The Jewish Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - HILARY FREE­MAN

BIGGERWOMENhave a new role model — De­tec­tive In­spec­tor Viv Deer­ing, from the Chan­nel Four hit se­ries No Of­fence, played by the ac­tress Joanna Scan­lon. She oozes con­fi­dence, and never ever lets her am­ple curves hold her back.

Off screen, Scan­lon’s even more glam­orous than Deer­ing. And who helps her look mag­nif­i­cent? A Jewish stylist and shop owner from north Lon­don, Le­anda Wal­ters, who has made it her life’s work to style larger ladies.

Scan­lon has be­come a close friend. They were pic­tured to­gether on the red car­pet at the pre­miere of

Brid­get Jones’s Baby, for which Joanna wore a beau­ti­ful red coat, cho­sen by Le­anda. “She doesn’t move with­out me when it comes to clothes,” says Wal­ters. “I am her go-to stylist for an im­por­tant oc­ca­sion or an in­ter­view.”

Other fa­mous clients in­clude Kate Bush, who as a for­mer dancer “is deeply un­happy about her size,” and Dawn French. “She wears our stuff the whole time and wore one of our print coats to Geri Halliwell’s wed­ding. Like many larger women, she fluc­tu­ates in weight.”

Lady He­len Wo­gan, the widow of Terry, is an­other reg­u­lar. “She used to come in all the time with her hus­band. He was the most lovely man — ex­actly the same as on TV. We were so sad when he passed away. He al­ways came in with He­len and would sit and chat to ev­ery­one. Some­times he came in alone to buy her a present. I be­lieve we dressed He­len for his me­mo­rial ser­vice.”

The idea for Wal­ters’ busi­ness came in her thir­ties when she was in­vited to her cousin’s wed­ding. “It was a big do, she was younger than me, and I was still sin­gle,” she re­calls. “So my grandma gave my mother £1000 - a huge amount in those days — so I wouldn’t look neb­buch. Mum took me to Har­vey Ni­chols to buy some de­signer out­fits. I was a size 14-16, chubby, but pretty with long hair down my back. Ex­cited, we went up to the sales as­sis­tant and asked if there was a plus size depart­ment. She looked me up and down and then there was a telling si­lence. ‘Madam,’ she even­tu­ally said, with­er­ingly. ‘This is a fash­ion store!’ I was mor­ti­fied. Big fat tears burnt down my cheeks and I just stood there sob­bing, in the middle of the shop.”

That was Le­anda’s “sod it” mo­ment, when she de­cided to cre­ate her own clothes shop for larger women, so they wouldn’t ex­pe­ri­ence the same hu­mil­i­a­tion. It would be an­other 15 years be­fore she achieved her dream but, to­day, Beige, the store she founded with her part­ner Jonathan Fried­man in 2002, is a tremen­dous suc­cess, with three Lon­don shops, a grow­ing on­line pres­ence, and many celebri­ties among its clien­tele.

Le­anda, 59, grew up in Edg­ware, and has a fam­ily back­ground in the fash­ion in­dus­try. She de­scribes her­self as a “cul­tural Jew who will stand up to be counted.” She was at Orange Hill School, where she met Fried­man (he was her brother’s best friend, they only fell in love six­teen years ago). She trained as a fash­ion buyer at Har­rods, but later, hav­ing dis­cov­ered she was dyslexic took A lev­els and did a de­gree in psy­chother­apy, work­ing as a coun­sel­lor and a char­ity fundraiser.

When she and Fried­man be­came a cou­ple she con­vinced him of her clothes shop idea and they be­came busi­ness part­ners as well as set­ting up home to­gether in Whet­stone.

She’s pas­sion­ate about the busi­ness. “I’ve al­ways strug­gled with my weight and, as a young woman, I was al­ways on fad di­ets or diet pills. Imag­ine work­ing in fash­ion, which is all about be­ing thin, and be­ing fat. I couldn’t buy any­thing I sold. And when I worked in the busi­ness world, I had to look el­e­gant and so­phis­ti­cated, but there was nowhere to buy any­thing de­cent. I was earn­ing good money, I liked nice things. I wanted cash­mere and silk, not acrylic and polyester. There was — and still is re­ally — a mas­sive gap in the mar­ket for beau­ti­ful clothes in plus sizes for women who are af­flu­ent and don’t want to go to Evans.”

She says main­stream designers of­ten de­sign for an­drog­y­nous fig­ures and aren’t in­ter­ested in plus­size fash­ion. “It costs more to man­u­fac­ture, re­quires more fabric and tech­ni­cal skills for a dif­fer­ent cut. It’s not a just a mat­ter of grad­ing up skinny girl clothes. Most designers just don’t want to go there.”

Her tar­get cus­tomer is af­flu­ent, aged 40 plus, and will buy la­bels in­clud­ing Basler, Ma­rina Ri­naldi, Yoek, NYDJ jeans, and the shop’s own line, in sizes 16 to 30. Each branch has a spe­cial­ism, with the City branch fo­cus­ing on busi­ness suit­ing, while Tem­ple For­tune has trendier and more “blingy” out­fits plus some higher neck­lines for frum­mer cus­tomers.

“My girl is so­phis­ti­cated, worldly and trav­elled but, while she may be ex­tremely con­fi­dent from an in­tel­lec­tual point of view, she of­ten lacks con­fi­dence in her look,” says Le­anda. “That’s where my coun­selling train­ing comes in. I call my­self a ‘ther­a­peu­tic stylist,’ lis­ten­ing to and help­ing women as well as dress­ing them. I un­der­stand the is­sues larger women face — I know their thighs will rub to­gether, so they won’t want to wear a dress in sum­mer. I know that if they’ve put on weight they will feel they don’t de­serve new clothes. I know my cus­tomers may be scared or ret­i­cent to try some­thing new, or that they may have health is­sues that have led to their weight gain. I — and the staff I train — are sen­si­tive to that.”

Le­anda, a size 20 her­self, says she isn’t pro­mot­ing obe­sity as a lifestyle choice. ‘Yes, I’m over­weight, but I’ve come to terms with my size. Of course, if I could wake up a size 14 to­mor­row, it would be great. I know it would be bet­ter for my health if I lost weight. But why shouldn’t I and other large woman still be able to look good?

“Why shouldn’t a size 16 so­lic­i­tor be able to buy a nice suit, or a size 20 woman be able to get out­fits for a cruise?

“I feel priv­i­leged I can earn my liv­ing do­ing this. So many of our cus­tomers walk out in happy tears, look­ing 10 inches taller and a thou­sand times more con­fi­dent.”

Why can’t we larger woman look good?


Dawn French (right) sports a strik­ing coat at Geri Halliwell’s wed­ding.

Le­anda (be­low) with Joanna Scan­lon in red.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.