Simon Doonan’s lifetime in the rag trade surrounded by total lunatics


“I try to never to be too judgmental or disdainful. I try to celebrate people’s foibles,” Doonan explains.

“In his case he’s a young lad. When I was his age I was doing all kinds of insane things, my judgment was terrible when I was that age. He’s finding his way and I would be reluctant to throw any shade at him because he’s a young kid figuring it out. We’ve all been there.”

Doonan mentions in passing that he’s had the same shrink for 25 years in California. It’s helped him understand a lot of his own internalized conflicts, he explains. That may separate him from Galliano.

“In England therapy’s not part of the culture. You go to the pub instead and that’s your therapy. Not that there’s anything wrong with that,” Doonan feels.

“But I had access to a different way of looking at things because I’d come to America at a relatively young age. I left the U.K. when I was 25 and I came to live in LA, the land of therapy and introspection.”

If Doonan’s interest in psychotherapy is marked he had good reason for it.

“My grandmother had a lobotomy, my uncle was schizophrenic, we had suicides, alcoholism, and I wanted to try to understand it. And I had my own fear of going crazy,” he says.

“My family in Ireland didn’t have access to that kind of support. They felt adrift with their despair and feelings and didn’t know what to do about it, whereas I’ve had squishy Californian therapy culture for years.”

So The Asylum has been on Doonan’s mind one way and another for years, but far from the intimidating thing it once was, now it’s a metaphor for his career in fashion. It should also be said that the book’s a laugh riot.

“The Asylum was always going to be a love letter that celebrates the foibles of the fashion world rather than skewering them, do you know what I mean?” he asks.

“I wanted it to be a humor book, but I also want it to be a love letter to the industry because I feel tremendously lucky to have come all the way from my first job in Reading, which was demolishing public toilets.”

No one in Doonan’s family had ever been to college. He and his sister were the first.

“My mum left school in Belfast when she was 13. She went to work in this grocery chain called Smith and McClure. She was in the pork-butchering department. Thirteen years old and you’re hacking the trotters off pigs,” he says.

It’s a long way from trotters to Barneys, and no one knows it better. Along the way Doonan has learned what works, both in fashion and in life.

“It’s a fantastic time for fashion now because in the past there was almost a rule about what you must wear. It was dictatorial, and now it’s like you can wear whatever you want, but the key is to know what you are. If you’re a punk rock assassin you can get great things from H&M or Rick Owens and you can go all over the map,” he says.

“If you’re a sexy secretary you can find really great things from Proenza Schouler all the way to Zara. Now you need to self-invent, which is not a bad thing. But it can be a bit bewildering.

“I’m not sure how you rebel now. I see young kids now and their mums are dressed just the same. The idea of my mother and sister dressing alike is so hilarious.”

Doonan’s sister was a counter culture groovy chick in the Joni Mitchell mode and his mother was a Lana Turner glamour puss with a long line girdle.  They looked like completely different species when they stood side by side.

“You could have your own look and it was part of your identity. But in this day and age there are no faux pas. Creating your own look now is more fun,” Doonan offers.

But then he remembers one his fashion mentors, the legendary Diana Vreeland. Don’t be a slave to too much good taste, she warned him.

 “A little bad taste is like a splash of paprika.” Words to live by.