Why Phoebe-Lettice Thompson Might Just Be the Most Qualified Reality TV Star Turned Designer

Are you ready to get "Kawaii"?
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Tyler McCall
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Are you ready to get "Kawaii"?
A look from the Phoebe x Illustrated People look book. Photo: Phoebe-Lettice Thompson

A look from the Phoebe x Illustrated People look book. Photo: Phoebe-Lettice Thompson

Once you've got a reality TV stint under your belt, it seems the next step is to launch a "fashion" collaboration, regardless of whether you're knowledgable about the industry. In fact, if we had a dollar for every reality TV star that launched a fashion line, we could probably buy a very nice item from a collection designed by someone who actually knows what they're doing (oooh, burn -- sorry, Snooki).

A look from Phoebe x Illustrated People. Photo: Phoebe-Lettice Thompson

A look from Phoebe x Illustrated People. Photo: Phoebe-Lettice Thompson

But Phoebe-Lettice Thompson, who appeared on series five and six of the hit British reality TV show Made in Chelsea, may prove to be the exception to the rule. She's teamed up with East London brand Illustrated People on a line of sportswear, and from the conception of the print to shooting the look book, she's been hands-on at every step.

It helps that Thompson has years of experience in the fashion world. She fell in love with fashion at age 16 when she interned for British couturier Bruce Oldfield -- an industry legend known for designing dresses for none other than Princess Diana. From there, she got involved with styling and photography, working as a fashion assistant at Tatler as well as freelancing for publications like Wonderland and American Vogue.

So when Made in Chelsea -- a richer, posher version of The Hills -- came calling, Thompson viewed it as another cool experience to try, or as she puts it, a "hobby." The catch? She insisted she be allowed to continue working while appearing on the show. "I think I'm one of the only cast members that had a full time, contractual job while filming," she says. 

Inevitably, Chelsea gave Thompson the opening she needed to work with Illustrated People. Looking for cool, new lines to wear on the show, she stumbled across the brand, which sparked a relationship between the two. And fortunately, Illustrated People was looking for someone who could provide more than just a well-known face.

"When I finished the show, I've always wanted to do a collection based on Japanese and Harajuku theme, so I went to have a meeting with them and they were completely on the same page as me," Thompson explains. "They were like, 'Look, we want you to design a collection,' which is the best thing I've ever heard."

That started a six month process, during which Thompson says she was in studio nearly every day. Having been obsessed with Japanese culture since age 11, it was the clear starting off point for inspiration; Thompson photographed figurines and stuffed animals brought back from Japan, and played with the images in Photoshop to create prints. A key focal point was the Japanese word "Kawaii" which means cute, combined with somewhat grotesque images, like a bleeding eyeball.

Looks from Phoebe x Illustrated People. Photo: Phoebe-Lettice Thompson

Looks from Phoebe x Illustrated People. Photo: Phoebe-Lettice Thompson

But Thompson didn't just design the collection -- she also shot and styled the look book, and had a hand in everything from choosing the models to the hair and makeup look. "I kind of saw the campaign even before I saw the design so I knew the route I wanted to go down," she says.

Japanese fashion icon Hirari Ikeda was the inspiration here. "I recently saw that Nicola [Formichetti] from Diesel has picked her out and used her for his shows, which I was sort of miffed about because I was like, 'Oh no, now everyone is going to like her,'" Thompson says. "But I've loved her for ages, and she's kind of like my muse I've never met. I feel like if she'd wear it, then it must be good."

A look from Phoebe x Illustrated People. Photo: Phoebe-Lettice Thompson

A look from Phoebe x Illustrated People. Photo: Phoebe-Lettice Thompson

Thompson stood out on Made in Chelsea for two things, one being her totally unique sense of style ("I wish I'd worn some crazier outfits on the show, I think," she says of her Chelsea wardrobe. "I definitely had some more up my sleeve, but it was time to go!"), which is definitely reflected in the line.

The second is for playing the part of the villain for her short time on the show. (Seriously -- her legendary eyeroll should be in your top five reaction GIFs.) Thompson didn't hold back from her castmates -- the word "tacky" was used quite a lot -- and it didn't exactly earn her the public's love. "I have been subjected to so much negative press whilst the show's been going on," she explains. "I was quite a strong character and didn't agree with the main characters."

Luckily, her design efforts have begun to earn her a different reputation. "Receiving so much positive press -- not one bad thing has been said on something I have slaved away at -- has been really encouraging," she says cheerfully. It's given her hopes to continue designing with Illustrated People, perhaps on a menswear line or a swimwear collection.

And Thompson isn't worried about this collaboration getting lost amongst the efforts by her Chelsea peers.  "Actually, a photographer that I've worked with said, 'This is amazing, this is actually you in clothes, I can tell you've had everything to do with this,'" she says excitedly. 

"It really speaks for itself," she continues. "Not to name names of the other cast members, but [those lines are] just there to make money, whereas I've actually chosen my integrity and the design aspect over doing it for commercial aspect. If I would wear it, it's in the collection and if I won't wear it, it's not going, even if it would sell loads."

Check out some of the pieces from Phoebe x Illustrated People, which is on sale starting May 26 through Illustrated People's website, and through Topshop in the UK.