The really wild fashion show! He’s a perfectionist TV presenter, she’s a show demanding fashion designer – would brother and sister Chris and Jenny Packham still be speaking to each other at the end of their safari photo shoot?
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Chris Packham 61, conservationist and television presenter
When Jenny and I were kids in Southampton, all I wanted to do was explore the countryside, and take her with me.
That came to an ignominious end when, at 14, I found a mallard’s nest. To me, it was the perfect encapsulation of nature’s beauty, and I wanted to show ten-year-old Jenny, so I dragged her through a thick crop of stinging nettles to see it – the only problem was that she was wearing a skirt. I think that was the beginning of the end when it came to us sharing my passion for the natural world
I’ve spent 35 years travelling and working with wildlife professionally, but my sister had never experienced it with me.
Chris (centre), Jenny and Kicheche’s Paul Goldstein pose for this shot by Charlotte Corney, Chris’s partner
Last year it hit me: time’s running out. I’m 61 and she’s 57. Wouldn’t it be great to go somewhere? I don’t do holidays – I have to be doing something and, typically for me, that’s taking photographs. So we dreamt up the idea of a shoot
The Kicheche camp, where we did the shoot, is in one of Kenya’s wildlife conservancies and is well-managed and sustainable.
It was co-founded by our friend Paul Goldstein – who was my co-photographer on the day (and who took our stunning cover shot) – and there are tight restrictions when it comes to viewing the wildlife. You see tragic scenes in some of the national parks in Africa, with too many vehicles pursuing animals and disrupting their ecology – some of these safaris are sold as ecotourism, but really they’re vandalism. There’s none of that at Kicheche, so we were keen to support it.
To go to the Masai Mara with Jenny was a dream come true.
The shoot, however, was a challenging assignment. To me, my sister is probably the most important client in the world. I don’t want to fail her. Add to that the fact that I am used to capturing wildlife on camera, not fashion, it was quite a stressful experience. I was constantly saying to Jen, ‘Stand behind me and tell me exactly what you want.’ I wanted to do the best job I’ve ever done in my life.
Ibis dress, £2,505. Chris and Jenny Packham have collaborated on a fashion photo shoot
Jenny and I grew up in a working-class family and wore hand-me-downs – but as teenagers we both developed a keen interest in fashion.
My sister’s always had an eye for quality. In our 20s we had a little bit of money for the first time, so we would spend Saturday afternoons walking around Covent Garden in London. We’d go backwards and forwards until we decided what we could afford and what we would like. I remember those afternoons, with Jenny, debating which Paul Smith shirt I should buy – I’ve still got some of them and I treasure them.
Part of being autistic [Chris was diagnosed as having Asperger’s Syndrome in his 40s], I think, is that I can’t just take a glance at something.
Everything I look at, I break down, analyse and remember. So I look at Jenny’s collections and form opinions, and if I can’t tell her the truth, who can I tell the truth to? That said, I’m telling her from an unqualified perspective. I’m a zoologist – she’s the fashion designer.
The talented Packham siblings have joined forces in Africa to create a stunning collection of images. Imani dress, £3,345
We’re both passionate about creativity, though. She makes dresses, I make photographs; I’m about to take three months off to do some sculpture.
So we have always been interested in what each other is making. I remember her sitting at the table with my mother, learning to sew. She also had a knitting machine and made some remarkable jumpers – I wish we still had them.
I’d had a tough time socially when I was growing up.
In my teens and early 20s, I was developing a means of managing my autism in public, but it was exhausting. The bond that Jenny and I formed at that time was really important: I had a confidante who I could go home to, take the mask off and be the real me, and that helped hugely.
I’m immeasurably grateful that I have Jenny as my sister.
Mara dress, £6,300. Creative director: Jenny Packham All jewellery, vickisarge.com Model: Malaika Firth Hair and make-up: Sinitta Akello Shot on location at Kicheche Camps; kicheche.com
It’s been wonderful to watch her skills develop, and see her and Matthew [Anderson, Jenny’s husband and CEO of her brand] overcome all of the challenges of a life in business. She probably wouldn’t say this herself, but many people in fashion come from a more privileged background. It’s a rarity that they’ve done so well and remained an independent business for 35 years, and that makes me proud of her. It’s a testament to the determination of a working-class kid who really wanted to show something to the world.
Jenny Packham 57, fashion designer
Last May, my brother rang me and suggested we all go on safari together – Chris and his partner, Charlotte Corney, me and my husband, Matthew.
Chris said, ‘Let’s do a photo shoot.’ He’s a perfectionist and photography is his passion, so I knew he’d do a wonderful job. We did lots of shoots together when I was in London at St Martin’s studying fashion. He would build whole sets, and I’d pose as though I’d just burst through the floorboards – it was very 80s.
I feel incredibly fortunate that since those early days I’ve gone on to dress some of the most well-known women in the world: the [then] Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Winslet, Beyoncé, Olivia Colman, Taylor Swift, Jennifer Lopez.
Last May, my brother rang me and suggested we all go on safari together – Chris and his partner, Charlotte Corney, me and my husband, Matthew, said Jenny Packham
Dressing Adele for the 2013 Oscars was a highlight. Later I was invited to her house, and the dress was in a glass cabinet with her award. I love to dress people for those important moments in their lives; you know it will be part of their history, something they won’t forget.
Matthew and I started the business 35 years ago; we wanted a creative life together.
In fashion it’s a real challenge to keep a company going – any crisis in the world will destabilise you, whether it’s war or recession. When the pandemic started, we just said to each other, ‘We’re going to get through this.’ You have to love solving problems, because fashion is full of them.
It has helped that what we do is niche; we’ve stuck to eveningwear.
When times are tough, people want to escape. We were selling evening dresses throughout lockdown even though no one was attending events; I think they were a hope purchase.
We all loved Chris’s idea and decided to go to the Kicheche Camp in the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya.
Veronica dress, £3,345. Clothes throughout, Jenny Packham at farfetch.com
It was booked for December, so knowing that was coming up, I designed our spring/summer 2023 collection with a safari influence in mind, and then took that into the six-piece capsule collection that we would shoot in Kenya. My favourite piece is the one-shoulder leopard-print dress in black and white (see page 19) – although having seen real leopards now, I know that they put any man-made version to shame.
The trip was extraordinary.
There were some unnerving moments: the first night we woke up to the sound of an elephant chomping and padding all around our tent. The next day, while out on safari, an enormous lion strolled past our car. It was like we were paparazzi and he was a superstar.
‘I’m used to photographing wildlife,’ says Chris, ‘not fashion – so it was stressful!’
It’s such a treat being anywhere in nature with Chris.
He’s so knowledgeable and excited. Having him in my life has definitely made me more conscious of the environment; making fashion sustainable is a slow process, but we’re constantly looking for recycled materials and trying to reduce the carbon footprint of our supply chain.
I am demanding on shoots, because they’re expensive and you have limited time.
I really had to tell him what I wanted and Chris hadn’t ever really seen me like that before
Although Chris dresses practically on TV, he loves fashion and always has.
When we were teenagers, he was a very glamorous punk. He had spiked-up blond hair, apart from one strand, which he grew long and attached a feather to. I tried being a punk for a couple of days, but it wasn’t really for me.
Whenever I show a new collection, Chris tells me what is good and where I’ve gone wrong – and he’s always right.
I love his honesty. When he was diagnosed with Asperger’s, understanding it improved the way we communicated. I am much more direct now – if I want him to do something, I don’t hint.
Chris had tough times when we were young – he was bullied, which I think is very common among people with Asperger’s, but I never saw any issue with who he was.
My family all love a project, so when Chris used to say, ‘I want to go and see otters in Scotland,’ and then became obsessed with it, my parents and I would just join in. He’s an exceptional person, and his enthusiasm and integrity are genuine – there’s never an ulterior motive. I think we’re lucky; we don’t have bigger supporters than each other. I’ve no idea what I’d do without him.’
- The Jenny Packham Safari Collection will be available at farfetch.com later this month. For each piece sold £100 will go to the Kicheche Community Trust charity
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