Back to black, sweetie dar­ling

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - Front Page -

Gucci, Moschino, Gaultier, the most vul­gar Ver­sace: Ed­ina Mon­soon worked ev­ery Nineties fash­ion fad imag­in­able. “It’s Lacroix, sweetie, Lacroix” was her tag-line. But Jen­nifer Saun­ders, who played the age­ing PR exec in sit­com Ab­so­lutely Fab­u­lous, wasn’t fak­ing it when she ap­peared hot and flus­tered on set. “Eddy wore some amaz­ing stuff but it had to look very pinched, so ev­ery­thing was a size too small for me,” she says. “It was right for the char­ac­ter but it was very an­noy­ing for me.”

Haute cou­ture, par­tic­u­larly the gar­ish sort favoured by Eddy, isn’t Saun­ders’s thing. Her own style, which is more de­mure and much less con­stric­tive than that of her al­ter ego, is much ad­mired by our guest ed­i­tor Mi­randa Hart. “I splash a bit of colour around but gen­er­ally I look for black. I think it stems from the Eight­ies,” Saun­ders ex­plains, when we meet at pri­vate mem­bers’ club Home House in Lon­don.

She’s strip­ping off as she talks – un­fazed that we’re in a room full of peo­ple – out of the dark fur gilet and patterned blouse she has been wear­ing for a pre­vi­ous shoot (she’s spent the day pro­mot­ing her book Bonkers: My Life in Laughs) and into a more com­fort­able black en­sem­ble: a fit­ted T-shirt, baggy cashmere jumper and skull-print scarf, which she wears over black tai­lored trousers and her trea­sured biker boots. “I like wear­ing a mix­ture of struc­tured and loose-fit­ting clothes,” she says, ruf­fling up her blonde hair. “I could throw a Bel­staff jacket over the top or a leather jacket and I’d feel com­fort­able and edgy.” It’s a dressed-down Hells An­gels look, which works on Saun­ders, with her ra­zor cheek­bones and bed­head hair.

As a teenager grow­ing up in Lin­colnshire and later in Lon­don – her fa­ther was in the RAF – Saun­ders, who is a pa­tron of Chicks, one of the Tele­graph’s three Christ­mas char­i­ties, didn’t take style ad­vice from any­one – least of all from her mother, a biology teacher. “No way. Can you imag­ine?” she says, rais­ing an eye­brow. “Gen­er­a­tions didn’t mix in the same way and fash­ion wasn’t such a big thing. You just bought things from M& S. I grew up ei­ther wear­ing school uni­form or rid­ing gear, so I feel very happy in a uni­form. Boots, jeans and a dark jacket. I like feel­ing booted.”

But in her late twen­ties, when she started to get no­ticed – first for her epony­mous sketch show French and Saun­ders, which she wrote with Dawn French, and then for Ab­so­lutely Fab­u­lous, which starred Joanna Lum­ley as her best friend Patsy Stone – it be­gan to mat­ter what she wore to par­ties and awards cer­e­monies. She called on stylists for help, with lim­ited suc­cess. “The prob­lem is they put you in things they think you’d look good in. But un­less they fit with your head, you feel ridicu­lous,” she says. To make mat­ters worse, th­ese stylists would ha­bit­u­ally un­der­es­ti­mate her dress size. “They say, ‘Oh, you’re a 12,’ and I’m like, ‘I’m telling you I’m a 16.’ And then they’re sur­prised when what­ever they’ve se­lected for me looks aw­ful. I’d try to tell them that from the start.”

Af­ter mis­er­able for­ays out in pub­lic dressed in gi­ant belts and large col­lars, the wrong kind of shoes and mul­ti­coloured jumpers that were at odds with her pen­chant for dark hues, Saun­ders’s friend the de­signer Betty Jack­son stepped in. Known for us­ing a lot of black in her col­lec­tions, Jack­son be­came her style icon, cre­at­ing nu­mer­ous out­fits for her in the sub­se­quent years. “She was the first per­son to say, ‘Look, you’ve re­ally got to do some­thing about your­self,’” Saun­ders ex­plains. “She got me wear­ing much more tai­lored lines with nar­row shoul­ders and prop­er­cut cleav­ages, which was great be­cause if you’ve got big bo­soms and you’re quite rounded what you ac­tu­ally need is sharper lines rather than flow­ing stuff.”

Tai­lored jack­ets, which can be thrown over any­thing, now form the ba­sis of her wardrobe, along with the baggy cashmere jumpers, jeans and boots she wears when at home on Dart­moor, where she lives with her hus­band, Adrian Ed­mond­son, and her three daugh­ters Ella, Beat­tie and Freya. She’s also in­vested in a clutch of Diane von Furstenberg wrap dresses to wear at the red­car­pet events she re­cently de­scribed as “in­sane beauty pageants”. “They al­ways ask you whose dress you’re wear­ing. It can’t be your dress. It’s got to be some­one else’s,” she says. It’s only since she dis­cov­ered DVF dresses that the whole ex­pe­ri­ence has be­come slightly less trau­matic, she ex­plains. “They’ve seen me through so many of those oc­ca­sions. I just wear the same one again and again and dress it up with dif­fer­ent shoes and jew­ellery.”

Did all those years play­ing Ed­ina in­flu­ence her style in any way? “Not re­ally, al­though some­times I’d put some­thing on and think, Wow, I look quite good in this kind of thing,” she says. “I re­mem­ber some lovely Moschino jack­ets and some gor­geous Gaultier: a baggy em­broi­dered silk base­ball jacket, which was to die for. I loved it so much that I bought one but it’s lost now. I swear I lent it to one of my daugh­ters but no one has owned up.”

In re­cent years the girls have be­come her style gu­rus, par­tic­u­larly Freya, who stud­ies fash­ion at Kingston Univer­sity. “She’s re­ally up on ev­ery­thing and I trust her. I tell her what I’m think­ing of wear­ing and she’ll work it into a style.” Her daugh­ters can also be re­lied upon to break in her shoes and re­lieve her of any fash­ion faux pas. “When I make a hor­ri­ble er­ror in Zadig & Voltaire I tell my­self that if they wear it for a bit I might start lik­ing it,” she says.

The one area in which Ed­ina does seem to have in­fil­trated Saun­ders’s psy­che is in­ter­net shop­ping. She’s ad­dicted. “I’ve dis­cov­ered Net-APorter and it’s dan­ger­ous,” she says. Re­cent pur­chases in­clude a Donna Karan wool polo neck and a Mar­garet How­ell dress­ing gown. “It’s pure wool and will last for­ever.” There have been some mis­takes, how­ever: jumpers that cling to the bum and a pair of Frye boots that were too small. “You need to click with cau­tion and think hard about the fit,” she warns. “It’s a has­sle trekking back to the UPS depot.”

Top of her Christ­mas list this year is an over­sized Stella Mc­Cart­ney jacket. “If I was thin­ner, I’d wear Stella Mc­Cart­ney all the time,” she says. “I can’t get away with it at the mo­ment. Per­haps if I lose weight in the new year.”

But de­spite all this talk of de­signer la­bels, Saun­ders in­sists she’s not too snob­bish for the high street. She reg­u­larly buys clothes in Ex­eter, and while in En­niskillen, North­ern Ire­land, a few weeks ago re­dis­cov­ered Next. She’s yet to re­turn to her old stamp­ing ground, M& S, how­ever. “I’m slightly put off by the ad­verts,” she says. “There’s some­thing a bit sickly about them, mainly be­cause they didn’t ask me to be in them.”

Any Christ­mas style ad­vice for her friend Mi­randa? “No. I think she looks ab­so­lutely great. She’s grown into her star­dom,” Saun­ders says. In fact, next week she will be fol­low­ing Mi­randa’s lead and don­ning a Christ­mas jumper for the first time. “It’s red with a rein­deer on it. Let’s hope I can carry it off,” she says.

Bonkers: My Life in Laughs is avail­able for £15 + £1.35 p&p from Tele­graph Books on 0844 8711514 or books.tel­graph.co.uk

To do­nate to Chicks or any of our Christ­mas char­i­ties call 0151 284 1927 or see tele­graph.co.uk/char­ity

Dressed to the Nineties: co­me­dian Jen­nifer Saun­ders keeps it sim­ple in black cashmere with a skull­print scarf; as Ed­ina, far left, she sported gi­ant belts and col­lars

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