Lulu Guinness: “I’m basically a recluse who loves people” | Fashion


II have spent 30 years trying to do a lot of things at the same time. Now I want to get up and watch some more, ”says Lulu Guinness from the splendid isolation of her gothic madness deep in Gloucestershire. “Locking also taught me everything you can do with your phone. It was during the pandemic that Guinness, 61, with two adult daughters, traded her London terrace for country life. She recently put on the market the house she bought with her ex-husband Valentine Guinness from the Irish brewing dynasty. “At first I saw this place as a getaway. But I have evolved.

Guinness, best known for its glossy lip-shaped clutch and vintage handbags, has found the transformative movement. Lulu’s Folly, a three-sided hexagon perched on the edge of a valley dotted with sheep, is where she now lives and works.

Freed from commuting to the office, she had time to go back to her roots and be more creative again. Sketching, painting and embroidering tiny flowers, ideas quickly flow. “After decades of hard work, this all sounds like a reward. Doing things by hand is good for the soul, ”she says, somehow pulling off a mix of Mad Men-the glamor of the county with Hunter rubber boots, a 50s dress and a branded red lipstick.

“I want to stand up and watch a little more”: Lulu Guinness at her retirement in Gloucestershire. Photograph: Rachael Smith / The Observer

Madness, which she stealthily “engaged to Lulu” with her vintage tracks and bobs, became her refuge during a dark time. In December 2019, his younger brother, Simon Rivett-Carnac, a financier, committed suicide at the age of 53. His mother died shortly after Christmas Day, a consequence, according to Guinness, of the shock and trauma of losing her son.

“My brother didn’t start suffering from depression until he was 40 years old. He tried to deal with it – he was good at hiding it – but I think he found it confusing. He was successful and generous; he lived for life and friends. This is why people were so shocked.

To promote awareness of male suicide, the family created the Riv Trust. “My brother’s death showed that you don’t have to have difficult circumstances – or a bad childhood – to suffer from a mental illness,” says Guinness. “That’s why we decided to create the charity. It helps small projects working in the field of mental health. We want to make people aware that this can affect anyone.

Guinness can discuss the loss of the family with serenity as she has always spoken openly about her own depression. “I was diagnosed after the birth of my first child. Of course, I have bad days, but I got better at dealing with them. Those who know me will tell you that I am good at acting. I am more resistant.

And she always worked. “There was a time when my family wondered if I should continue. There have been discussions. But she says her manic depression is part of her creativity. “The only time I was a problem for my family was when I tried to stop taking medication. I would feel good and stop taking the pills. And it was terrible. I applaud people who can do things naturally, but it’s not for everyone.

“I was very urban, but I started to appreciate nature.  Inside Lulu Guinness' home in Gloucestershire.
“I was very urban, but I started to appreciate nature. Inside Lulu Guinness’ home in Gloucestershire. Photograph: Rachael Smith / The Observer

Charities have praised his contribution to breaking down taboos around mental illness. “At first, I had to tell my parents every time an item came out; they believed birth and marriage were the only reasons you had to appear in the newspapers. There was never any question of “poor me”. What she wanted to do was reveal the truth behind her polite public image. She does an old magazine shoot: the designer perched on a chair in her “perfect” house in Notting Hill. “The reality is that I probably read this article in a clinic. This is what I wanted to show. The chasm between reality and an inaccessible image.

Country life provides its own natural remedy. “I don’t mean to sound fanciful, but flowers are my main love. I have always used them to change my mood. Flowers have become my therapy, to grow them, to arrange them in vases. I am not a gardener, but my landlady was very nice. She taught me a lot, ”pointing to the cascading tulips from the vases on the stone ledges.

She also became a fan of sheep. “I had never given them 30 seconds of thinking before. But in the spring, I was talking to the shepherd about the lambs. Puzzled colleagues received daily updates. “Sheep keep you from thinking about anything else. If I feel stressed or sad, I will go see the sheep. It helps me get out of my head. I was very urban, but I started to appreciate nature.

While the rest of us gorged on Netflix, she listened to books. The ironically dry David Sedaris “got me through a lot; the way he describes family life is so sharp that it sometimes makes me wince. You can learn so much from fiction, ”she continues, citing Elena Ferrante and Elizabeth Day as recent readings. “What I love are writers who capture the human condition. That get into the heads of others. That’s what really interests me. It puts things in perspective.

She is keen to show me the view from the bedroom where pointed, arched windows open to peaceful views. “I heard Ruby Wax talk about the importance of silence recently. Here I have silence – and time to think. Sometimes people think I’m tired because I can’t speak. It’s not that. I am basically a recluse, who loves people.

At first, she was inevitably asked how she manages to combine raising a family and running a business. “The answer was that I didn’t socialize a lot. Like many of us, I love my own business and need time to process my ideas.

I expected Guinness, with its high-profile followers (Bella Hadid and presenter Clare Amfo were spotted wearing her witty, easy-to-grab creations) to be pretty grand. “A lot of people think that.” Instead, she’s funny and straightforward, though she’s inclined to disappear on the odd creative tangent. “I speak – I do not modify. “

Her “rooting” comes from her maternal family, who ran department stores in the northeast. They were Jewish and had lived in Liverpool before moving to Shropshire, where they “became completely country-style. We didn’t really talk about being Jewish, you know, ”Guinness explains, speculating that their reluctance was an overhang of World War II, when people lived under the threat of an invasion. “Many were really scared; so they didn’t discuss religion. I think after that it almost became a habit.

Her grandmother, who wears couture clothes, introduced Guinness to her love of “old fashioned elegance and the big screen … I spent hours rummaging through her wardrobe: coats, handbags. , the matching shoes, ”she said, smoothing her Elnetted hairstyle. “That’s where it all began.”

Guinness’ “talented and athletic father” was a commander in the Royal Navy and she had a traveling childhood: stays abroad combined with a life in the country. “I was raised to be a Sloane Ranger. Now I have come back to my roots as a trader which is great.

Kiss one if you can… a branded Lulu Guinness bag.
Kiss one if you can… a branded Lulu Guinness bag

It started with a briefcase in 1989. “I wanted to design something for the new female leader with powerful shoulders – with practical pockets. But buyers at Browns and Joseph encouraged her to design something that expresses her vintage and colorful style. Her “life changed” in 1993 when she produced her vase-shaped bag scalloped with roses. “It caught everyone’s imagination.” At first, she resisted using her married name and called her label Lulu. But she soon discovered that she was fighting a losing battle. “Besides, I had to make a living.

Like her ancestors, she is a transplanter. “People thought that because I was married to a Guinness there was a lot of money. It never was. His Guinness (they divorced 20 years ago) is a playwright.” I didn’t get married into the royal family, you know, I had to work hard.

She put her name on shoes, jewelry, a Mini. ” I did everything. I am my worst self-flagellator. Large-scale partnerships have enabled its goods to reach a wide audience: “I have never been interested in the high end of the market. I have no rules. I can’t stand snobbery, ”says Guinness, who has a cult in Asia where“ they like things a little different. We have always been the alternative to the It bag.

A turning point came in 1993 when the Victoria & Albert Museum acquired the Florist’s Basket bag. “I felt I could think of myself as a designer. But in this business, you are only as good as your last idea, ”she reflects. “Maybe that’s why I got into fashion without a big plan. It always pleased me to be on the next thing. I’m terribly curious to know what is now: the zeitgeist, call it what you want. What people want now.

His most constructive critic is his partner, John Ingledew, writer and art teacher. “He’s a collector and collagist, like me. We like to be surrounded by ideas. What first struck me about him was his enthusiasm for teaching. He’s an inspirer. I love people with a mission, ”she says, summing up her 16-year-old“ soul mate ”.

So much has changed since the 2000s. “It’s not about being linked to collections anymore. Now it’s all about the little drops. Technology means we can be nimble. This suits Guinness’ fertile and highly visual imagination: “I can get my ideas into production much faster. “

She’s a shrewd network, who uses social media – “my creative factory” – to find new talent for collaborations. One of her first influences was the French surrealist designer Elsa Schiaparelli. “She worked with emerging talents, like Picasso and Cocteau. I don’t compare myself to her, but partnerships are the way to go. Not just with young people – someone I work with is 70 years old. I am drawn to creators who can talk about their influences and ideas.

Guinness shows me its latest bag design. The Folly is a portable version of the house with a “jokingly” image of the designer, the red-lipped squire and satisfied with all her inquiries. “A friend came to see me recently. She asked, “Are you happy here, because you deserve it. You work so hard. And I said, “Yes, I am. “

The Riv Trust can be contacted at If you or someone you know has been affected by these issues, call the Samaritans on 116 123


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