Love, loss, sorority and salvation are threaded together in the dramatic dresses from the multi-talented creator of the Vampire’s Wife.
The transition from muse and model to legitimate fashion designer can be a tricky path to navigate. More often than not, the resulting work can come across as hackneyed. Susie Cave is an extraordinary exception. An inspiration to the likes of Helmut Newton and Guy Bourdin, and the wife of the musician Nick Cave, Susie has always fulfilled real sartorial needs in ingenious ways, whether by transforming her friends’ flared trousers into drainpipes at the tender age of 12 or dyeing her own clothes for test shoots when she was modelling. Her brand the Vampire’s Wife (named after the title of an unpublished novel written by her husband) was born out of creative necessity. ‘Every time I went out with Nick, I never knew what to wear, or the things I wanted to wear were so expensive,’ she recalls. ‘I thought, “I’d love to make my own clothes so I won’t be spending all this money!”’
And so in 2014, she set up the label with her business partner and friend Alex Adamson. In a studio in Brighton, Cave used a cupboard of vintage dresses as references, and began designing clothes with a coquettish femininity that women all over the world would fall hard for. But just when the Vampire’s Wife was beginning its ascent, the family was struck by an unimaginable personal tragedy that altered the course of the label. Three years ago, the Caves’ son Arthur, a twin to Earl, died in a tragic accident at the age of 15, when he fell from a cliff after taking LSD. ‘I really thought I was going to close the company down,’ says Cave. ‘I was in such a fog for such a long time. But then I dragged myself into the office. I just remember thinking, “I can do something for someone.”’ Daisy Lowe had requested a custom dress for an awards ceremony, and Cave admits that having a purpose and being needed felt good. ‘Somehow I made that dress and then it was all over the papers. It was a really challenging time,
but I found that working and being creative was very helpful.’
Today, the label’s coterie of famous admirers includes Cate Blanchett, Kate Moss, Ruth Negga and Florence Welch; and there are letters from customers on her site who are effusive about how the clothes give them ‘next level joy’ (to quote one). ‘I feel the same about everybody wearing the dresses, whether they’re celebrities or not,’ says Cave. ‘I so want them to have something to make them feel good. I don’t want to disappoint anybody. The label has also given me this whole new relationship with women, as I’ve always been surrounded by men – from Nick to my brothers and my children.’
Cave is sensitive to how women feel in the clothes; the Vampire’s Wife is a brand that values the relationship between a patron and her dressmaker. She pays attention to details such as French seams and non-itchy threads, and the result is a reliable arsenal of silhouettes that have been tweaked to perfection. When you wear one of her creations, it feels as though it was made expressly for you: the ruffles will be just so and the cuff of a sleeve will fall at exactly the right place. Her husband has an input into the choice of fabrics, and once suggested that she use a deep shade of coral-pink velvet reminiscent of a dress Marilyn Monroe wore on the red carpet for the Oscars. Ultimately, though, it is Cave herself who upholds her own exacting high standards, and in a world of throwaway fashion, the Vampire’s Wife is a highly personal passion. ‘If I wouldn’t wear it, I wouldn’t sell it,’ she says emphatically. And if it’s good enough for Susie Cave, then it’s good enough for us.
‘It was a really challenging time,
but I found that working and
being creative was very helpful’