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#20 - Willie Walters / Swanky Modes / 1972

Willie Walters61 edited FORWEB

My friend Iona Keen met Willie Walters at a wedding, and put us in touch. We met at Willie's home in Camden a week later.

Moving to London from Scotland in the 1960s, Willie Walters studied fashion at St Martins School of Art. After graduating, together with two friends (and also a baby), she started a shop and label called Swanky Modes, which stood on the corner of Royal College Street and Camden Road for more than 17 years. Willie also lived right around the corner "the triangle" or a large chunk of this time.

The garments for which Swanky Modes became known kicked off with rain clothing made from shower curtains - which Helmut Newton photographed for Nova Magazine in 1973 - , and culminated in swimwear. Swanky Modes gained international success very quickly.

Willie has lived in Camden ever since, and alongside telling the story of her shop and label, she also talked about how this area of Camden has changed - in particular Kentish Town Road and its surroundings. Willie's home was beautiful, one she and her husband bought many years ago and did up bit by bit. In the corner of the sitting room was one of the wire mannequins salvaged from Blustons - whose closure earlier this year Willie described as having 'broken her heart.' Not because she particularly loved the clothing - ("I bought socks and other bits and bobs there") but because of how the shop looked, and was. And for what its closure represented.

Directed by a drawing made on the back of an envelope in Willie's kitchen, the video was made walking past the curved window of the former location of Swanky Modes - now Grand Union pub, directly opposite Camden Road Overground, where Willie lived as well as worked.

Willie Walters is now Course Leader of BA Fashion at Central Saint Martins. It was a great honour and pleasure to meet her.


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