Cool Britannia! March 30th 2012
As the country gears up for the Jubilee celebrations and the Olympic games, Jess Contomichalos chats to Jane Winkworth, founder and designer behind the quintessentially British, fashion brand, French Sole to find out her thoughts and memories of the Best of British fashion, art and culture.
1. Which British designer most influenced you when you were starting out?
My very early fashion influence was Jean Shrimpton and everything she wore, followed very soon after by Twiggy and then the amazing Barbara Hulaniki at Biba. From the age of seventeen I was dressed head to toe in Biba although I knew Ossie Clarke quite well and in fact modelled a silver paper dress he made for me called an Inkydink dress , named I think after a special light that cameramen use. I was also a huge fan of Bill Gibb and I met him several times and wore quite a few of his smocked dresses with beaded tassels down the front.
2. Who do you think has more charisma? Twiggy or Kate Moss and why?
I love Twiggy; she is fabulous fun, lively, funny, smiley and charming. She is also truly beautiful and she has wonderful style and good taste. Kate Moss certainly has style and she is a very good customer of French Sole and has been photographed many times wearing shoes that she has bought from French Sole but I would really love to see her smile more because when she does, it lights up her perfect face.
3. Who is your all-time favourite British fashion designer?
My all-time favourite British designer is without question the truly iconic and amazing Bruce Oldfield
4. Did you ever own a mini?
Yes, my very first car was a pale blue mini which I bought from a garage in Shepperton for £95 and promptly drove it down to the South of France not realising until I arrived in St Tropez that I had no spare wheel!
5. When you took French Sole to the U.S. How did you get your message across that this was the original ballet flat and the only one to be seen in?
Taking my brand to America was a massive gamble and it was my son Ben Scott who really should take credit for this as it was his idea and his vision, combined with a desire for a new project and a new lifestyle in Los Angeles. He immediately chose the name London Sole and re-branded all my designs into the new concept. He hired English girls to work in the shops to start with and we always served English tea at 4 pm every afternoon. A small table was set up outside in the front courtyard garden of the store and customers would be invited to sit down and enjoy a cup of tea and maybe some scones with jam and cream served on my old English bone china and very soon we had quite a reputation for the Englishness of everything at London Sole.
6. What in your opinion encapsulates the very Best of British?
Without question H.M. the Queen is everything that real true Englishness stands for. Duty, hard work, integrity, style, endurance, leadership, reliability, quality, care and compassion.
7. What do you think the mini skirt did for British fashion?
The mini skirt which was introduced first by Biba, and very closely followed by Mary Quant and Ossie Clark, freed young women from the traditional looks of their mothers and grandmothers. It gave a voice to a generation who wanted freedom at any price. It made it OK for boys to look at girls - which they certainly did!
8. What did you think of Ossie Clark and Mary Quant?
Ossie Clark was an amazing genius. He was completely in love with the Bohemian Celia Birtwell and when I knew him he was minding her kids in their Notting hill house and designing disposable paper dresses. The soft paper ones had Pucci style swirly art deco designs in an ugly trapeze style and the ones I really loved he asked me to wear for him at a show at the Courtauld Institute and I remember dancing away in my silver paper mini dress to the music of Mellow Yellow by Donovan…..I’m Just Wild About Saffron and Saffron’s Wild About Me ..........Mary Quant was iconic and her shop Bazaar was located on the corner of the Kings Road and Markham Square where I lived for a great part of my life. I loved her use of the colour ginger, but her clothes were so well made that it made them fairly expensive for my small budget at the time.
9. Which celebrity do you think has done the most for Britain - and do they wear French Sole?
Well this might not be everyone’s idea of a good choice, but I personally think that Victoria Beckham has been a fantastic representative for Britain. She was a global icon when she was a Spice Girl and a whole generation of young kids grew up worshiping her. She married our number one football hero the divine David and is a perfect example of a loving and devoted wife and mother. Combine this with becoming a very well respected dress designer with every collection flying off the catwalks and the rails of every store she sells to - I think we have a remarkable woman to thank for representing this country so brilliantly….yes she has bought her ballet flats from our store in Los Angeles but only wears them at home, or to fly in - I love her!
10. Having experience the Diana frenzy first hand. Do you think that the Duchess of Cambridge is causing the same stir…..how influential do you think she is fashion-wise in UK?
I think without question the Duchess is causing much more of a frenzy because now we have the internet, everything she does, says or wears is conveyed around the world within seconds. She is the supreme ruler of fashion in the UK whether she knows it or not, because she has chosen to be so loyal to British designers and to British companies, everything she wears is a sell out within hours. When she wears my shoes, we have sold out of that style within two hours. We take calls all day long and emails from around the world wanting the shoes she has worn. She looks and is gorgeous. She has model good looks, perfect manners and style, she is gracious and compassionate, she has the best legs on the planet and could wear a bin- bag and look sensational. She is helping British fashion and retail right back onto its feet and we love and applaud her for it.
11. Who is your favourite British artist? How do you think they have contributed to the art world?
I am a great fan of David Hockney, although he did live in California for a while and I know commutes between here and LA . He is a student of Bradford School of Art and I have many friends who also studied there. I admire his work, love his forthright views and his latest exhibition at the Royal Academy is breath-taking in its scale and colour.
12. If you could spend 24 hours doing exactly what you wanted in true Brit style- what would you do and why?
Bacon and Eggs for breakfast with four cups of tea at home in Chelsea followed by a long walk with all my grandchildren and dogs preferably along the riverbank in Chelsea. Pop into the Saatchi Gallery followed by a late lunch at the Ivy with close friends. A little nap in the afternoon and then tea at Claridge’s with my granddaughter Bee. Hair appointment at 5 pm back in Chelsea at Richard Ward , home to change into a Bruce Oldfield LBD and off to The Colliseum to watch The English National Ballet perform one of my favourite ballets ....maybe The Firebird or Romeo and Juliet, with Daria Klimentova and Vadim Muntigirov as the principles. I will be sitting in seat 36A Front Row of the Dress Circle and my lovely friends Alastair Laidlaw and Natasha Kaplinski will be sitting on either side of me. Afterwards, my driver will be waiting outside in my gleaming blue Bentley and I will end the day with a very late supper at Le Caprice with friends from the ballet.
13. Were you a Beatles fan or in the Rolling Stones camp - and why?
I loved both the Beatles and The Rolling Stones, but because the Stones were so accessible to me- they played at the Wooden Bridge Hotel in Guildford on a Friday night, on Saturday nights they played at The Station Hotel in Richmond and on Thursday night the Railway Hotel in Norbiton and on Wednesday evenings they practised at The Fighting Cocks in Kingston and when I was home from my boarding school I went every single night to see them!! The Beatles were too far away and I always liked the “hands on” feeling of being a Stones follower (NOT a groupie)!! I adored Brian Jones , but I was always with a crowd of friends and although my friend Kay went out with Keith Richards for a while and my dearest friend Vivien Neves (famous model in the sixties and the first nude to appear in The Times newspaper) was dallying a little with one of them, I alas , never really got further than the odd exchange of small talk while all the band signed my first copy of their very first record “Come On” which they sold at The Wooden Bridge Hotel on the Friday the record first came out. That day I had my hair cut at Vidal Sassoon - by Vidal himself - and wore a ginger coloured Biba wool mini dress with a cream collar and a zip down the front and a pair of Mary Jane ballet shoes in orange suede that I had made specially at Gamba, all this with white lacy tights too, I thought I looked fantastic!!