Hi Luella, are you working on your AW09 collection at the moment?
Yeah, well actually, I’ve done Autumn/Winter already! We work very far in advance and come back to the collection later, I just have a little bit left to do. Now we’re doing Pre-Spring, which is our first Pre-collection. Starting the Pre-collection, I feel I’m expanding and cementing in a controlled way what Luella is all about – the accessories, shoes, ready to wear – a whole world.
Pre-collections are really big business now…
Yes, it just seems like it has to be done. There is none of that pressure of the catwalk show so you stop thinking about trends or outside issues, it’s just about designing clothes your really like. So we’ve nearly done that one as well!
Wow, it’s not even Christmas yet and you’ve created two collections!?
Yes it’s a bit crazy isn’t it – I’m thinking about Spring/Summer10 now. Because we’re such a small company we have to work a lot more in advance to stay on top of things, I definitely leave a bit to do just before the show though, as I feel it’s important to be current. But that said, I am not too concerned with what’s on trend or current because I create very personal collections, I feel my label is on its own path and I don't consider myself having a real adjacency to other designers. There are many designers I truly admire and would be proud to have my name uttered in the same breath – but I don't stand next to anyone, I’m trying very much to do my own thing, and doing my own thing has made me sit more comfortably in the fashion industry.
For Spring/Summer09 you definitely went your own way with a very Luella, pink, fun and playful vision…
Yes, everything was so fucking pink, I thought, “I don’t know if I’ll be able to get away with this!’ And Katie England, who styled my collection was totally out of her comfort zone – she only wears black! We looked at each other just thinking, “Oh, this could really go very right or very wrong…”
The collection was a dream for any girl who loves dresses! Do you wear your own designs?
Oh god yeah, all the time, that’s half the fun of designing. I’ll either wear my own pieces or designs from Gap – I don’t buy designer clothing, it’s either Luella or high-street. Oh, I did just buy some Chanel shoes though…
Well, why not…
Yes, everyone is allowed to buy Chanel (laughs).
Does your little girl wear your clothing…
My studio keeps saying they’ll make miniature versions for her but that hasn’t happened yet. We made a bag a few seasons ago called ‘The Stevie’ named after her, and so we were going to make a baby version of that for her because she is obsessed with handbags, she has about 20 of them! They’re not Luella handbags or any kind of designer handbags, just funny little bags she loves. She’s starting to understand fashion and what I do – she’s come to the last couple of shows and quite scarily loves them (laughs)… When we got home after the show she was catwalking up and down the kichen.
So cute! And so can you tell me about your upcoming AW10 collection?
No – I hate talking about future collections because it’s like giving away a secret! I like a surprise! But, I can say there ain’t so much pink that’s for sure!
Ha! I see, you’ve toned it down a notch…
Well, it’s not toned down in detail or design, but yes the pinks have been muted (laughs). I feel so good that I went the way I did last season – it was so emotionally charged, feel-good and fairytale, and it was so nice to be exported away from what’s going on with society and the world and just have a bit of fantasy. It was total fantasy and included all my favourite things; Alice in Wonderland, garden parties, royalty, aristocracy and Englishness. It was very much transporting you away from grey, which felt right. I think when you go in the direction of fantasy, ruffles and girliness you need to go so far that it becomes something else. Putting pink and purple together, only having one black piece in the whole collection just sent it over the edge – taking the aesthetic to its extreme until it’s almost punk. Pink, tulle, glitter knitwear – it was all skating on the line between good and bad taste with punk undertones, and going a little bit too far into that crazy place that I love. I see something so pink and over the to as becoming quite dark and sinister – its just the way my mind works. I put that spin on it, whereas someone else could look at it and just think, ‘cute’.
Do you tend towards a punky aesthetic because you were a punky teen?
I wasn’t really affected by fashion until quite late on, as a girl I suppose I was a bit of a tomboy. I was really into sports and when I look back at photographs I was always in jeans and ratty sweaters. I suppose my mum had an influence on me, but with my mother it never felt like fashion – it always seemed like total eccentricity. She was always a bit nuts, and had mad Stevie Nicks hair. She was very hippie, with bangles jangling everywhere, always a bit odd, which I liked and I’m so glad I had that kind of influence. I was never into fashion or clothes in a big way when I was younger, I was much more boyish about it all.
Which is why you infuse things with a fun, tongue in cheek sensibility…
Yes, you know I kind of remember going around to a friend’s house to play Barbie’s and being so bored, because they didn’t do anything! I never had those kind of girly toys or dolls – the nearest I got to them was a Cindy Horse… but I just wasn’t interested. I remember being quite interested by one toy I had called ‘Girl’s World’ it was a head on shoulders, with hair you could pull out and change and put make-up on its face.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up mainly in Stratford-upon-Aven, and spent a lot of time in Devon as well because my mum and dad weren’t together. So I got to see both small town and country – I got to see a lot of the bad side of England in a way, the small town middle England. Stratford-upon-Avon is quite crazy – it’s just like a postcard. It’s all Shakespeare – Shakespeare’s birthplace and Anne Hathaway’s thatched cottage – there are cottages everywhere and very neat, very proper, very middle class, middle England – it’s prime for rebelling against. My mum was quite a rebellious hippie, I remember her getting ready with her mates to go out to punk gigs when I was little – she was a quite a young mum, when I was eight she was just around 30. Then my dad was much more establishment and country and horses. That divide between the two is probably where the two sides of my aesthetic come from.
And what was your childhood like?
To be honest my memory is so bad, it’s terrible (laughs)… I do remember being quite tomboyish and quite observant, because I was an only child that outsider thing kicked in a bit. I loved sport at school, netball and tennis, I loved horses too but that happened much later once I spent more time with my father and would ride with him. I had always been around horses, but not as closely as I would have liked to be.
Do you have horses now?
I have a couple and the kids have two ponies as well which is lovely – they have a miniature Shetland, it’s the fattest little pony you’ve ever seen with the most amazing bangs ever. I try to ride as much as I can – I’d like to ride every day, but it ends up being about three times a week. That’s kind of a childhood dream realised. Horses have shaped my life in a funny way actually, my dad is very horsey and was managing stables when I was born. It has always been there in my life – when I started my label I called my first collection, ‘Daddy I want a pony.’
Equestrian themes and motifs are recurrent in your collections…
Yes completely, but that’s more aesthetic than anything else. I just like the symbols of equestrianism – the idea of British heritage and saddlery, it’s so proper and so beautiful. So when we started doing handbags, that’s where the equestrian theme came from.
And where are you living now?
I live between Cornwall and London, about three miles away from sea – I wanted land and Dave [partner David Sims] wanted beach, so we reached a happy compromise. I work from my Shoreditch studio two to three times a week, so I condense everything I can do into that time, then when I’m home I’m just with my three kids.
What is your favourite thing to do in your spare time – not that you have any by the sound of things!
(laughs) Ride. I ride constantly, I am really quite obsessed with it. You know, before I had kids I was the scattiest, flakiest, most disorganised person, and now I realise being organised means you just have more time to do the things you want to. I kind of thought organisation was a bit lame and uncool, but actually I now know organisation is what it’s all about.
Organisation is what it's all about – my new mantra! Were there any fashion heroes that have inspired you?
Mary Quant – she was irreverent, her designs were hugely wearable and she was on her own path. She was London-centric, but created fashion that could be translated across the globe.
And she popularised the mini…
Yes she created the mini, which was so incredible – if it wasn’t for her we wouldn’t have Topshop today. Female designers of the 60s were the most inspiring heroines to date. Biba was amazing as well, that was a brand that created an entire world around it. That’s what Luella is all about, it is about more than clothing, it is a world and something you can be a part of.
Is music a motivating force for you?
Music informs a lot of what I do definitely. The rebelliousness and creativity, it’s such an important art form. It’s the other side of Englishness and aristocracy – the opposite of a lot of the things that inspire my designs.
What did you listen to as a teenager?
I loved The Cure, Prince, 70s music from my mum like Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan and she was obsessed with The Rolling Stones, so I was obsessed too. When I first started my label, I was living with Justine Frischmann [of Elastica] and Mathangi Arulpragasam [M.I.A] – it was such an inspiring time for me.
Do you have an all-time favourite piece of clothing?
I have a striped sequin blazer I love to wear, it’s just one of those things that you can wear with anything and it makes an outfit look really jazzy. I’m so stuck in jeans, it’s good to be able to dress them up. The ‘it-bag’ used to pull an outfit together, but now it has become such a negative equity. When I started creating bags, a fancy bag could transform a scruffy outfit into something dressy – now it can do the opposite. I don’t get into the really perfected style of dress. I’m not a doll and so I don't want to dress like one – that aesthetic doesn't seem real, I like a bit of reality, scruffy hair, bitten nails, last night’s make-up, looking a little disheveled. Elegantly disheveled – people can think you’re not making the effort but that's the art of it, it may actually be more vain than being totally groomed, but probably more fun (laughs).
What is the best thing about being a fashion designer?
The best thing is being around talented, fun people beng creative. It’s such fun to wax lyrical about the things that fascinate and inspire me – I love doing all the research each season.
Who do you see as the Luella girl?
Hopefully with Luella, the designs can be for all kinds of girls. People say it’s young, youthful, playful, but I think it’s all about attitude – you could be 16 or 60 and still have that fun attitude. My style is all about eccentric contrariness, and I want Luella to have a broad and democratic appeal.