Keanan Duffty

Keanan Duffty (image from Keanan Duffty)
Image from Keanan Duffty ©

Fashion Designer and Musician - Central Saint Martins, BA (Hons) Fashion, 1986

The fashion designer and musician talks exclusively to the Alumni Association about how his student years moulded him, his collaboration with David Bowie and taking the world by storm through being a risk taker.

What are your memories of being a student?

I had really good times at CSM. As a young person growing up in Doncaster, I would always read about famous designers and all of them seemed to study fashion at CSM so that was the natural place to choose. I was fortunate enough to get a place on BA Fashion. 

I loved learning, not only from the course content but also from my peers, many of whom were older than me (I skipped foundation year) and much more worldly! We were based at Charing Cross Road in those days and mixed with fine art and sculpture students – interacting with other students added lots to my own personal growth as a Fashion Designer. It was an amazing experience and I probably wouldn't have left if I could have stayed there.

Who was your favourite member of staff and why?

Natalie Gibson, Head of Textiles at CSM - we are still in touch and very close.  She is an amazing teacher and opened my eyes to the world of textile design which I wasn't familiar with. Good teachers introduce you to new and challenging things and that’s exactly what she did for me. 

What was the best part about being a student here and living in London?

The graduation show was amazing. It was in 1986 at Westminster Central Hall - I still have my ticket. The show was sponsored by Wella, and it was the ultimate dream for us.  We had seen John Galliano graduate just two years before us so we saw the shows as our time to shine and gain exposure.

I also loved living in London and experiencing the West End, and great places to eat. We would walk around Frith Street and see iconic performers just walking around, that demystified many things for me and success became in my grasp.

It was also great to see such a mix of cultures and industries, something I didn't have in Doncaster.  In fact I was the first man in my family not to work in the coal mining industry! Being in London was exciting and helped me do something extraordinary with many others who shared my passion for design.

Do you keep in touch with people you met here?

There were only 12 of us in my class and I’m in still touch with over half. I regularly use email and Skype to stay connected and I have also been able to meet many people through the Alumni Association which has been great. I've met people who graduated within the last few years, it allows me to share my experiences and be helpful to them in some way.

What do you do now?

I do a whole bunch of stuff.  My passport says Fashion Designer which is the main way I've launched my career since leaving CSM.  I'm also involved in the music industry and lots of other creative projects. As long as it’s fun I'll have a go! 

I'm currently involved in a documentary film about Malcolm McLaren, he was the Manager of the Sex Pistols and passed away in 2010. I was presenting a TV show a few years back and wanted to interview him and we became friendly after that.  I've been able to use some of the interview clips when I visit universities and the students love him for his controversy and rebellious can-do attitude.  I am working on making a tribute to him so that he can continue to inspire future generations. We are aiming for the documentary to be out in 2013.

What was the best piece of advice you have ever received, and what advice would you pass on to students or recent graduates?

Follow your heart, do what you're passionate about as that’s what you will excel at.  I always make clothes that I'm passionate about and I think people coming into the store feel that energy in some way. 

My advice for students would be every once in a while turn left instead of right as you never know where it will lead.  Do the opposite of what people tell you to do or want you to do. As creative people we were born to take risks!

What is your proudest achievement so far?

Collaborating with David Bowie on "Bowie by Keanan Duffty" which was sold in 1200 Target stores in the US.  I'm a huge Bowie fan and got into fashion and music because of him, he was the ultimate risk taker!  Sometimes people say don't meet your heroes but meeting him affirmed everything I believed about him as an artist, he was a really nice person, down to earth, great sense of humour and a very intelligent person.  It was an amazing experience and a high point in my career.

What drives you to keep pursuing your dreams?

It’s innate: I'm always trying to make stuff.  As a kid I would tape my flares into skinny trousers! My parents bought me a Spanish guitar and my teacher taught me how to play a Sex Pistols song and I loved music and creating things from there onwards. 

I can't imagine not making stuff!  I think it’s important to try and make or achieve something everyday. I have a lot of things going on all the time, and many people I admire also have lots going on – I think it's part of the process of telling your story.

What are your goals for the future?

Just to keep doing what I'm doing and having the freedom to express myself.  It’s a hard time to come out of college at the moment because of the economic climate, but we should always hold on to our creative freedom through challenging times. 

What do you like most about being part of our alumni community?

I’m proud of being part of the UAL Alumni Association.  All of the colleges are amazing and are world renowned.  People are always interested to hear about where I studied. It makes me proud to say I studied at CSM.