FANCY a pair of Manolo Blahnik boots? All you need is some butter, icing sugar, flour, cocoa powder, eggs... Or a Bella Freud jumper? Just dig out a packet of gold safety pins and a plain sweater.
Confused? Don’t be. These are just two suggestions from some of the biggest names in design that came back to fashion writer Camilla Morton when she challenged them to make life beautiful for us all. Drawing on her connections from the world of fashion, she persuaded more than 50 designers and fashion folk to come up with their own suggestions for things that can be made and enjoyed, in her latest book, Make Life Beautiful, which has just launched.
Along with Blahnik and Freud, designers including Lulu Guinness, Christian Lacroix, Stephen Jones, Peter Pilotto, Clements Ribeiro and Matthew Williamson have come up with patterns, recipes, instructions and photographs to show us how to make a little something fabulous to transform our lives from dull and dreary to fashionable and fantastic. “I gave them the kernel of an idea and they went off and explored it. People have come back with amazing projects,” says Morton.
As well as the Blahnik biscuit boots and Bella Freud jumper, Paul Smith shows how to customise your bike with his signature stripes, there’s a Hermes Kelly bag to fashion from card and Holly Fulton’s geometrically genius paper jewellery. Cath Kidston demonstrates how to make afternoon tea cakes from felt and bright spark Jo Malone transforms leftover candle stubs into fragrant hearts using ice cube trays as moulds. Scots hairdresser to the stars, Sam McKnight, gives us his shortbread recipe for long plaited “shortbraids”, while the Harrods teddy gets a Balmain runway look.
Morton’s friend Kate Phelan, creative director at Topshop, shows how to add the love to a plain white T-shirt by customising with your own heart design, some transfer paper and a bucket of dye. There’s a very well dressed Amanda Wakeley scarecrow, should yours need a makeover, and Anthropologie personalised place mats to make if you’re giving a dinner party. You can make an old-school corsage based on Bette Davis in Now, Voyager as instructed by Nikki Tibbles from hip florists Wild At Heart. And that’s just for starters.
“It’s a bit like one of those Now albums,” says Morton. “It’s a compilation, to dip into. Our way into this is through the designers, rather than the crafts.”
The author of How To Walk In High Heels and A Year In High Heels, as well as the Fashion Fairytale Memoir Series, grew up in London and went to Central Saint Martins to study Fashion Communication and Promotion. While at art school, she worked at Vogue and began her writing career as the runway reporter for Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue.co.uk. Keen to work with a designer, she joined John Galliano in Paris as his assistant at Dior and his own label.
“I wanted to experience what it was like to make a collection and I loved doing the shows. You can get a degree but it’s life experience that teaches you, and I was lucky enough to learn from some amazing designers,” she says.
Morton was inspired to write Make Life Beautiful because she wanted to tap into the creative talents of her friends and contacts, but also to produce something that would appeal to young people interested in fashion. “I was at a point in my life where I thought, ‘Why am I in fashion? What makes life beautiful?’ And it was through asking all of my friends that the book evolved. It started as a series of conversations and evolved because my friends are so crafty and clever and creative and that inspires you to want to create something yourself. Fashion isn’t about the most expensive dress or shoes, but it’s a way of expressing who you are,” says Morton.
“These are people who can turn a tissue into a castle, but it had to be do-able for someone like me. I wanted to do something that said, ‘If you’re scared of crafts, you won’t be scared of this.’ I have tried them all out and I could do them,” she says. “I was very strict with the instructions, making sure they didn’t go over ten steps.”
Morton may think she’s not a born crafter, but she grew up on Blue Peter at her home in Wimbledon, and knows one side of sticky-backed plastic from the other. “For me, snow is cotton wool, and chickens are tissue paper. When I went into the fashion world I was always amazed at how people create such magic out of acres of white toile. I don’t want to be famous or have the limelight, but I want to be part of the team that made the magic happen.”
Morton was also motivated by a desire to spread the pleasure to be found in making something rather than racing out to the shops and splashing the cash. “We have to grow up so fast I wanted to show the innocence in simply creating and indulging your childish side. To say to young women, ‘Don’t dress up like a Kardashian. Do something whimsical instead.’
“People spend so much time online, clicking and buying, they need to slow down, turn off their phones, stop worrying about how many likes they’ve got on Instagram and spend an evening doing this instead. Life isn’t about whether you take enough selfies or get enough likes.”
The designers seemed to relish the opportunity to cut loose from their catwalk commitments and let their creative instincts run wild. “It was an absolute labour of love for them and it’s a real compliment for me that they went with such a mad idea and worked so hard on them. The book has captured the best things about my friends. Their creativity and also their attention to detail and sense of fun.
“Although I phoned them so often, there must have been times when they thought, ‘If she asks me for anything else, we might not be friends any more’,” she laughs.
With a book launch to go to, it’s time for Morton to make herself beautiful and slip into her pastel pink Manolo Blahniks. The real thing, of course, because there are times when biscuit shoes, no matter how fabulous, just won’t cut it. n
Make Life Beautiful, Camilla Morton, Hutchinson, £20, is out now