Lives don’t come much more colourful than TV fashion guru Brix Smith-Start’s. Here, she tells Nicole Lampert her incredible story
C lad in a little black dress that clings to her curves in all the right places, towering black heels and a fake fur stole, Brix Smith-Start looks every inch the glamorous stylist she now is. But were Brix to go into one of her 10 — yes, 10 — giant wardrobes at the apartment she shares with her husband, fashion mogul Philip Start, she could quickly pull out a skimpy outfit from her punk-rocker days or a designer dress her time as Nigel Kennedy’s girlfriend. Or how about her uniform from the time she lived in a garage, waitressed and went to drama school at night? Or a grungy number from her time in Courtney Love’s band Hole? Forget the cat with nine lives; Brix has lived 20.
She may have started as Gok Wan’s mouthy sidekick on Gok’s Fashion Fix but now has her own show, Ultimate Shopper, on TLC. Looking years younger than her 50, she’s open about cosmetic ‘help’: ‘I think for a lot of people, having Botox is like going to the dentist. ‘Almost everyone in TV does it — men too.’ Born Laura Salenger in LA, she changed her name to Brixton, later shortened to Brix, after The Clash’s song Guns Of Brixton. She taught herself bass guitar and, at 19, left university to start a band. When Manchester punk group The Fall played in Chicago, Brix went to watch. ‘I saw their lead singer, Mark E Smith, and thought he looked a little bit scary,’ she says. ‘I never imagined that six months later he’d be my husband.’
She moved to Manchester and joined The Fall, writing some of their most popular songs. But she never embraced punk’s hedonism. ‘I was serious about my work so after a gig I’d go home to bed,’ she recalls. Mark didn’t. She left him when she learned he was having an affair with a 16-year-old girl. This led to a mini-breakdown and anorexia: ‘My life was totally out of control; the only thing I could control was how much food I could eat.’ But she soon fell in love with violinist Nigel Kennedy, at the height of his fame. ‘Nigel is an interesting creature but he’s a little crazy,’ she says. Next, she moved back to LA, where she lived in the garage of childhood friend Susanna Hoffs, of The Bangles, before briefly joining Courtney Love’s band Hole, only to return to Britain and The Fall once more.
In 2000 she met Philip in a lift in London and the pair have been together ever since. In 2002, they founded Start, a trendy boutique, where Brix found she had the knack for dressing her customers. She was soon snapped up for Fashion Fix and that led to Ultimate Shopper, which set Twitter alight when it first aired. ‘I’ve learnt from my mistakes and to trust my gut,’ she says. ‘Now I just want to give people joy.’
Ultimate Shopper, Thursdays, 8pm, TLC
Above: Brix and Gok Wan, with whom
she worked on Gok’s Fashion Fix