Show Hide image

The NS Interview: Laura Bailey

“It would be silly to pretend that models aren’t tall and thin”

Were you always interested in fashion?
I wasn't even particularly aware of fashion, as a country kid growing up. Maybe I'd flick through my mum's old Vogues.

How did you become a model?
Cliché story, I'm afraid. When I came to London after university, I got scouted on the King's Road. I thought it was a holiday job, a bit of an adventure, and then suddenly it got serious.

Is there a perception that models are stupid?
That only ever comes up in interviews. I don't find it at all in my daily work. Models - Erin O'Connor, for instance - are some of the smartest, most articulate, down-to-earth girls I know. I haven't felt a desire to overcome that, or overcompensate.

I had graduated when I started working in fashion, and my identity wasn't at all based on how I looked. Even when I was working every day and travelling the world, it was always about the team and the creative collaboration, and often writing alongside those trips. I never felt that. Whether there is that perception from outside, I have no idea.

Could other British brands could become global powerhouses, like Burberry?
There already are some hot on their heels. Mulberry is a good example and, I hope, some up-and-coming designers. That combination of British heritage and modern design flair is a very potent commercial mix.

How has the economic downturn affected the fashion industry?
There is great optimism, actually, without denial that it's tough times. In fashion, that means a return to investment dressing and investing in great talent.

Do you think the industry sends a positive message to people about their bodies?
This is a can of worms. My views are quite straightforward. Models are, on the whole, tall and thin. Models, mostly, are tall and thin and healthy. Like in any world, there are unhealthy elements, but my experience has been overwhelmingly positive.

I've got a daughter, so I'm very conscious of positive role models and messages. I don't want to make sweeping statements for the industry, but I think in the last couple of years there has been a concerted effort. There's a strong, positive message to come out of Fashion Week and women who work in fashion.

The size zero debate comes up every year during Fashion Week. Is that culture changing?
It is. It would be silly to pretend that models aren't tall and thin - we're going to see thousands of them - but some cutting-edge, top-
of-the-industry photographers, such as Nick Knight, shoot all different shapes and sizes and celebrate curves and diversity. The industry is becoming much more open.

What do you think about ageism in fashion?
If you look at people in top-level editorial and campaigns, that argument doesn't hold these days, because there's huge diversity in terms
of age. Again, the average age on the catwalk at Fashion Weeks will be very young, but across the industry in general the images are very diverse in terms of age.

Do you think fashion is more an art form than something to be worn?
It's a practical, luxurious art form that we all can have a chance to play with on whatever level. I would call most of the designers here artists. They are painting with clothes.

Can fashion ever be political?
Absolutely, look at Katharine Hamnett or Vivienne Westwood. Their work and campaigns speak for themselves. Some are overtly political and some are political quietly, behind the scenes.

You've campaigned on ethical fashion. What is the biggest problem?
High-street fashion has a responsibility in terms of labour and its speed of production, and costs, and cotton.

Do you have a favourite designer?
I have many. I feel disloyal choosing. I love Erdem, I love Christopher Kane, and - let's stick with the Brits - I love Stella McCartney.

What did you make of the John Galliano controversy?
It happened. He's gone on a journey. I don't think more voices need to be added to the mix.

Is there a plan?
I have two small children, so my planning goes as far as being the best mother I can be. Anything I can do workwise or creatively is a joy and a bonus.

Is there anything you'd rather forget?
The week I spent in a hospital in Ibiza nursing my terribly sick son back to health.

Do you vote?

Are we all doomed?
No! I'm an optimist.

Defining Moments

1972 Born in London
1992 Is scouted on the King's Road, Chelsea. Has since modelled for Chanel, Guess Jeans and L'Oréal, among others
1993 Graduates with a First in English from Southampton University
2001 Becomes beauty columnist for the Daily Telegraph. Writes for Vogue
2011 Is named cultural ambassador by the British Fashion Council. Designs jewellery collection with the ethical brand MADE

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 26 September 2011 issue of the New Statesman, The fifty people who matter