Serena Bute has been designing clothes for nearly thirty years, but it was only recently that she finally put her own name on the label. Maybe it was something as simple as finding herself. She has, after all, lived a few lives over the past three decades. And it’s certainly the case that “Serena Bute” the label distills a whole lot of experience, personal and professional.
In one of her previous fashion incarnations, she was always being told to think about what the customer wanted. “But that was not particularly who I wanted to dress,” Bute says now. “I made what I wanted to wear.” Which is, of course, the very soul of any successful entrepreneurial endeavour: satisfy your own needs, and you may find yourself making an authentic connection with the needs of others. Bute has closets full of fabulous designer clothes but she no longer felt comfortable trussed into tailored jackets or tottering on heels. “Maybe it’s my age, but I like to chuck something on and go,” she says. Her latest venture started with a pair of trousers – wide-legged, elasticated-waist, with the kind of one-size-fits-all versatility that loans them to everything from school run to yoga to bedtime, and even, with a pair of heels and a tuxedo jacket, the dressiest night out. The secret ingredient is fabric: supple silks, sensuous velvets, distinguished by the stripe of grosgrain running down each leg. “I’d be wearing these trousers no matter where I was, the airport, Australia, the streets of New York, and I’d be stopped and asked where they were from,” Bute reflects. “So I thought I could take it to the next level.” Meaning a complete collection, built around the founding principles of ease, comfort and versatility.
And that’s where her experience comes in. In the mid-80s, Bute was working for Joseph when she fell in love with the oversized cotton shirts designed by Rei Kawakubo for Comme des Garcons. She reconfigured them the way she wanted to wear them, in traditional Savile Row shirtings. That birthed her first business: Wendell and Howes. Then Bute and her family moved to Jamaica. She couldn’t find good clothes for her kids so she went fishing in the fabric shops in Montego Bay. “There were barrels and barrels of seconds, and if you timed it right, you could get amazing fabrics.” She shooed the rottweilers out of their kennel, turned it into a workroom and started making clothes for little kids. Their signature was two-tone, an ingenious way to utilize every piece of cloth. When the Jamaican adventure crumbled after ten years, Bute found herself back in the UK, beginning life again at 40.
She was styling a shoot with classic thermal vests when it occurred to her how pretty they’d look if they were dyed. So that’s what Bute did in her kitchen in Shepherd’s Bush. Unable to think of a name for her new business, she called it Anonymous. It was an instant sensation. She opened shops. Copyists went nuts. Mistakes were made. Another ten years passed, and Bute finally pulled the plug on Anonymous.
Which brings us to “Serena Bute”. Her past is all here: the oversized striped shirts of Wendell and Howes, the two-tone of her kids’ wear, the aestheticized utilitarianism of Anonymous. But, more than anything, there is finally Bute herself. The languor is seductive. You believe her when she says, “There’s no going back to tight jeans after this.” She resists the word “basic”. “Staple” seems more appropriate. But elevated to irresistible.