My life: Andrew Keith
The Lane Crawford president tells Francesca Fearon how a chance find under a dormitory mattress inspired a career in fashion
BAREFOOT IN BORNEO My family is from Scotland but I was born in Nigeria and lived most of my childhood years in Borneo - my father worked on the oil exploration side for Shell. We ran around in bare feet most of the time and took trips to the beach and the jungle, and went out exploring, as children do. It was magical. We would go to Scotland every year for annual leave. In those days you got two months, so we would spend three weeks going back overland through Asia by train, bus, car, or by water. Our parents (I am the eldest, with a brother and sister) wanted us to have a broad experience of different cultures. We went to China in 1977 and I remember being on a train with antimacassars on the seats and being served tea in tiny cups. When we got off at Guangzhou to traipse through immigration, everyone was wearing Mao suits and they were fascinated by these blond, tanned kids. There is a photograph of my sister and me sitting in a taxi while our parents were shopping and the car is covered in people trying to touch these two kids.
COLD SHARP SHOCK I was in Borneo until 1982, when I was sent to school in Scotland. Gordonstoun was a huge culture shock after Borneo. We were in a frozen wasteland, with morning runs followed by cold showers, but it was an amazing education. Gordonstoun is about celebrating individuals and strength of character. We had a rota for cleaning the dorms and one day I discovered under someone's bed a copy of i-D magazine. You feel very isolated in north Scotland, but suddenly this whole world opened up; of street culture, music, fashion and big global issues like CND and saving the planet. That and my interest in art were the catalyst for my interest in fashion. When you are 16, the ability to express yourself through how you look and present yourself was fascinating. It felt like I had come full circle when I took i-D's "Soul" exhibition to Joyce in Beijing last autumn. It was a multimedia exhibition with i-D's artists and collaborators expressing what motivates them. We wanted to showcase to new Chinese talent that creativity comes from lots of areas.
SUITS YOU My original plan had been to go to New York, as American brands like Donna Karan and Calvin Klein were always looking for UK-trained talent. I had graduated in fashion from Kingston University (in London). I love fabric, I love tailoring and I love cutting and one of my early jobs was working for Marks & Spencer as a menswear designer. I would spend two days a week in Sunderland with the pattern cutters, learning the technical skills. I can construct a man's suit myself. I do actually wear a lot of bespoke - I like British tailoring. However, the opportunity came up in 1995 to work for G2000 and U2 in Hong Kong. They are a vertical operation and at the time had 300 stores in China and Asia-Pacific, so I became menswear design director. Kingston's had been a very industry-led design course, and I got very involved with G2000 production and operation - just designing was a little too isolating. A job as head of the men's department then came up at Lane Crawford, where the menswear was under-potentialised, and we were allowed to completely reposition it. Balbina Wong hired me. She was terrifying. The first thing she asked me was could I use a calculator? I passed that test.
DIFFERENT STROKES I am not a techie person at all but I love what's happening with technology as a medium for communication and what it means to people's lifestyles. It is the immediacy of everything - what has just been seen on a Paris runway has just been blasted to Shanghai. It puts pressure on retailers to create meaningful content. What's interesting for retailers is that it is now a two-way communication, we have to openly engage with our customers, who can buy what they want, anywhere, any time. I think this is the biggest pioneering time we have experienced in retail. For instance, we are using 3-D state-of-the-art technology with [photographer] Nick Knight for our spring campaign.
I joined Lane Crawford in 2001 and became vice-president of merchandising in 2006, so I spent a lot of time going in and out of China during the run up to the opening there. Then, in 2008, I became president of Joyce Boutique. Joyce allows us to be as creative and risk-taking and experimental as we want. Joyce and Lane Crawford are iconic brands with very different personalities and customers, so we have the ability to create different experiences for them. We have had great moments, like bringing in Sarah Burton and staging (an Alexander) McQueen fashion show in Beijing. That was very special; the very first show I saw of McQueen's was Highland Rape, which was his second collection.
NATURE CALLS I have to keep moving. I have just spent a few days in Istanbul (in Turkey). The melting together of cultures fascinates me; I like Southeast Asia, Burma and Laos, too. Inspiration comes to me through travel. I am influenced by interior and product design, and collect primitive and tribal art. My grandfather was a horticulturalist and so nature is very important to me. We have a place with a garden on an island in a natural marine park in Thailand where a village of Moken sea gypsies still survives. My partner and I do a lot of work with the school there, particularly educating the children on nature and conservation - it's one of the few places in Thailand you will find turtles.