Leeds-born Avigail Collins was headhunted by Rihanna. She tells Neil Hudson about making her name in fashion and working with the stars.
When Avigail Collins left Leeds to follow her dream of making it big in the world of fashion, she could hardly have dreamt that in a few short years she would end up travelling with the likes of Rihanna, or chatting outside a recording studio with Sam Smith, or working with countless other celebrities, including Emile Sande and Kelly Osborne.
Her rags and riches story starts in Alwoodley, where she grew up with her mother, father, three sisters and brother.
After leaving school, she enrolled at Leeds College of Art and Design to study fashion and aged 19, she made one of the biggest decision in her life - to abandon her cosy life in the North and take up a place at the prestigious fashion school Istituto Marangoni in London.
“It was difficult leaving my home city, my family but it was something I couldn’t do in Leeds - if I could have done it here I would have but I wanted to be at the very top of my game, of the industry.”
You could say she’s managed that aged just 29.
But her rise to fame has humble beginnings.
“While I was studying in London, I set up my own fashion label. At the time, my husband-to-be [Damian Collins, 34] was working in Leeds and his father worked with M&S and it was through an agent there we had some leather jackets made. There were five styles, I wanted them to be unisex and I wanted to get the designs out there but this was in a time before Instagram and Facebook. I think the big thing at that time was MySpace. I remember taking pictures of the jackets on the roof of my London flat and we put them online.”
It was a shrewd move and one which is still paying dividends today.
“We got a good reaction, Nylon magazine wrote to us to say they loved what we were doing and they featured us. From that one picture, I ended up being listed in Vogue magazine as one of their ‘designers to watch’. I was still at uni.
“Going into my final year, we all decided we wanted to go to New York, so we all got placements and we went for three months and took the jackets, hoping to get them more exposure.
“One of the people we contacted was Mariel Haenn, the head stylist at MTV at the time but we didn’t hear back from her. While we were in New York, I got engaged to Damian. That was 2007. It was two days before we were due to fly back home, all the tickets were booked and everything, when the head stylist wrote back, saying she’d moved all the way to LA and was working with this new singer called Rihanna. At the time, Rihanna had only two songs out, the main one being Umbrella.
“She wanted to meet us and for us to meet Rihanna, she also wanted to borrow one of the jackets.
“The first time I met Rihanna, I think that was the first time I realised what a stylist is truly for. I’d always admired people like Jennifer Lopez and Mariel styled her too.”
She continued: “A few months later, Mariel contacted us about a Kanye West video she was involved in styling, she wanted us involved and we were thrilled. It was all going ahead but then, at the last moment, the video was cancelled, which was sadly due to Kanye’s mother dying.
“I graduated and another year passed and one day we got a phone call from Mariel, saying she was at Gatwick, that she still loved the brand and did we want to come to dinner with Rihanna... oh, and could I bring along my graduate collection.
“I think we met Rihanna for about five minutes and that was really the first time I realised what it took to style a celebrity. They are people who are constantly in the public eye, they are constantly examined and criticised, so it takes a lot before they can go out.
“It was a great moment for me. I think I cried from happiness.”
Later, in 2009, Mariel returned to London with Rihanna but this time for a longer period.
“She asked us to take her shopping, she wanted to go to all the little independents, she was really impressed, We got an email back from her when she was in the US, basically asking us what it would take for us to join Rihanna’s team.”
Of course, they said yes and now she regularly works with Rihanna, although she has also started to build up her own celebrity style list, including the likes of Sam Smith, Kelly Osborne, Emeli Sande and others.
Since most of her work has been gained through word of mouth, she must be doing something right but perhaps that’s partly to do with her down-to-earth Northern outlook. Even now, despite having moved away from the city when she was 19 and having lived and worked in America, she’s not lost her Leeds accent.
She also doesn’t ask for selfies and remains, even in the company of some of the world’s biggest stars, quite down to earth.
“I don’t go in for that,” she explains. “I just see them as normal people. They’ve got family too, they’ve grown up with people just like you. Also, being a stylist, it’s a very personal thing that you’re doing, so you will always be going to their homes for fittings and so on, so you have to be down to earth.
“It’s easy to forget everyone’s human, everyone has days that go wrong, especially when they are constantly in the public eye. So I understand why it takes so much to get them to that stage where they can do that all the time.”
She adds “I don’t think I really get surprised by celebrity. I think because I started out working with someone so big, like Rihanna. I remember being with Sam Smith outside the studios one day and two girls came up and they were so excited. That was before he was really big. I knew then he wasn’t going to be able to walk down the street without people knowing who he is.”
Her clothing brand, Silver Spoon, which came in 2012 and which she runs together with husband Damian, also keeps her busy - she does a great line in winter knits which, she says are popular from August right through to March.
Between working with Rihanna and other celebrities and running her own business, the 29-year-old, who is also expecting her first child in May, still finds time to return to her home town.
“I go back to Leeds as often as possible because all my family are there. I have a really good family, it was lovely growing up in Leeds.”
Earlier this month, Avigail returned to the area for ‘An Audience With’’ event at the Smart Gallery at Crimple Hall, Harrogate, where she spoke about her career and answered questions.
In the near future, she will be working with Pixie Lott at Christmas, there’s London Fashion Week in February (she’s currently exploring a new concept which is a riff on mechanic’s overalls) and the same month there will be the Brit Awards.
So while you might not see her, you will most certainly have seen her work and at 29, she’s clearly not done with the “crazy but amazing” world of fashion and celebrity just yet.