Ever since I was a child, clothes have provided me with a deep sense of joy and escapism. A pair of pale pink satin flares worn to the school disco, aged five — I felt so incredible, I hit the dance floor and refused to leave until my mum picked me up three hours later. A sweaty five-year-old mess after hours spent showing off in pink flares, and nothing much has changed 42 years later. Clothes continue to inspire me to be an exaggerated version of myself. Clothes continue to save me.
How clothes transform us
The transformative power of clothes has seen me through some monumentally sticky patches, moments in time I never thought I’d recover from, like last year during the first lockdown, when I separated from my husband of 10 years. So stressed I couldn’t catch my breath, never mind eat or sleep, I had to keep showing up. With two young children, not getting out of bed was never an option. I had to get dressed each morning, I had to show-up for them and continue to show up for myself.
Showing up for me meant, quite literally, putting on a show by pulling on treasured clothes and accessories each morning, even though I didn’t feel like it. Getting dressed, I often feel like an actor in a play: Who will I be today? Except last year was no play. It was my life, and I didn’t get to feel ok again at the end of each day. As the messy misery of divorce continues, there’s no stepping off stage – you have to keep going, even when the lights go down and it’s 3am and you feel as though you may die from grief. I swear as each day passes, my hair gets bigger, my buttons shinier, my blazers sharper. Look out, Joan Collins, honey, there’s a new diva in town.
Why clothes are important
I first realised clothes were like armour as a child in Manchester in the 1970s. My mum, also a single parent, split up with my dad when I was three. We moved in with my grandparents and mum worked on a till in a supermarket to make ends meet. Her clothes were not often replaced, nor were they expensive, and the same goes for my grandmother. (My grandmother did the accounts for a local carpet shop and some years before, my mother, grandmother and my great-grandmother – three generations, can you imagine? – all worked for the same cigarette factory.)
With not much money to splash around, there were no holidays, but my God, enter lipstick, hairspray, heated rollers and perfume: these three women knew how to put on the ritz and dazzle. I carried this feeling into adulthood, a sense that no matter what life has in store, with a little imagination and effort, your outfit can affect how you engage with people, how you are perceived by the world, even for a second. Transformed from factory worker to glamour puss in an instant? It’s why I pursued a career in fashion. Wearing the right armour, I realised, I could be anyone from anywhere. Wearing the right armour, you can be too.
Just starting out in fashion
I moved to London in the ’90s and began working for some of the most exciting brands and designers in the world. I cut my fashion teeth in Paul Smith’s press office, where I met some extraordinary characters. From there I went to work for Giorgio Armani. I can remember meeting him and wondering what my mum would make of his crisp white hair and amazing muscley torso wrapped in skin-tight navy-blue t-shirt. He had star presence like no other designer I’ve ever encountered. After a brief stint working for Prada, in 2004, I landed a job at ELLE magazine. I had no idea it would become my dream job for a decade, a job that allowed me to write and be creative and surround myself by visionaries (and the occasional diva, because it wouldn’t be fashion without a few divas).
As I — how do I put this, grow up? Reckon I’ll refrain from saying “age” if you don’t mind — as I grow-up, my interest in fashion has matured. As in I no longer really care about the latest fad, trend or must-have pieces. (Kind of.) I am far more interested in how clothes make me feel, and that’s what I’ll bring to you here on Noon, via my video diaries and written pieces. Yes, we’ll touch on how to feel more fashion relevant and how not to fall into style ruts and the key pieces that will help you navigate the seasonal mood. But no, I’m not going to tell you the only colour to wear this season is peacock blue. Even if I did, I’m quite sure you’d ignore me, so what’s the point.
I’m your fashion friend
Consider me more of a fashion friend: someone to lean on when the going gets tough, or when there’s something special on the horizon and you don’t want to turn up wearing the same Zara dress as everyone else. I’ll be opening my little black book and have so many great new designers to share with you. We won’t break the bank, but we won’t shop for shopping’s sake either.
Forget the fashion rules
Invest well and buy a little better, whatever that may mean for you, is what this new column is all about. I’m not big into fashion rules unless it’s 100% necessary (such as the Royal Enclosure at Ascot, say). Other than that, we’ll break fashion rules as expected from women our age. Fade into the background? No, not at all. My mother at 72 is still as glamorous as she was as a young single mum. With an unhealthy penchant for leopard print, she ain’t going down without a fight. Me neither – and nor should you.
In later years, my grandmother developed dementia and one of my fondest memories of her was a country walk in the snow. She appeared at the doorway wearing a knee length black cape and high heels and balked at the suggestion she might go and get changed. I worked in fashion by this point, as the fashion editor of ELLE magazine, so fully appreciated her commitment to style over comfort. I decided not to argue. We went on our country walk, skidding in the snow, her gripping onto me like a child, heads thrown back in laughter, both of us enjoying the walk so much more, thanks to ridiculous heels and audacious cape. Proof sometimes inappropriate clothes just feel right. Proof so-called fashion rules need not always apply.