Having read the recent interview with Lucinda Chambers I was reminded that on 9th May 2005 I also interviewed Lucinda, then Fashion Director at British Vogue magazine, for a profile piece published in T: New York Times Style Magazine. This is the original version of that story. It seems a sad truth that people who love fashion are rarely fans of the industry they inhabit…
“I love decoration”, says Lucinda Chambers, Fashion Director of British Vogue. “I love decoration in the home, on me, on people that I see. I’m as happy decorating Christmas trees as I am a girl in front of me”.
Making my way through her rambling family house in West London, it is difficult to disagree. There is little room here for minimalism or modernism. There is little room for anything, although I am sure Chambers would think otherwise.
Chambers’ home is a Willy Wonka wonderland of inspiration, no surface left uncovered. Photographs and paintings hang scrapbook-style, side-by-side-by-side, a higgledy-piggledy patchwork of memories on the walls while cherished objets trouvés literally litter every other available space. An assortment of florid clothes and fabrics make pretty piles piled on top of more of the same. Trinkets, treasures and brightly coloured baubles (leftovers from the Christmas tree?) hang from the ceiling, shelves and nowhere in particular.
Previously she has told me how she spent a weekend merrily sticking postage stamps onto a lampshade and here it is among the melee in her country cottage cum yard sale kitchen. Upstairs, in one of her son’s bedrooms (she has three – Toby, 17, Theo, 12 and Twizzy, 7) she proudly shows me a standard lamp she has covered with pages torn from their comic books. It is this kind of insatiable, marvellously dotty creativity that has established Chambers as one of a handful of revered stylists in the fashion world and made her a standout star in the Vogue cosmos.
“I think her style is truly creative”, says Alexandra Shulman, Editor-in-Chief of British Vogue, explaining that Chambers doesn’t just take an outfit from the catwalk to make a fashion picture but often conjures up something of her own.
“Lucinda takes it into another dimension and sometimes to a degree that is difficult because if she could, everything would be made. All the clothes would be made especially”, says Shulman with a smile. “There wouldn’t be a single thing that you could go into a shop and buy in her dream world”.
“I suppose my favourite shoots if I am honest are the ones that are not particularly fashionable”, says Chambers, “because they are the ones that will last and they are the ones that you can look at a year later and not sort of cringe and think ‘were we really wearing that?’ ”.
Chambers approach to styling is genuinely individual. “I hardly ever change the model. It’s how I get dressed in the morning, I don’t twiddle around with my clothes”, explains Chambers. “You start with the necklace and you build around a necklace or you start with even something as random as a shoe lace, you’re just in love with that ribbon in a shoe and you build everything around that. I’m very decisive, I don’t take things off and put them back on and if I do, I want to start again from scratch. I scrap the whole thing”.
Even in the more sartorially tolerant sphere of fashion Chambers’ own apparently random approach to dressing has caused raised eyebrows.
“I think Lucinda’s look is a kind of art form”, says Shulman. Chambers herself does not deny that her personal style, as unmade as Tracey Emin’s bed, is probably the antithesis of how people might imagine a fashion director to look.
“Shabby, dishevelled, boho. I know all those words. I know I don’t look smart”, admits Chambers. “I have tried. I just can’t do it. I think it’s a lot to do with hair. My hair never will behave itself, but also I never ever want to look sexy. It sounds odd but I never really ever want to be noticed. I’ve found a way of dressing that really suits me and my personality. I really like to be comfortable in my clothes. I don’t like to look after my clothes. If I’m going to wear a dress that won’t look good if it’s creased then I’d much prefer to wash it and make it creased so I don’t have to worry about it for the rest of the day. I’m aware that I probably disappoint but I suppose I’m just a bit too bloody-minded. I don’t want to worry about my clothes”.
“The thing I adore about her is that it is never the outside with Lucinda, it is always the inside”, says Mario Testino, celebrated photographer and long-time friend (the pair have worked together for over twenty five years). “I love how she mixes motherhood with work, with businesswoman, with style guru. She’s a good editor because she takes a photographer under her wing and tries to push you and give you new things without taking you away from what you are”.
“She definitely has that British thing of the unknown surprise. She likes layering, she likes flowers, roses, she likes colour and she likes a mix of things that don’t necessarily go together; that constant search for what shouldn’t be and to make it work”.
Chambers is a quintessentially British cocktail: two parts fantasy, in the tradition of image-makers and fashion designers like Cecil Beaton and Bill Gibb, one part rebellious punk rocker. When Testino and Shulman refer to meeting Chambers for the first time they both remember her as a bleached punk in a ballerina’s tutu. Later she took to wearing a Dickensian top hat. She takes inspiration from “absolutely anything”, constantly feeding her fertile imagination.
“What really strikes about her is that she is so open towards everybody who interacts with her. She is curious and likes experimenting. She is sensitive”, says Consuelo Castiglioni, designer of the Marni label. “I see her as a fairy…and sometimes she really does magic”. That might explain that tutu.
For the past ten years Chambers has been moonlighting as a creative consultant at Marni. Yet the collaboration goes far deeper. There is a mutual admiration based on good old-fashioned family values and a simple love of clothes.
“It wasn’t ‘let’s set out to do this label that’s going to be incredibly fashionable’, it was so organic”, explains Chambers. “I think it’s possible to do something in a different way and that’s what I’m most proud of at Marni, it is possible to not be cold about fashion, to not set out to succeed in a very corporate way, but to grow something out of a passion and an excuse to have some clothes to wear”.
Chambers says she has no specific title within the Marni organisation.
“I suppose my role is to bring things in from the outside world, to suggest and have an eye. Designers can be quite isolated”, she says, explaining that, even so, she and Castiglioni rarely, if ever, disagree about anything, “whether it’s bringing up our children or designing a rug and that’s pretty amazing”.
“I don’t think people make it a fashion decision to buy Marni. I think it’s a totally emotional decision because you fall in love with it”, she says.
When I ask which of her Vogue fashion stories she most loves, not surprisingly it is a dreamy fantasy shot by Testino that is an all-time favourite. Called Road to Marrakech [January 2005] it features model Daria Werbowy as a ‘pioneering queen of the desert’. In one picture she is wearing a print dress by Vivienne Westwood, an antique hooped crinoline skirt and petticoats, a feather cape by John Galliano (worn as a skirt), a sweater by Jean Paul Gaultier and another cape by Marni. The outfit is completed with two trilbys layered one on top of the other, a headscarf, arms full of Plexiglas bangles, a pair of clogs, sunglasses, polka dot tights and a floral patterned umbrella, all tied up with string.
“I suppose it’s the one that’s most like my home”, says Chambers.
*Portrait by Julian Broad.