Visual Dictionaries and Vintage Threads with Stylist Lucinda Chambers
Here, Chambers divulges the best vintage shops and dining spots in London, speaks on the merit of shopping around hotels every time you’re in the same city (she fancies herself as a Connaught staycationer, FYI) and, of course, waxes lyrical on her latest love, Colville.
22 February, 2019
"As a child, I always had to have a memento of the place I had been to. It didn't have to be much, a stick or rock would do - actually, a stick was great, as I love a stripe - just so long as it was something for the memory bank."
Trust Lucinda Chambers, former British Vogue Fashion Director and co-founder of Colville (a new fashion brand created in partnership with Marni alumnae Molly Molloy and Kristin Forss) to find charm in the mundane. To typify her is a wasted effort; Chambers is beyond genre, and in any case, skips delightfully over each - from flea markets to the theatre - uninhibited. It all adds to her visual dictionary. "Eclectic and definitely decorative" in taste, her aesthetic is a testimony to her kaleidoscopic interests and inspirations.
Anyone who has ever travelled with 25 trunks knows how to travel in style. From country life in southwest France to photo shoots in Ladakh in northern India (Cindy Crawford and Patrick Demarchelier in tow) it seems there is nowhere Chambers will not venture in the name of creativity. While her Ladakh peregrination was hotel-light (the trio slept in tents for 10 days and didn't bathe) Chambers shows little prejudice when it comes to lodgings - be they opulent landmarks, boutique six roomers or more makeshift.
Here, she divulges the best vintage shops and dining spots in London, speaks on the merit of shopping around hotels every time you're in the same city (she fancies herself as a Connaught staycationer, FYI) and, of course, waxes lyrical on her latest love, Colville.
Tell us about your line, Colville.
Colville is collaborative, energetic, a bit anarchic, spontaneous and uninhibited. It's the opposite of "good taste" and in that way, it feels fearless. It's from all three of us - myself, Molly Molloy and Kristin Forss.
How did your partnership with Molly and Kristin come about?
We worked together at Marni so we knew we all loved each other. Molly and Kristin got together first and then asked if I would join - "Of course!". At the risk of applying a very overused word, it feels "modern". To have each other to bounce ideas off, to each have a strong point of view but but listen to others feels new and exciting. We have a lot of fun together.
Tell us about the genesis of the name Colville…
The name Colville came about as we are all huge fans of Hockney - we love that bit of Notting Hill and it looks brilliant written down. Graphically it's a really lovely word.
How would you define your style?
I'm never sure how to define my style except that it's a work in progress. A labour of love perhaps; I love so many things. I like decoration, that includes earrings and ankle socks, scarves and hats and belts… There are a few days where I am minimalist, but those are rare. I love colour and print too so I think that makes my style eclectic and definitely decorative.
What items should a stylist always have to hand?
I always have safety pins on me and I'm a big fan of sewing so tend to have a little kit around and about. For work, I use a lot of pins and clamps. I like the process of pulling clothes around and making shapes where they didn't exist. I think a part of my job is to always give the photographer something interesting to capture; a strong, strange shape is a good place to start.
Favourite places to stay in New York, London, Milan and Paris…
After years of staying in the same hotel, it started to feel a little like Groundhog Day. Nowadays, I tend to shop around with hotels. In New York, it's always on the Lower East Side - The Bowery, The Ludlow, Crosby Street. In Paris, it can be anywhere from somewhere huge and opulent like the Shangri-La to a tiny boutique hotel that I just stayed in Pigalle. It depends on the budget. I do really like trying new ones out though; I like surprises. I don't stay anywhere in London obviously, but if I did, I think it would be somewhere really civilised like The Connaught.
The best restaurants in each…
We were in Paris last week for Colville and stumbled across a squirrelled-away restaurant, called Robert et Louise, that all of us loved - quite rare as we are a mix of vegan, meat eater and no dairy. It had a great family vibe and was utterly delicious; the roast potatoes were bliss. In London, our go-to family treat restaurant is The Wolseley. It just is always a wonderful experience and it represents family celebration. It never changes and never disappoints. If it's with friends then we'll likely go to Laylow - the prettiest club in Notting Hill.
What is your take on newer fashion cities like Copenhagen and Tbilisi?
Copenhagen has a really good fashion week. I think anyone coming from Copenhagen has inherently good taste.
The best institutions worldwide to study fashion include…
I don't think there is such a thing as good or bad schools, more that it's the right fit for you. I know people who have flourished at the London College of Fashion and the same at Central Saint Martins and others who haven't, but I do think access to inspirational mentoring is vital; you need the fire in your belly to ignite.
In the 1980s you joined Vogue as secretary to Beatrix Miller and at Elle became Grace Coddington's assistant. What wisdoms would you pass on to those starting out in the fashion industry?
I don't know if I have "wisdoms", but do I think it's important to always keep your eyes wide open. Notice everything about and around you. Everything you look at is to build a visual dictionary, a Rolodex of images - literally anything can make a picture. If you want to be a stylist, having a very visual sense is a powerful tool. With that in mind, go and see any exhibition you can, any dance performance, any form of theatre. This will be your memory bank and nothing will go to waste. When you intern or join a new company, always be the last to leave. Go the extra mile and don't be afraid to ask questions. You would be amazed at how many people leave on time and aren't curious. The ones who are really stand out and more often than not I have given them jobs or opportunities. Bring things to the table that are outside your remit. I always like to learn about new things, places or people but don't always have the time, so if you can bring that to the table, great.
Where do you go in London for inspiration?
I go anywhere and everywhere for inspiration. It's all around us in London (and beyond) - it's really is never-ending. From Sadlers Wells to TATE Modern to Kettle's Yard and of course all the vintage markets. London never ceases to delight.
Born in Notting Hill, as a child you moved around West London a lot. Some of your favourite spots in the area are…
Portobello Road for the market; Fridays for vintage and Saturdays for food. I love the Gate Picturehouse and, tiny bit further afield, the Olympic Studios Cinema in Barnes (which has the most comfortable seats and a really nice restaurant attached). I love Relik for vintage clothes, always great for Comme des Garçons and Yohji Yamamoto if you are feeling extravagant. I can also never exit Daunt Books in Holland Park with less than five books.
Where's next on your travel list?
New York and then on to Palm Springs (which I'm very happy about as I seem to remember there are great vintage shops there).
Your record for suitcases brought on a trip is…
I'm quite rigorous about editing my stories as I hate excess. I like to see exactly what I'm going to shoot with very little over. It focuses my mind and makes me feel calm. I think by now I'm not bad at knowing what's going make an interesting picture and what I can leave behind - but I have to say on one shoot I had 25 trunks. Never again, before or since.
Most impressive place you've ever travelled to in the name of fashion…
Ladakh in northern India was the most incredible place I have ever been to. I took Cindy Crawford and Patrick Demarchelier. There were no hotels when we visited so we slept in tents (with all our clothes on) for 10 days without washing. I wouldn't dare to do that now, besides, no one would have that amount of time to spend on a trip these days, but back then it just felt exciting. It was so spectacular to be surrounded by the Himalayas, remote and utterly unspoilt, Buddhist monasteries built into the mountainside and the gold palace of the Dalai Lama.
Where do you consider your home away from home?
France. We are lucky enough to have a remote farmhouse in the southwest, miles from pretty much anywhere. We have real fun there - it's a happy place where you can really switch off and the most you do in a day is cook a lot.
A pragmatic packer should include the following items in their case…
In my case, there are always at least three books and a flat-pack Parker.
What books are you reading at the moment?
I've just finished Sally Rooney's Conversations with Friends, which I loved. I really like being recommended books and films; I enjoy being taken out of my comfort zone and this book certainly did that. I don't tend to read modern fiction but I loved her sparse writing which lacks high emotionality yet simultaneously I found it very moving. I then immediately read her next one, Normal People. I tend to do that - it's a bit compulsive. If I like an author I want to read everything they have written. I am slightly addicted to WWII books too, especially about spies - I find them more thrilling than thrillers. Ben MacIntyre is a real master of this genre. I'm currently reading his 2012 publication, Double Cross.