Born: 28 September 1963. Education: Received diploma in fashion, Worthing Polytechnic, West Sussex; graduated from St Martin's College of Art, 1985. Career: Formed own business, selling to Joseph Ettedgui, London, and Bergdorf Goodman, New York, 1985-89; assistant designer, Claude Montana, Paris, and Enrico Coveri, Florence, 1989-91. Died: 18 January 1991, in Florence, Italy.
"Alright John?," in the Sunday Express Magazine (London), 3 August 1986.
"Flett in Business Split," in Fashion Weekly (London), 16 February 1989.
Obituary, "John Flett," in the Daily Telegraph (London), 28 January 1991.
"Style Victim," in The Independent on Sunday (London), 3 February 1991.***
The story of John Flett is a short and sad one; an extreme example of the good and bad aspects of the British fashion industry. Flett graduated in 1985 from St Martin's College of Art, London, in a blaze of glory. His first collection was bought by Joseph Ettedgui for his Joseph shops in London and there was a prestigious order from Bergdorf Goodman in New York. By 1988 he was showing on the international catwalk at the British Designer Show, in company with John Galliano (a friend from St Martin's), Jasper Conran, and Betty Jackson. By 1989 money had run out and Flett parted company with his backer, Miles Gill. Short-lived positions followed, first as assistant to Claude Montana at Lanvin in Paris, then in the studio of the Enrico Coveri house in Florence, Italy. While at Coveri, Flett was approached by Zuccoli who proposed to sign him as their rainwear and knitwear designer, with the promise of his own label to come. Before signing, John Flett was found dead of a heart attack in his hotel room in Florence. He was but 27 years old.
Many of Flett's friends and contemporaries attributed his premature death to the strain of dealing with Britain's inadequate fashion system. Renowned for having the best fashion schools in the world, excellent breeding grounds for creative talent, British industry, at the ground level of production and mass market manufacture, is at a loss to know how to capitalize on this talent, employing merchandisers and selectors, who copy designs in the shops, rather than a designer to originate. As a result, many British fashion graduates have left to find work abroad. The Italian and French fashion industry are subsidized by governments who understand how to direct creativity towards financial gain.
Described as "wickedly talented" by Galliano, much of Flett's skill was in his cutting, intricate and inventive, with which he developed clothes that seemed to cling to the body. In fact, many of his garments were difficult to understand on the hanger and needed to be worn to be appreciated. Galliano declared that Flett could run up the "sexiest frocks in town," but this seems to generalize his often complex and avant-garde approach.
In his critically successful autumn/winter 1988-89 show, Flett presented sophisticated, opulent fabrics cut into lean, elongated shapes. Another success was a white transparent pleat dress that seemed to coil itself around the body like an asymmetric floral display. He wanted to redefine the much abused fashion adjective "chic" to designate an updated modernity.
Flett was an avid socialite during his time in London and participated in the thriving avant-garde club scene. Contemporaries like the designers of Bodymap and performance artists Leigh Bowery and Trojan combined to create a flourishing atmosphere for designers, models, photographers, and artists to meet and relax, at their Thursday night club Taboo. Flett quickly gained a reputation as a wild boy who partied every night. He worked as hard as he played, however, recalled a friend who described his energy capacity as "enormous."
In an interview with fashion journalist Sally Brampton, Galliano recalled how Flett seldom allowed his creative temperament to affect his sound business acumen. "He had a passion for the business side of fashion as well as the creative," Galliano stated. This, perhaps, makes an even more tragic symbol of Flett, an original design talent whom fate and circumstances did not allow to realize his potential.