Simon Foxton

Interview by
James Anderson
Photography by
Alasdair McLellan


Simon Foxton is a wonderful guy. As a veteran of the 80s club scene in London, he was among the very first of a new breed of stylists splashing club and street-based trends across the pages of international fashion glossies. Simon’s sense of humor and dislike of trendy trends has developed into a style that is characterised by “multicultural Englishness”, whatever that is supposed to mean. He has confronted racial barriers still prevalent in fashion, putting black models in traditional tweed suits, for example, or garish red bondage trousers. In the late 90s, a time when everybody else was still obsessed with sportswear, Simon was largely responsible for the return of elegance in men’s clothing. He lives in deepest suburbia with his partner Donald, who just so happens to be a tailor.

Ever since a mutual friend described Simon’s garden shed to me, I’ve desperately wanted to see it with my own eyes. Part studio, part den, part pub; carpeted throughout and painted pale green — it is here that Simon dreams up his fantastic fashion shoots, has occasional meetings with his collaborators, and enjoys an evening drink or two. Only a few people are ever invited to the shed — which is probably just as well, because Simon lives fucking miles away in the thick of outer-London suburbia. I arranged to interview Simon in the shed, as an excuse to get a first-hand look. Unfortunately, that never happened because I got lost on the way to his house and — after two and half hours of searching — had to phone him and feebly admit defeat. It turned out I was about 30 miles away from his house, and in a totally different part of London. Simon just laughed at my poor sense of direction and said we should instead meet in central London the following day. His unfazed reaction to me wasting half his day was generous and refreshing; any lesser talent would have pitched a huge hissy fit. Then again, in a profession as competitive and bitchy as styling, and in an industry as ruthless and harsh as fashion, I have only ever heard people utter nice things about Mr Foxton.


James: So let’s talk about your shed first.
Simon: I bought it about five years ago. I’d got some money from some job or other, so I thought I’d buy something substantial rather than fritter it all away. I ordered a shed, and they delivered it and constructed it on site. It’s fantastic. I wanted somewhere that would be a studio or workshop, like a little den; my own hidey hole that I could escape to. I’m an avid collector of junk, and quite a lot of it goes in there. I spend most weekends at car boot sales, so it’s full of bits and pieces.
Did you go to a car boot sale today?
Yes I did actually, in Uxbridge. I was up at six o’clock this morning for it.
Did you buy anything interesting?
Just a large serving plate and some faded butterflies in frames. My partner Donald didn’t come with me today — normally we go together. Somehow it’s not the same when you’re on your own. You need someone with you to discuss things with.
Does the interior of your house resemble a car boot sale? Is it full of clutter?
No, it’s more orderly than that. It has the slight feel of one of those props houses that lend stuff out for films and television programmes. For instance, I have forty toast racks…and I don’t even like toast. I just like the way they look so I collect them. And I collect Rooster ties, those American, square-ended ones from the 60s and 70s, with nice prints.
Do you work in the shed everyday?
I use it almost every day, especially when I’m laying out pictures or if I’ve got writing to do. I use it mostly for drinking in, actually. I usually go down there with a bottle of wine and a puzzle book.
Sheds seem to have nothing to do with fashion…
I suppose they don’t, no. But, then, I’m not very “to do with” fashion either!
But sheds seem very English, and you seem very English…
I suppose I am very English, yes. I don’t set out to be, but a number of people have brought that to my attention over the years, so I must be. I’m not really sure what that means.
I think it means you are very polite and, perhaps, a bit quaint…
That might be true. I do believe in good manners. Politeness is important to me.
So is the shed like your Fashion Nerve Centre?
It’s where I assemble things like my scrapbooks, and that gives me inspiration. I don’t save magazines, I just tear out the images I like and save those. I amass a lot of little scraps and things.
Where else do you get inspiration from?
Men on the street. Sitting around, having coffee, and just looking at men.
Do you distinguish between looking at them in a purely lusty sort of way, and an “I like his socks” sort of way?
Yes. But it’s really good if the two go together. Like, if the man is sexy and he has something stylistically different or special about him. I saw a very nice looking workman in Soho last week, and he had on about four different colours of green all at once — overalls, a sweatshirt and so on. I assume it was completely not thought-about, and quite accidental. But I thought, “That’s rather nice.” I like colours — they excite me.
What about this long-held belief that gay people are extremely stylish and true fashion leaders?
I think that “gay style” has petrified, almost. It stopped around the late 80s, in the same way that something like Heavy Metal stopped at a certain point. It felt more creative when it was underground — not that I think everything should go back to being closeted or whatever. But I think the myth still persists that we’re all very creative and super stylish and well dressed.
Who are the trendsetters nowadays, then?
For the last three or four decades it has been the streets, and maybe now it’s gone back to the designers again and they’re the ones who are coming up with the goods and setting the trends.
What did you think about being called a “dinge queen” in i-D magazine recently?
I’m not a dinge queen… Though I like black men. Don’t you?
I do, but not exclusively, though. When did you first realise you liked black men?
Oh, back in the Year Dot. I grew up in small town in the Northeast of England. There were no people of colour for miles around. I went to a boarding school in Edinburgh and there was a black guy there — a Jamaican — whom I used to fancy. But I remember on a day out, when I was about sixteen, and I bought a copy of Gay Times — I knew I was gay, that was never an issue — and it had all these small ads in the back. It seems quite courageous of me when I think about it now, but I answered one of the ads. It was this black guy in London. He probably couldn’t believe his luck — he was about 28 and I was this blond 16 year old schoolboy. We wrote to each other and sent each other pictures of ourselves. He was very cute. We would speak on the phone — he worked on the switchboard somewhere, so we would have these long chats. We’d have all these semi dirty phone calls, I didn’t even know what he was talking about half the time, but I’d go along with it.
So did you meet up with him?
Yes, when I came down to London, and we had a bit of a thing. He lived in Paddington. I moved down to London when I was 18, and after a while I plucked up the nerve to ring him again. But he was quite into S&M, and at the time it all felt like a bit too much. At boarding school there was all sorts of stuff going on, though. I did have quite a bit of after-dark fun there. This guy used to come in and give me a blow-job in the dormitory, which was good. Especially when there’s loads of other boys around you, fast asleep. One of my first sexual encounters was with this guy from Zambia, a white guy, and we used to skive off from going to chapel on Sundays. There was a dormitory on the ground floor, and you could get under the floorboards there and get into the foundations of the building. We used to go down there — in our kilts, you had to wear kilts on Sundays — and wank each other off and that kind of thing.
Do you get a sex flashback every time you see a kilt now?
I do like a kilt, yes, but I don’t have a kilt fetish. Kilts suit a bigger man, I think. You’ve got to have a good bum and legs to carry one off. And it’s important to wear a sporran with it, too, otherwise it’s not a kilt, it’s a skirt.
So when and where did you meet your partner, Donald?
I met him when I was 20 or 21, a long time ago. We met at the Copacabana, in Earl’s Court, which was the big gay area at the time. It was like a small, regular gay disco — by present day standards it would be considered quite naff — just around the corner from the bedsit where I lived, and so I used to go about two or three times a week. Upstairs was the bar, called Harpoon Louie’s, it was great. So, I was seeing Donald for about a year before we moved in together, and we’ve been together ever since.
And it’s quite a coincidence, in a way, that he’s a tailor and you’re a stylist, isn’t it?
Yes, but we don’t really work together that much. He helps me out sometimes. But we don’t really talk about work too much. My work and my home life are two separate things. I don’t go home with fashion on my lips, and to be honest he’s not that interested. In a way, we lead quite seperate lives. That’s probably why it’s lasted so long. We do have things in common, but we’re not in each other’s pockets all the time. I think if we just did everything together all the time it would drive you mad. We do both like going to car boot sales, though.
Do you think you’ll be together forever?
Yes. I can’t see us breaking up. I’m very happy, and I can’t imagine what would crop up now that would annoy me about him or vice versa. We’ve gone through that whole “itchy feet” stage — you get past that.
Is it an open relationship?
No, I’m monogamous. I might look at people, but I’m monogamous.
He must be very trusting of you, considering you’re always working with loads of gorgeous male models…
Only because he knows I haven’t got a chance in hell with any of them! I’m a bald, fat 44-year-old. Generally, I’ve got quite odd tastes in men. Although the ones I work with might look great, they’re not the sort I would necessarily want to sleep with. I like older guys.
Would you not like to use older models, then?
No, I think younger guys work better in the framework of a fashion photograph.
Fashion is usually so geared towards the young, yet loads of people working in it certainly aren’t young…
I suppose that’s what we’re aspiring to. Youth is fetishized. Fashion thrives on people’s insecurity, it wouldn’t exist otherwise.
The aspect that is so covetable, basically, is youth in its splendour?
Exactly. Youth is used to sell clothing. We look at a nice young guy, and think if we buy that jacket that he’s wearing then we are going to look like him and, of course, we don’t. Fashion is a cruel, cruel joke…
Is it weird, being in your forties and working in an industry that is so insanely youth-obsessed?
It is, and to be honest, sometimes I feel like a bit of a fraud. It’s not like I’m out at clubs and things all the time. The way I style has never ever been about reporting what the latest look is. I just carry on in my own bubble. I’ve never been about the latest trends. Sometimes what I do is right for the time and sometimes it isn’t.
Are you finding it’s right for the time at the moment?
In the last few years it’s gone back to being slightly sillier; there’s been more dressing up, so yes. There was a chunk of the 90s where I felt like a fish out of water. It was all about looking chic and severe and wearing all the right labels.
Do you worry when that happens?
No. There are people who do that sort of thing far better than I ever could. For me to attempt it would be pointless.
Are you going to carry on being a stylist indefinitely?
I don’t know. I’ve been at it for twenty years and if I could think of something else that would earn me a crust I would probably give it a try. But I’m not sure I’m trained to do anything else. Besides, I’ve never thought of myself as being a “fashion stylist”. It’s more about making an image, telling a story, using clothes and props. I don’t think of myself as being a fashion person. I have a very unfashionable life. I live in suburbia, I have two cats, I listen to The Archers and go to car boot sales. I’ll probably just end up being some old queen with an antiques shop on the South Coast.
Wouldn’t you prefer to have a vintage clothes shop?
I can’t think of anything worse! I hate clothes.

Originally published in BUTT 14