More is more

As fash­ion direc­tor of Vogue for 20 years, Lucinda Cham­bers’ eclec­tic, mag­pie style shaped a gen­er­a­tion. Jess Cart­ner-Mor­ley vis­its her at home to hear what hap­pened next

The Guardian - Weekend - - Space Homes -

Lucinda Cham­bers has the kind of style you just can’t buy. That il­lu­sive je ne sais quoi that’s eye-catch­ing with­out be­ing at­ten­tion-seek­ing. See to­day’s sparkly, dan­gly ear­rings worn with her fine blond hair twisted into a per­fectly im­per­fect messy bun. She can make an out­fit that sounds chaotic on pa­per (say, a pleat skirt with a bright print blouse, ribbed socks, chunky pool slider shoes) look a match made in heaven, and make per­fectly or­di­nary pieces (a man’s white shirt and black trousers) look ex­quis­ite by dint of a just-so sleeve roll and the ideal num­ber of but­tons un­done.

The house where she has lived in Shep­herd’s Bush, west London, for 30 years is the same. Grand and yet slightly scruffy, it has one room painted pink and an­other yel­low, and yet, some­how, an air of quiet har­mony. My visit falls on one of the last warm, sunny morn­ings of the great sum­mer of 2018 and Cham­bers has the doors open from her kitchen (gar­den flow­ers on the wooden ta­ble, seat­ing nooks patch­worked with cush­ions, hol­i­day post­cards cheek by jowl with clas­sic pho­tog­ra­phy) on to a ve­randa, white wooden boards foxed and flecked with age, where wicker chairs look on to a long, green gar­den. An an­tique sil­ver can­de­labra with neon-yel­low can­dles sits in front of a faded cur­tain of rose and white tick­ing stripe fabric.

It is slightly bonkers, but sur­pris­ingly peace­ful. From in­doors comes the sound of the tongue-and-groove pan­elled doors of the many kitchen cup­boards bang­ing as Cham­bers hunts for the cafetiere. She even­tu­ally lo­cates it af­ter a phone call to her hus­band on his mo­bile up­stairs, and brings cof­fee along with plates of pas­tries, push­ing a huge vase of cut hy­drangeas to one side.

For two decades un­til last sum­mer, it was this idio­syn­cratic taste for which Cham­bers was known, as fash­ion direc­tor of Bri­tish Vogue and con­sul­tant at Marni and Prada. And then, in July 2017, two months af­ter her de­par­ture from Vogue had been an­nounced, as part of a slew of mast­head changes ac­com­pa­ny­ing the change in editor from Alexan­dra Shul­man to Ed­ward En­nin­ful, a brac­ingly can­did in­ter­view given to the lit­tle-known on­line jour­nal Vestoj went vi­ral. In it, Cham­bers burned bridges with the new Vogue regime by de­scrib­ing an un­cer­e­mo­ni­ous sack­ing by En­nin­ful, claim­ing she “hadn’t read Vogue in years”, de­scrib­ing some of the clothes fea­tured in the mag­a­zine as “ridicu­lously ex­pen­sive” and a cover im­age styled by her of Alexa Chung in a “stupid” Michael Kors T-shirt as “crap”, rub­bing salt into the wound by ex­plain­ing “he’s a big ad­ver­tiser so I knew why I had to do it”.

A year later, Cham­bers is still re­luc­tant to dis­cuss the in­ter­view and the “night­mar­ish” sum­mer that fol­lowed. All she will say is: “Not that I didn’t say those things, but the man­ner in which I said them was taken en­tirely out of con­text.” Read­ing be­tween the lines, one guesses at a chat in which a story she was play­ing for laughs was then tran­scribed as a no-holds-barred exit in­ter­view. “Ac­tu­ally, I al­ways un­der­stood that [my de­par­ture] was healthy and nec­es­sary for Vogue. Change is good. [But] it could have been a lot more el­e­gant.” In the af­ter­math, she was mor­ti­fied not just at hav­ing burned bridges, but at hav­ing of­fended long-stand­ing friends. “The worst thing was that I hurt two peo­ple I love. Michael [Kors], and Alex [Shul­man, the pre­vi­ous editor].” Are they rec­on­ciled? “Oh good­ness, yes. Thank God.”

Amid the chang­ing of the guard at Vogue, Cham­bers was cast as part of the posh, white fash­ion es­tab­lish­ment be­ing dis­lodged by the new regime. De­spite the ac­cent (old-fash­ioned cut-glass) and be­ing called Lucinda, Cham­bers does not, in fact, come from money and did not land at Vogue through con­nec­tions. She in­her­ited her flair for in­te­ri­ors from her mother, a sin­gle par­ent for most of Cham­bers’ child­hood who funded fam­ily life by buy­ing houses, do­ing them up and sell­ing them on.

“Lit­er­ally do­ing them up – I mean, phys­i­cally. My mother could knock down walls and re­build them. [When I was] a child, we moved ev­ery 18 months. Al­though al­ways on page 58 of the A-Z.” In the in­ter­view for her first job at Vogue, as a sec­re­tary, she →

‘My de­par­ture was healthy for Vogue. But it could have been a lot more el­e­gant’

was asked, “And who do you know here?” The an­swer – no one – was un­usual at the time, but Cham­bers got the job. Has that at­ti­tude moved on? “Oh my God, 100%. That was one of the first things that I ac­tively sought to change when I be­came fash­ion direc­tor. I couldn’t see an­other CV with ‘god­child of so-and-so’ on it. It just wasn’t in­ter­est­ing.” Di­ver­sity, she says, “did not start with Ed­ward En­nin­ful be­com­ing editor of Vogue. It started a long time ago. But the pace has def­i­nitely picked up.”

Two pho­tog­ra­phers with whom Cham­bers of­ten worked at Vogue, Mario Testino and Pa­trick De­marche­lier, have since been ac­cused of sex­ual mis­con­duct, which they have de­nied. Cham­bers says she never wit­nessed any wrong­do­ing by ei­ther man. “I ran a tight ship on my shoots. I don’t think peo­ple would have dared. Only once in my ca­reer have I seen a pho­tog­ra­pher be­have to­ward a model in a way that I con­sid­ered un­ac­cept­able. I stopped the shoot and never worked with him again.”

By the end of Cham­bers’ time at Marni, her role had ex­panded so that she was one of the de­sign­ers – “there wasn’t a but­ton or a fabric I hadn’t brought to the ta­ble” – and soon af­ter leav­ing Vogue she be­came a de­signer of­fi­cially. Two former de­sign­ers with whom she had col­lab­o­rated at Marni, Molly Mol­loy and Kristin Forss, ap­proached her with an idea for a new la­bel. Colville, in which the three share cre­ative and busi­ness re­spon­si­bil­ity, launched ear­lier this year, mak­ing the kind of colour­ful, tex­tured, time­lessly es­o­teric pieces that trans­formed Marni from an ob­scure fur house into a cult la­bel.

“I am not sure I would ever have left Vogue if what hap­pened hadn’t hap­pened. Now that I’ve got the dis­tance of a year, I can see how a sit­u­a­tion that was a bit messy pro­pelled me from a job I loved into some­thing much more ex­cit­ing. Three women start­ing a com­pany to­gether as a kind of col­lec­tive – it feels very right, very much of our time.” In ad­di­tion to Colville, a se­cond project – a new dig­i­tal plat­form – is in the pipe­line.

So, a scrape that might have made Cham­bers fall out of love with fash­ion re­newed her pas­sion for the in­dus­try. “When you’ve been in a job for 20 years, you think you’ve iden­ti­fied who the good guys are. But you never know who will be there when you’re not, you know, Lucinda From Vogue. It has been won­der­ful to find out that, ac­tu­ally, they were all still there.”

One of the first peo­ple to pick up the phone dur­ing the fall­out was Anna Win­tour, who com­mis­sioned Cham­bers to shoot Phar­rell Wil­liams for last De­cem­ber’s cover of Amer­i­can Vogue. Michael Kors – whose T-shirt Cham­bers had dis­par­aged – of­fered a very pub­lic olive branch by invit­ing her to his New York fash­ion week show, where she was given a prime front-row seat. “What was amaz­ing, af­ter the shock, was the sup­port,” she says now. “You don’t as­sume that it will be there. It was quite over­whelm­ing, ac­tu­ally.”

At 58, Cham­bers doesn’t be­lieve in age-ap­pro­pri­ate dress­ing. “I don’t think any­one should ‘dress their age’, what­ever that even means. Not in terms of putting a ringfence about what you are al­lowed to wear. But on the other hand, be­ing stylish is about be­ing at ease with who you are, not try­ing to be some­thing you’re not. Com­fort, to me, is un­der­rated. Carine Roit­feld [the former editor of French Vogue] looks in­cred­i­ble, but I would never dress the way she does, be­cause it doesn’t look com­fort­able. Her skirts are so tight, her shoes are so high.”

The new­est mem­ber of Cham­bers’ house­hold is Tig, a jointed wooden man­nequin bought on eBay. To­day she is wear­ing a trench by & Other Sto­ries over a zip-up knit by Zara. (As styled by Cham­bers, I took the look for Ce­line.) Dress­ing her­self, dress­ing Tig, dress­ing her house, “it all comes from the same place,” she says. “I do it to give my­self plea­sure, and what gives me plea­sure is fabric and colour and tex­ture and pat­tern.” Ideas can come from any­where. To­day, she’s ru­mi­nat­ing over rolls of yel­low, blue and red elec­tri­cal tape that she spot­ted on a shelf in the post of­fice. “Those colours… I know they will turn up in some­thing I do, al­though I don’t know yet what form it will be. I don’t think I’m a par­tic­u­larly orig­i­nal per­son. I get my ideas from the world around me. You have to be on re­ceive mode all the time, that’s the thing. And if you like some­thing, if it makes you happy, then you go for it.”

Even af­ter she dis­par­aged Michael Kors, he gave her a front-row seat at his next show

Pho­tographs by So­phie Green

Pre­vi­ous pages: the liv­ing room; and right, the ve­randa. This page from top: Kartell’s Fly pen­dant (heals.com); Cham­bers’ ear­ring col­lec­tion

Top: art fills the liv­ing room – the wo­man in a red dress is by il­lus­tra­tor Tanya Ling. Left: Tig, a wooden man­nequin bought on eBay

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