Their contexts might be very different but both women share an interest in natural materials, with Yorkshire-born Hepworth always famously inspired by the Moors. “Her materials are stone and wood, so there’s a texture,” says Howell. “I relate to things like that. I am stimulated by traditional clothing and doing something fresh with it.”

Margaret Howell for Tate. The range costs between £65 and £425.
Margaret Howell for Tate. The range costs between £65 and £425. Photograph: John Hooper/PR

Howell’s clothes are for the kind of person who wants to look cool and chic but free from fuss. She would put Hepworth – along with Jane Birkin and Katharine Hepburn – in that category. “There are some photos of her on special occasions when she dressed up but those obviously aren’t the ones that would have caught my eye,” says the designer. “I like things that are comfortable, that you can move around in. They’re never overdressed, they dress really simply.”

A scarf from the Tate range, with patterns inspired by a pebble found on a beach.
A scarf from the Tate range, with patterns inspired by a pebble found on a beach. Photograph: John Hooper/PR

A keen enthusiast of British modernist art and design, Howell has collaborated with names like Kenneth Grange and Ercol, and staged exhibitions from Peter Yates, so Hepworth’s work is most definitely in her orbit. She says that it has also become a familiar sight over the years. “I have seen her work quite a lot – we used to have a studio in Battersea and there’s one of her pieces in the park by the lake. There’s also the winged figure on the John Lewis building near the shop. And I spend a lot of time in Suffolk and there are some pieces there. You get to know them, walking around them, seeing them in new light.” Arguably, Howell’s Hepworth collection – focusing on the sculptor’s personal style – adds yet another perspective.


Lauren Cochrane

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Barbara Hepworth… back in focus
On the eve of a major Tate retrospective Tim Adams tells the dramatic story of this fascinating British artist through key pieces spanning 40 years

Tim Adams

07, Jun, 2015 @10:00 AM

Article image
Barbara Hepworth: Sculpture for the Modern World review – designed to diminish
Cramped, bereft of natural light and undermined by rivals, Hepworth suffers from the Tate’s bid to reposition her as an international giant

Laura Cumming

28, Jun, 2015 @9:15 AM

Article image
Barbara Hepworth at Tate Britain review – the sculptor's open-air spirit gets locked away
At its best, Hepworth’s work is like an invigorating walk by the sea. What a shame, then, that Tate has trapped her sculptures in airless vitrines

Jonathan Jones

22, Jun, 2015 @4:04 PM

Article image
The stone-cold truth: Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore are not in the premier league
Leave St Ives’ star sculptor, and her Yorkshire counterpart Henry Moore, as the provincial powerhouses they are. To pretend they had international influence is just petty nationalism, writes Jonathan Jones

Jonathan Jones

21, Jan, 2015 @2:11 PM

Article image
Barbara Hepworth – review

This new gallery makes an impressive show of placing Hepworth and her lozenge-like creations in her European context, writes Alfred Hickling

Alfred Hickling

19, May, 2011 @7:57 AM

Article image
Barbara Hepworth finally gets her due
She achieved great success in her lifetime, but Hepworth was also patronised as a female and provincial artist. As a Tate Britain retrospective opens, it is time to acknowledge her place in the first rank of sculpture

Sarah Crompton

13, Jun, 2015 @8:30 AM

Article image
Henry Moore rubbished Barbara Hepworth sculpture, diaries say
Revered artist said to have slated rival sculptor’s work when Tate board was considering buying it

Dalya Alberge

25, Mar, 2018 @1:28 PM

Article image
Letters reveal postnatal crisis of Barbara Hepworth
Previously unpublished correspondence sheds new light on artist’s struggle to pursue career while caring for triplets alone

Donna Ferguson

19, Apr, 2020 @6:21 AM

Article image
Barbara Hepworth: Queen of the stone age

After dominating early 20th-century sculpture, Barbara Hepworth fell out of fashion. Why is she now being resurrected? Jonathan Jones looks for clues in Yorkshire and Cornwall

Jonathan Jones

02, May, 2011 @8:30 PM

Article image
Barbara Hepworth works raise £2.2m for her old school
Wakefield girls’ high school sell two sculptures to private collectors, despite calls for them to remain with the school

Josh Halliday North of England correspondent

14, Jun, 2016 @3:34 PM