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Q&A with Lulu Guinness

I was lucky enough to be present at a V&A fashion talk between Dolly Jones (of Vogue online) and fashion icon Lulu Guinness.Lulu was very warm, witty and extremely passionate about fashion, she talked about her youth through to her illustrious career as one of the world’s leading handbag designers. After establishing the brand in 1989 Lulu was informed by her keen customer base that they wanted to buy bags that Lulu herself would carry, from this Lulu revolutionised her brand and says of her customers; “People who carry my accessories generally have a little tongue-in-cheek and want to show a bit of personality in the way they dress.”

Lulu Guinness Lulu Guinness handbags have gone from strength to strength and over the years have created several diffusion lines to include jewellery, perfumes, sunglasses, stationary and bed linen, and in 2006 Lulu was awarded an OBE for her great contribution to British fashion. To mark her 20th anniversary she has set up her own scholarship for MA Artefacts students studying at London College of Fashion, which will commence in 2010.

The highlight of the evening was Guinness presenting the spectacular ‘Birdcage’ handbag that she made to commemorate her career to date. For this project she set out to push boundaries and created a singing and dancing bag - the world’s first automated handbag. Made in collaboration with creative mechanical designer Adam Wright; “It took 10 weeks and a couple of grand to make the prototype.” Whilst the ‘Birdcage’ looked purely ornamental Lulu showed us inside (with lights, an all essential mirror, and a hidden drawer at the bottom perfect for fitting a lipstick) showing us what a uniquely magical and functional invention it is.

Do you believe that a woman can have it all? “On a good day you appear to have it all and be so perfect you’re in a magazine spread, but this is not the case all day every day. You can have it all if you have an incredible support system around you of friends, family and colleagues. The support is 90% of having it all.” Where do you feel that your designs are best received? “Definitely in Japan and China where I have launched many more products than in the UK as they adore the attention to detail, such as little things hidden on the back or inside on the lining.  I Love Chinese and Japanese culture... they have such a sense of humour and their great personality is their uniqueness. I’m actually planning a capsule ready-to-wear collection exclusively for the Japanese market.”

What advice do you have for people starting out in the fashion industry? “Get your foot in the door with work experience at the places you’d most like to work. Don’t give up if you get knocked back. When you do finally get a placement prove yourself invaluable so your employer will see that they cannot live without you. Everyone is aware that there are more fashion students and creative’s than there are jobs, but perseverance is key. If you really can’t get a job in fashion, do the next best thing and learn the values of working. If it’s meant to happen it will eventually.”

Do you produce or have any plans to produce your collections in the UK? “I produce my collectables collection ‘made in Britain’ here, but there is a lack of production facilities over here and it’s not cost-effective to produce everything in the UK, as much as I’d love to.”

Do you plan to commercialise or mass produce the birdcage bag? “Yes in a way, I’m planning to simplify it slightly and make it a collectible and perhaps do a run of 500.”

lulu birdcage What is your own handbag collection like? “I collect handbags, mostly vintage evening bags, but I definitely have under 100. I usually carry my own bags and have about two or three good bags on the go at any time. I find it hard to indulge in bags as we have every Lulu Guinness design at my office so I don’t really need many more.” How do you feel when high street and online retailers such as ASOS copy your ‘lips’ bag? “Pleased, it’s such a compliment. Granted theirs is of a lower quality but it’s so great for everyone to be able to own such an iconic accessory even if it isn’t the original.”

lulu lips

Words and Images: creative-idle