Bella Freud -
A Life
in Fashion
Photography: Dan Martensen
Styling: Clare Richardson
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 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.

“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.”

2. Vogue editorial, shot by Steven Meisel, 1993


“Saucy, almost kinky” is how they describe my clothes in the copy that appears alongside this picture. I don’t think anyone wants to be saucy, it is a bit caricature. But I think kinky is always interesting. I have always been interested in the way passion and demure goes together. I read a lot of Colette and 19th century novels where the feminine heroes decided how much to give away, and it was always very nuanced. 


This picture was taken in 1993, as part of a Vogue shoot by Issy Blow. She had decided that the theme was christening clothes, so I made what I imagined to be a christening dress but for adult. Then the theme changed and she asked me to be in it. Stella Tennant and Plum Sykes were in it too. I would have done anything Steven Meisel asked me to. It was all about the Claudine collar and tie, and short skirts. It was an incredible moment, and I can’t believe that I was part of it. 


The hair stylist Garren gave me this really cool haircut on set, but Steven said it was’ too lady’, so he then shore it really short. I was completely into it. I like having long hair now I am older and I don’t imagine ever having it short again. I don’t ever want to look like someone who has a hairstyle that is convenient, I want my hair to look like something. 


I am wearing fishnet tights, and to me they are always in fashion. I always wear them when I go out as they do good shaping, are cool and they give a tiny suggestion that you are not entirely vanilla.

“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.”

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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