A Life in Fashion

Photography: Dan Martensen
Styling: Clare Richardson

Relove|A Life in Fashion
Fashion designer, Bella Freud, takes us through four captured moments of her fashion history, and talks the protective power of fashion, her love of Lady Penelope and vintage clothing, and sitting for her renowned father, the artist Lucien Freud.

“I am not a collector of clothes, I don’t like the idea of collecting, but I do keep things, because I think I will get an idea out of it at some point.”

I was always drawn to fashion, as I was drawn to clothing as a way of protecting your interior, as it distracted from my shyness. I was definitely aware that what you wore could be like armour, and as a child, I was interested in how school uniforms gave a kind of foil, and intrigued by how strongly people’s identities shone out despite the uniform. I like that particular look, that is quite restrained. To me, clothes can suggest what might be inside, but you have to find out. A really good outfit is really mysterious as you wonder about the person, but if it’s a bad outfit, you don’t think about the person, you only see the outfit. I started making clothes when I was 10. I had a sewing machine and I used to get jeans and insert Laura Ashley fabric. I used to go to jumble sales and buy boys clothes and wear them. We didn’t have money to buy fashion, and fashion didn’t exist then like it does now. Fashion was an elite thing and everyone else just wore stuff. 1. The First ever suit made, 1985 I was 20 when I made that suit, and I loved the way that ice skaters looked in that kind of cropped off silhouette, and I always liked Edwardian silhouettes, sort of closed up, but I also loved mini-skirts, so I made something that combined all those things. I worked with a pattern cutter and used to wear it all the time and I still have it. I like clothes that frame the face, as you get drawn into the wearers thoughts, it is like a Manet painting. I remember wearing that suit to go for lunch with my father and some old guy said to me, ‘you look like a Manet’, and thinking that is the best thing you could say to me, and I’ve never forgotten.
As my upbringing was quite hand to mouth hippy, I was fascinated by outfits – chic and couture, and men looking magical in a suit with the white of a shirt framing their face and a tie. I was really taken by the idea of day wear, which doesn’t really exist anymore, as people would dress up so beautifully in the day. I was inspired by that for this story, and I imagined people at the races, as everyone looked so incredible. Some of these were knitted suits, as when I started I just did knitwear. They were pale blue, and an oyster colour, and I was really into the coaty jackets with a matching mini. I used to love watching Lady Penelope on the Thunderbirds and her outfits were so amazing. She looked like someone from a French film. There was perfection but it wasn’t straight. I suppose she was quite powerful, so she had the confidence to wear what she liked…for a cartoon. I never shy away from colour. I have always loved pale blue. It is so heavenly, literally. I love a pale blue suit, it has a lot of charm. When I go out and worry about what to wear, wearing the suit is relaxing as I feel the job is done. I feel protected. I am not a collector of clothes, I don’t like the idea of collecting, but I do keep things, because I think I will get an idea out of it at some point. I buy tonnes of vintage, and I used to wear everything vintage because it was cheap, and I could find the thing that would correspond with how I was feeling. I mostly wear my own things now though, but now and again I will buy something of someone else’s and love it and wear it. I carry The Vampire’s Wife bags, which I love. Susie [Cave] is one of my closest friends, and I feel close to her when I have it. It is very nice having friends who are designers and wearing what they have made, as they literally have your back to make you look good and protect you.
4. Bella, 1981, by Lucien Freud I was 16 and I bought that dress at a market where everyone lay things out on the pavement. It was the first time I had sat for my father, and I just showed up wearing that dress, and didn’t necessarily think he would want to paint me in it, but he liked it. We did another painting similar in the same dress after this one, but I think I threw it away after. Though I was looking at this picture of it the other day, and I was thinking that I would like to make it. It is quite Belle de Jour, which has always been a reference for me. With my father I felt I knew how to be useful and how to sit for him. What would help and be unhelpful. I tried not to be late for him, but I was late always, but now I am not. It is such a huge thing that I managed to change, as there is nothing worse than being late, or someone being late for you. Now I am really punctual and it is exhilarating. That portrait took nine months. But he would be working on a few pictures at the same time. It was all about our time together and how I got to know him and be with him. It was wonderful, I really loved it. I don’t paint. I am not that good at drawing either, but I think that Is why I ended up drawing words a lot. I have always been interested in language and messages, and handwriting. I find if I keep doing it something flows from my head, down my arm and onto the page.

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