Fashion designer Luke Roper: I dress stars but I'm still grounded
Fashion designer Luke Roper talks to Weekend about dressing celebs and renovating a house.
Rio, Ian Wright, Jermain Defoe, The Wanted, Ant and Dec. No, it's not the line-up for the latest all-star celebrity football match.
Could be though, but in fact it's just of the celebrities lining up to wear the clothes of fashion designer Luke Roper, the lad from Walsall who now has shops around the world, including a prime spot in the Bullring.
But despite kitting out the stars in T-shirts, jeans, shoes and watches bearing the distinctive lion emblem Luke says his family and friends help keep him grounded.
"I'm as down-to-earth as they come and my mates and family would be the first to pull me up if they thought I was changing," he says.
He's also not shy about getting his hands dirty at all levels of his business and sometimes serves behind the counter of his shops.
Speaking exclusively to the Star from his almost complete farmhouse renovation in the Worcestershire countryside, he's bubbling with plans for the future.
He's come a long way in the last five years when he was living in a two-bed semi in the Black Country – and even further from his childhood in Walsall Wood.
Not that he's shy of his roots – they are what spur him.
"I'm proud of my past and where I have come from. I'm Walsall born and bred.
"I like to think that if you met me in the street you wouldn't know what I did for a living or that celebrities were my clients."
His passion for fashion began as youngster growing up in a large family, where his mum Joan was a wedding dress designer and seamstress, while his father John worked in farming.
The youngest of five and born in 1977 he learned fast that if you put the hard work in, you get the results.
"There's 20 years between myself and my oldest brother Wayne. I just saw what they had from working and wanted it too. It's all or nothing for me and I wanted it and was prepared to work hard for it. My mum had a sewing room at the back of our home and so I have always seen her sewing. My sister Jo showed me a thing or two from an early age.
"At around the age of nine or 10 I decided to give it a go myself and found I could use a sewing machine. I don't know how, but it just worked when I used it.
"I made my first clothes at the age of 13 or 14 and first formal shirts a few years later. I started going out and making more of my own clothes and then friends started asking me to make them things too.
"I started using shop-bought patterns for the shirts but that didn't seem to work or they didn't fit properly. So that's when I made my own patterns too. It just grew from there," he says.
While most teenage lads wouldn't admit to knowing how to use a needle and thread, it was the start of something big for Luke and he didn't care who knew it.
After leaving The Shire Oak Academy (formerly Shire Oak School) in Walsall Wood, he went to Walsall College to study fashion and textiles, followed by a degree at Central Saint Martin's London, where Sir Terence Conran, Stella McCartney and the late Alexander McQueen all cut their teeth.
"I aimed for the top. It's not like me to sit back and wait for things to happen. I really believe you have to make it happen.
"I have a list of things that I have to do each day and also plans for the next five years. I am the same with my job, my collection, my family, my home. I want it all to be right and you aren't going to achieve anything if you don't keep on moving forward," he says.
Celebrity stylists and fashionistas love this attention to detail and his designs are regularly featured in the glossies yet Luke stills seems in awe of how the brands – which includes Luke 1977, Luke Denim to Luke Roper – have become so popular. "To see celebrities such as Boardwalk Empire's Stephen Graham wearing the brand is a real privilege."
But despite his success Luke shows no signs of slowing and it takes wife Tracey to calm him down. "She has to rein my ideas in sometimes but she's incredibly supportive too and I wouldn't be able to do it without her," he says.
Tracey is Luke's PA and the couple have two boys – Rui, aged three, and 10-month-old Freddie.
"It's quite funny how Tracey and I met. I was at a trade show in London in 2005 and Tracey was shopping with friends and we were staying at the same hotel. I was telling a joke to a friend and I saw her laughing. I thought she was laughing at the joke but she was actually laughing at my accent. She was from Tamworth and had recognised it. We got chatting and that was it. We were engaged after a year and married two-and-a-half years later.
"For the first five-and-a-half years we were living hand-to-mouth, then it just exploded. Most people would have quit after 18 months. But I knew it could work and I was determined it would," he says.
His designs go through a number of checks, rechecks and proofs before they hit the shelves and everything has to measure-up to his sky high standards.
The renovation of his home has been as exacting.
Some parts of the farmhouse date back to the 12th century. When the couple bought it, after house hunting for months, it was semi-derelict.
"It was rotten from top to bottom. You think it would be romantic to do up a house but it is a lot of work and what was a 12 month project has just become even longer. But we want it to be right, and that takes time," he says.
The makeover is almost complete which has come as a bit a relief to Luke.
"I think it is all about having a vision of what something looks like now and what it will look like. That's how it is in fashion too, I have just finished my Spring Summer 2014 collection which I have been working on for the last five months. You have to be at least 12 months ahead of yourself. And it's like that with the house.
Awash with strong colours, stone flooring, Belfast sink and solid wood doors, the house will soon be made into a home – with plenty of Luke-style influences.
Just like his clothes.
"For the first few years of the line we didn't have our colours or our emblem of the lion and were known as Luke 1977. But I knew I needed something, a masculine emblem that could be recognised.
"It was while I was fishing in Ireland and we were in the middle of nowhere I went into a bar. On the top shelf there was a load of old whiskey bottles and one caught my eye. The barman took it down for me and I dusted it off and saw it had the black, gold and a bit of red on the label. And I just knew that was it.
"The lion's head design is from the Roper heraldic crest – which should be a rampant lion – but I tweaked it a bit. It just all fell into place," he said.
His next collection, out in the autumn, has a survival theme – an insight, perhaps, of how his brand has weathered the storm throughout the financial crisis.
"There have been plenty of brands, very good brands that I admired, that we have lost over the last few years. And that has been a real shame.
"Shoppers have a 'buy and throw out' mentality. But this isn't right.
My clothes should stand the test of time and be investment pieces. I think that's why we're thriving.
"But I'm not going to sit back and think I've cracked it. Because that's when you lose your edge," he said.
It's this edge he's determined to keep and for his latest collection he's been working with textile makers from Japan and sourcing materials from the military for his new jackets made from sleeping bags.
"I really can't wait for the clothes to come out. I'm a 100mph person and that is with everything. I can't be negative and have to be passionate about everything I do."
He's also toying with the idea of bringing out ranges for women and children."I am still not sure as I am a designer of menswear it has that edge that I understand. But I wouldn't rule it out." he says. But with stores in Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester, Cardiff and Leicester, another one is set to open in Merry Hill in September there's plenty for him to focus on in the meantime.
"We are solid in the UK and our stand-alone stores are doing so well. We've just signed a deal in the Middle East, with five Luke standalone stores opening in the next 20 months. It's just great.
"Our clothes are in 65 stores in the US, from East to West coast, including Fred Segal in LA. Our brand is becoming more recognised over there, which is only helped by the big names wearing it," he says.
Most recently, Ant and Dec were seen wearing Luke's clobber on BGT.
But if there's one corner of Britain that's definitely got talent, it's right here.
By Claire Fry
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