Nova, February 1972. Photo: Hans Feurer
If asked to compile a list of my favourite fashion influences one woman would have to figure in my Top Ten. Caroline Baker is, in my mind, the original stylist. An original thinker, who as Fashion Editor of the provocative Nova magazine in the 1960s/70s, was finding inspiration on the street, off-catwalk, long before it became de rigueur. Baker was ripping up the rule book, creating chaos by literally cutting up clothes, while I was still in short trousers, so I was super excited to meet with her recently and even more thrilled to report that we might have opportunity to make mischief together on a project coming soon (more later).
IRW: You became fashion editor of Nova in October 1967, taking over from Molly Parkin who you had assisted. Molly’s style was totally maverick. Was she a big influence on you?
CB: I had been Shirley Conran’s assistant at the Observer Magazine. I joined Nova as Molly’s interiors assistant when her role had been extended to include architecture and interior trends. Molly’s work was completely revolutionary. She was a total character and a very creative spirit with all the wildness of an artist. It was a privilege to work with her. I had fallen into the world of fashion/interiors journalism by accident. I was a trained secretary albeit one who was mad about fashion but I was quick to learn and could not believe it when not soon after I joined Nova the editor appointed me as fashion editor. He thought I looked the part and as he wanted a new approach to the fashion pages he calculated that a beginner might come out with something interesting.
IRW: How would you describe your role as a stylist?
CB: A stylist works with the designs/clothes of others. Stylists can be influenced by trends but can also be totally original with the way the clothes are put together to create new looks or ideas of how to wear clothing.
IRW: At Nova your fashion pages referenced everything from sexy pin-ups to elegant pre-war fashion plates. Are you constantly looking for things you can turn into fashion pictures? What inspires your styling? Where do you get your ideas?
CB: I am constantly inspired by things around me. It could be the shape of the clothing, a style that comes from a film or a painting. A stylist is a kind of artist creating images and building up right through from the clothes to the look of and way the clothes will be photographed.
IRW: The infamous Nova picture of a model wearing a frilly lace blouse and gold platform shoes sitting on a toilet. Did you want to shake up the fashion business?
CB: At Nova we wanted to shake up the status quo all the time! That was my brief and having been liberated in the Sixties I was pretty free minded and not being a wealthy aristo bourgeoisie and more of a street person I was very attracted to anything that was different. The girl on the toilet was the photographer’s fantasy. He announced that was what we were doing next and in those days the photographer was the God and did what they wanted or else they would not work with you. And I thought, ‘well, it’s pretty normal going to the loo so what’s the fuss?’
IRW: Do you believe there is such a thing as good taste and bad taste?
CB: Bad taste is snobbism. I don’t go for snob judgements. Good taste goes back to the haute bourgeoisie days when the establishment ruled and one had to look nice and proper. Where does bad taste begin?
IRW: Michael Roberts did a very funny feature in Tatler spoofing the styling of various fashion editors. It was when you were at Cosmopolitan and he festooned your model with assorted haberdashery, cutlery, scissors and stuff all tied on with string. Did you find that funny?
CB: Michael’s ‘me’ look was very funny. I was so into women as being tough self-sufficient buffalo soldiers that I used to pile on the extra bits and pieces. I still love using string and tying bits of belts and bags.
IRW: You had a reputation for a while for chopping up clothes to get the look you wanted. What inspired this?
CB: When the punk thing happened out came the scissors. I loved chopping the clothes and giving them new looks. I always get very emotionally and creatively involved with the style/music movements that sweep through life.
IRW: Throughout your career you have worked on both mainstream fashion titles and alternative style press. How have you managed to work for both and do you prefer one to the other?
CB: Mainstream pays the bill but I love the alternative style press because there you are free to interpret your fashion fantasies without having to think about the readers/the editor/the advertisers.
IRW: Which photographers have you most enjoyed working with?
CB: I love photographers and the more creative and way out there they are the better. I have enjoyed working with most of the photographers I have worked with. The ones who then became legends were great fun to work with – Helmut Newton, Guy Bourdin, Sarah Moon, Jeanloup Sieff, Hans Feurer, Harri Peccinotti, Oliviero Toscani et al.
IRW: Do you have favourite stylists?
CB: Grace Coddington’s work always inspires me.
IRW: At Ritz newspaper (yet another cult journal) you also interviewed designers and wrote a gossip column. Why did you stop writing?
CB: The styling side of the fashion business was my first strength and so the writing never became my priority
IRW: I vividly remember you styling for Katharine Hamnett, one show in particular when you wrapped the models feet in strips of torn fabric and swathed their heads in net veiling. It was all so exciting. Do you think the early 1980s was a particularly experimental time?
CB: The early 1980s was a lovely time. Punk had shaken everyone up, the Japanese taking over Paris was dynamic in terms of new looks and working with Hamnett was thrilling for me as she always pushed me to do more and more! I have always loved adding strings, ribbons, belts, torn strips of fabric, net and lace to my styling looks so I was in my element.
IRW: Which designers inspire you?
CB: Right now Miuccia Prada and Consuelo Castiglioni at Marni are tops for me!
IRW: When I left college I wrote to you at Cosmopolitan asking for a job, you sent a very polite letter telling me that there were no vacancies but even if there were you were prefer to employ someone with experience in the trade rather than someone parading a degree. Is this still the case? How did you get started?
CB: Your letter saying I would prefer experience to a degree was probably sour grapes as I had no degree.
IRW: One of your captions for a fur coat story read: ‘furs must be worn as casually as clothes are nowadays – looking as if no thought had gone into that nonchalant, put-together style that takes such agonising hours to work out’. Would this be a good way to describe the mood you want to present in your fashion pictures?
CB: My attitude to clothing is very much about doing your own thing and not wanting to copy someone else’s style because I came out of the Paris couture/Christian Dior era when everyone had to have the correct look or else you were deemed mad. In my fashion styling I like to inspire people to try out the different ideas and looks that are always coming into the fashion arena, for instance now it’s all about going into wearing prints and bold colours or volume shapes that are a bit strange.
IRW: Why do you love fashion?
CB: Fashion and looks have always been of the utmost importance to me. I realise now that I am just so totally tuned into the look of things that I can live highs and lows by the visuals alone. Fashion and dressing have always been so fascinating, such compulsive stuff for me all by itself. It’s just there in my makeup.
IRW: You pre-empted the trend for army surplus store fashion. What prompted you to plunder that particular look?
CB: Army surplus? That was the start of street fashion, which is what Nova pioneered. The ‘Ban The Bomb’ marches were popular in the mid-Sixties and everyone wore army surplus gear on these marches so I went to check out the surplus stores and fell in love with the style. It was all so practical and so cute and my fascination for women wearing men’s clothing took an even stronger hold. When YSL did his tuxedos for women and they were so expensive I got into wearing men’s second hand clothing and who cared if it fitted? You just held it on with a gold belt and high heels. Then there were the leg warmers. Again they came into the fashion arena from pages in Nova. I was always cold and discovered the dancers practice uniform of adding woollen bits to your extremities and was then shocked when they took off as a global phenomenon. That was when I realised the power of the media on the public.
IRW: You really did so many things first, from the drink throwing party pictures with Helmut Newton to reportage style photographs with Hans Feurer. How does it feel when you see your work continually referenced by a new breed of stylists and photographers?
CB: I love seeing ideas I might have been responsible for appearing again in other stylists/photographers work. It’s great fun to see them going there, where you once went.
IRW: What is your favourite thing to wear right now?
CB: Now I find myself dressed all sport casual and try to make it deluxe. With gold hoop earrings! Adidas joggers with stripe down the side, Uniqlo long sleeved high-tec t shirts and on top layered, a cool cute sweater of which I have many. And trainers galore! I love my patent and my silver ones and my camouflage ones. I wish I had a pair of the high-top wedgie sneaker boot trainers by Nike and I wish I had never thrown away my Puma Bob Marley trainer suit from them days. Red gold green & black. My favourite jackets: Biker’s jacket and USA college style jacket
IRW: When are you going to do that book?
CB: Hope to get into writing my life in fashion this winter
Nova, September 1971. Photo: Hans Feurer
Nova, April 1973. Photo: Helmut Newton
Tatler, June 1984. Photo: Eddy Kohli
Nova, January 1972. Photo: Sarah Moon
Deluxe, Autumn 1977. Photo: Ku Khanh
The Face, June 1984. Photo: Mario Testino
Nova, January 1973. Photo: Harri Peccinotti
Nova, September 1971. Photo: Sarah Moon
Vogue, October 1976. Photo: Hans Feurer
Cosmopolitan, c.1982. Photo: Tony McGee
Nova, March 1972. Photo: Jeanloup Sieff