Colin Roxburgh McDowell (born 1936) is a British fashion writer, designer and curator. McDowell is best known for his stint as a highly opinionated Fashion Editor for The Sunday Times, where he became a familiar sight in the front row of fashion shows, and in which capacity he claims to have been banned from more shows than any other writer.
Born in Northumberland, McDowell moved from Alnwick to Gloucester at three years old. He cultivated a strong interest in modern art and architecture as a teenager. He was educated at Durham University (Hatfield College), where he followed the arts stream of the General Studies degree and took courses in English Literature and European History, having turned down a place at Oxford because he wanted to return to the North East. As a student in Durham he wrote for the university newspaper, Palatinate, alongside future Beatles biographer Hunter Davies, and produced the 'Film Notes' column – a review of recent cinema releases. He also rowed for the Hatfield College Boat Club.
After university he worked as a teacher for a few years and later moved to teach in Italy. He eventually lost interest in this and worked as an actor, often appearing in bit-parts as a generic foreigner. His social life brought him into contact with people in the fashion industry – and he soon became intrigued by their world. By the early 1970s McDowell, after being offered a design job by a friend, was settled in Rome, where he worked for the couturier Pino Lancetti and was taught everything he needed to know about the art of Haute couture. McDowell eventually began working for Laura Biagiotti and witnessed the rise of Gianni Versace, who had recently moved to the north of Italy to establish himself.
Career in journalism
McDowell returned to London after spending 10 years in Rome. In 1984 he established his reputation as a writer with McDowell’s Directory of 20th Century Fashion, which became a standard reference work for fashion students. He made a foray into journalism by contributing an article to The Observer on Italian fashion, which led to invitations to write for other publications. In 1986 he began to focus predominantly on his emerging journalism career, being appointed a fashion reporter for The Sunday Times.
In 1989, while visiting Cairo for an assignment, he was caught up in a fire that broke out in his hotel and escaped by jumping from a second floor window – breaking his ankle in the process. He later discovered a colleague and close friend, Jackie Moore, had died in the fire with two others. To aid his recovery from the trauma McDowell returned to Northumberland and rented a holiday cottage with a view of Lindisfarne, where he would spend the next three winters there writing, first A Woman of Style and then A Woman of Spirit. He has said that his proudest moment during his spell with The Sunday Times was when the designer Giorgio Armani threatened to pull his advertising from the paper (at £50,000 a page) because McDowell had given one of his shows a bad review.
In 2002 he got into what The Guardian described as a 'tiff' with Nicholas Coleridge. After Coleridge criticised fashion editors for being too negative about British fashion, McDowell accused him of being jingoistic. Alongside his work for The Sunday Times he continued writing books on the modern fashion industry and biographies of noteworthy designers, including John Galliano, Manolo Blahnik, and Ralph Lauren. In total, he has published more than 20 books on style.
In 2003 McDowell set up 'Fashion Fringe', an annual competition to uncover promising fashion design talent and offer them professional mentorship. He received an Honorary Doctorate from Heriot-Watt University in 2005. In a 2015 interview, he argued authentic criticism in contemporary fashion journalism is now increasingly hard to find, as major fashion conglomerates ensure access to shows and good seat allocation is dependent on positive coverage.
- McDowell’s Directory of 20th Century Fashion (1984)
- In Royal Style (1985)
- Every Woman’s Guide to Looking Good (1986)
- Shoes: Fashion and Fantasy (1989)
- Hats: Status, Style and Glamour (1992)
- Dressed to Kill: Sex, Power and Clothes (1992)
- The Designer Scam (1994)
- The Literary Companion to Fashion (1995)
- The Man of Fashion: Peacock Males and Perfect Gentlemen (1997)
- Forties Fashion and the New Look (1997)
- John Galliano: Romantic, Realist and Revolutionary (1997)
- Manolo Blahnik (2000)
- Fashion Today (2000)
- Jean Paul Gaultier (2001)
- Ralph Lauren: the man, the vision, the style (2002)
- DianaStyle (2007)
- Matthew Williamson (2010)
- The Anatomy of Fashion: Why We Dress the Way We Do (2013)
- A Woman of Style (1992)
- A Woman of Spirit (1993)
- "Congregations". Durham University Gazette. 4 (2): 27. 1957. Retrieved 6 February 2020.
- Needham, Alex (22 May 2014). "Colin McDowell: a passion for fashion". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 May 2019.
- Wilson, Jennifer; Daniel, Katy (3 December 1993). "Stylish Colin's write on". Newcastle Journal. p. 9.
- "A Conversation with a Critic: Colin McDowell". Not Just A Label. 26 November 2015. Retrieved 8 May 2019.
- "Editorial". Palatinate (99): 2. 22 February 1957. Retrieved 11 September 2018.
- McDowell, Colin (25 October 1957). "Film Notes by Colin McDowell". Palatinate (105): 5. Retrieved 14 September 2019.
- "Revealing the secrets of the fashion world: Former Sunday Times writer Colin McDowell pays a visit". University of Northampton. 20 March 2017. Retrieved 8 May 2019.
- McDowell, Colin. "Versace: Master of the House". 10 Magazine. Retrieved 8 May 2019.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 31 March 2007. Retrieved 21 October 2010.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- "Colin McDowell". Journalisted. Retrieved 13 April 2016.
- "DANSK Daily Saturday August 14th by Jacob Petersen". Issuu.com. Retrieved 13 April 2016.
- Cartner-Morley, Jess (18 February 2002). "A fractious start to London fashion week". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 September 2019.
- "Logos on clothes shout – and shouting is vulgar". Metro. 22 October 2013. Retrieved 8 May 2019.
- Hirschmiller, Stephanie (4 December 2013). "Fashion Fringe celebrates its 10th birthday - Telegraph". The Telegraph. Retrieved 8 May 2019.
- "Heriot-Watt University Edinburgh & Scottish Borders: Annual Review 2004". Hhw.ac.uk. Archived from the original on 13 April 2016. Retrieved 2016-03-30.