Child of the Seventies Lulu Kennedy explains why her M&S collection reflects the bohemian wanderlust of youth. By Janet Christie
GROWING up between Ibiza, Devon and Sicily, with hippie parents who nurtured her free spirit, it’s no surprise that fashion pioneer Lulu Kennedy’s first collection for Marks & Spencer is inspired by her love of travel and exudes a casual, boho vibe.
The holidays in Mexico and Ibiza and the childhood spent in patched dungarees are all there in the distressed denim, bold printed separates, tie-dye and peasant blouses and skirts which feature in the 19-piece Lulu Kennedy for Indigo Collection, in store and online now at Marks & Spencer.
“I wear denim a lot, always did,” says 45-year-old Kennedy. “I have some great dungarees I had as a kid that my mum would keep patching. And I had dungaree dresses too, and jeans. The collection is inspired by my travels in Mexico, so it feels very summery, very light, with lots of print and colour. I think there’s a bohemian side to me: I guess I’m just a Seventies girl at heart,” she says.
“We’ve used classic fresh white with jewel-coloured prints on wardrobe staples to create a capsule that’s super easy to wear and have fun in this summer.”
As well as repeat trips to Ibiza, Kennedy has been going to Tulum on the Caribbean coast of Mexico for the past 12 years.
“I fell in love with it,” she says. “There’s a long white sand beach and it’s one of those places on the hippie trail where people don’t bat an eyelid. Some of the first people I met there were Sienna Miller and her sister, Savannah. There’s yoga, healing, beach huts, and it’s easy, laid-back.”
Kennedy’s first high street collection may reflect its far-flung inspiration but it won’t look out of place if the closest you get to Mexico this summer is a bottle of tequila. There’s a sun-bleached-effect jumper to slip on when the Scottish sun fails and a fitted jacket to take a white peasant blouse into the office.
“You don’t want to be too literal and Mexican,” says Kennedy. “So I broadened it out. The jeans are patched and a bit hippie, but boyfriend, without the flares. I’m thinking of the M&S customer and that it’s not just for holiday wear, it’s everyday too.”
Kennedy has drawn on her wealth of experience in the fashion industry in designing the collection. She is known as “Fashion’s Fairy Godmother”, thanks to her not-for-profit talent showcase Fashion East, which provides funding, publicity and runway shows for emerging designers from its base in London’s East End. Attracting sponsorship from Topshop and TOPMAN, it has launched the likes of Jonathan Saunders, Roksanda Ilincic, Gareth Pugh, Marios Schwab, Henry Holland, Louise Gray, Holly Fulton and Michael van der Ham. Kennedy has also designed her own collaborative fashion line, Lulu & Co, which is stocked on net-a-porter.com, and she is also editor-at-large of Condé Nast’s biannual LOVE magazine, as well as a brand consultant. Oh, and she’s also a mother to one-year-old Rainbow.
Born in 1969 in Newcastle, and named Louise after both grandmothers, but nicknamed Lulu, her itinerant childhood also saw her spending time in Northumberland and Glasgow, where she has relatives, as well as Luscombe in Devon, where the family embraced a rural, boho lifestyle.
“We lived in a caravan in a field. That was the happiest I have ever been. It was lo-fi, back to nature and gave me a sense of nature. My parents were artistic, bohemian, both teachers and we were very lucky in that we travelled a lot. It was idyllic. We weren’t big hippies who skipped school, but living there informed my beliefs. We grew up with a sense of community,” she says.
After school Kennedy studied for a degree in cultural studies which took her to Naples on a student exchange. In her spare time she began organising raves in warehouses and castles, importing DJs from around the globe.
“I dragged my time there out to three-and-a-half years because I loved it. I also started getting interested in fashion, Maison Margiela and Westwood, but I didn’t know anything about it.”
Back from Naples, Kennedy was working in an art gallery in Brick Lane in 1996 when the owner of the Old Truman Brewery, which was about to become a fashion, art and design hub, hired her as his assistant. Kennedy started hosting fashion shows for emerging designers and Fashion East was born.
“I used to meet designers in the pub and we began putting on shows. I didn’t know my way around fashion but I had belief in them. It’s the work that grabs you. People like Jonathan Saunders just have an energy and authenticity that stands out. We thought, ‘We will build it and they will come.’ Fashion East was beginner’s luck and confidence,” she says.
Unusually, in the fickle world of fashion, it was also an enterprise not predicated on making a buck, an ethos that surely stretches back to Kennedy’s hippie childhood or maybe her “communist grandfather”. Does she think it would be even more successful if it was profit motivated?
“No, not really. Anyway, I don’t have it in me. It’s philanthropic. It’s not about making money,” she says.
With her long brown tousled locks, Ibiza and Sicily tan skin and a wardrobe supplied by grateful designers, she is shabby-chic personified.
“My own style is made up as I go along. It can be hit and miss,” she says. “I wear something because I like it or it’s by a designer I like; I have street, vintage, and designerwear, and I’m a magpie. Clothes are there to be enjoyed. But I’m lucky in that I don’t have to be smart or go to an office. No-one bats an eye when I walk into work.”
She managed to make the Queen look twice, however, when she collected her MBE for services to fashion in 2012 wearing an outfit that included a Michael Van der Ham skirt, Roksanda jacket, Chanel handbag and Christian Louboutin heels, topped off with a pasta-embellished Dolce & Gabbana headpiece.
“I caught her looking at my tiara,” she says. “Getting an MBE was a huge shock. I’m quite shy really and I’d rather be behind the scenes, quietly making things happen for other people. But I know the publicity is part of the job and it’s good for the project.”
Loud music and famous after-parties are a feature of Fashion East shows, but Kennedy has quietened down with the arrival of Rainbow Esmerelda Pearl Kennedy, her almost-one-year-old, who thinks she is a cat.
“Since having my daughter I have to be more savvy,” she says. “I’m a single mum and it’s pulled things into focus. I don’t get out much in the evenings, at the moment anyway,” she says.
Kennedy has already completed another collection for M&S, with autumn/winter featuring more of her beloved denim, and is already looking forward to the next launch.
“When I was at school the careers teacher asked me what I wanted to do and I said, ‘I don’t ever want to dread having to go to work in the morning. I want it to be part of my life.’
“I’ve been very, very lucky that that has happened.”
The Lulu Kennedy Indigo Collection in collaboration with Marks & Spencer, from £15 www.marksandspencer.com/c/style-and-living/lulu-kennedy. www.fashioneast.co.uk