by Lavinia Dickson-Robinson
From his humble beginnings at Barnardo’s, Bruce Oldfield rose through the ranks and left St. Martin’s School of Art to critical acclaim in 1973. He started his own label in 1975 and became one of the leading couture designers in the UK, dressing some of the most beautiful women in the world, from Princess Diana to Faye Dunaway, Queen Rania of Jordan and the Duchess of Cornwall among many others. With his charisma, charm and warm smile, it is easy to see why he is the favourite of so many outstanding women.
In our interview at his Beauchamp Place boutique, we started talking about his work for Barnardo’s, of which he is Vice President, a role in which he is very much involved. It was Barnardo’s support and the love of his wonderful foster mother that gave him the chance to become the man he is today.
Bruce went on to say that at present they need all the help they can get. “It’s a huge organisation. People think of Barnardo’s as just a children’s home, but Barnardo’s is so much more than that! It’s looking after and caring for children; and it’s all done through outreach and helping local authorities resolve problems. Barnardo’s nowadays are campaigners for a lot of issues that other people won’t touch. They were very lucky to have Diana as president and now we have HRH Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall as our patron. All my life the Queen has been patron of Barnardo’s and The Queen has handed that role over to the Duchess of Cornwall, who is a very hands-on patron and a very good client.”
I asked Bruce if supporting Barnardo’s was his way of saying thank you and giving hope to kids who have had a difficult start in life. At the end of the day, he is living proof that they can get to the top. “You must be very proud”.
“Oh yes I am very proud of my involvement with Barnardo’s and the fact that they ask my advice on a lot of subjects, I also very much enjoy the fundraising I do with the Duchess. It is a very rewarding role.”
Moving onto the business side of things, I asked about his collection for John Lewis, which gave many women the opportunity to fulfil a life-long dream: to wear a garment designed by Bruce Oldfield. He answered candidly: “It is always nice to meet new clients from all walks of life, it’s good to talk and find out what women want. Obviously it’s a bit different from what we do here at Beauchamp Place. Here I can give my clients individual time to create a look that fits into their life style, the time in life they are at; I believe I used that knowledge in my collections for John Lewis. To me, every woman is important and should be made to feel beautiful.”
In general though, Bruce has always kept himself very exclusive. Many other fashion houses have become practically high street brands, but not his. I asked him if this had been an active decision or just the way the business developed. “To me”, I couldn’t help but adding, “small is beautiful.”
He laughed with that baritone tone of his and replied “Yes and no. I kept myself small because it costs so much to get bigger. Whenever I have expanded my business it has kind of gone pear-shaped and I have had to re-track and re-establish myself all over again. I believe in quality not quantity.”
I was curious about how Bruce has been diversifying his collections, so I asked him about past rumours I had heard about him going into interior design, even homeware design.
“I am very keen on that and always have been,” He answered wit yet another disarming smile, “I think I’ve had better coverage for my home and garden in recent years than for my clothes. To me it’s an obvious step on, or to the side if you prefer. I will always of course keep my couture -it is after all my core business, and one wouldn’t want to throw the baby out with the dish water.”
I added “So you won’t be doing up houses anytime soon, will you?” and Bruce chuckled. “No, I am not interested in doing up whole rooms, fretting about the colour of a pelmet; I want to be able to create one or two pieces that can enhance a room, or a wardrobe. Actually, last November I launched a collection of beautiful cushion throws, a small group of scarves and stoles, and handbags. Imagine, what do you do with a stole? If you get a big one, you can either wear it or throw it on your bed. I like the idea that it has a double life, a double purpose. I think accessories for a woman -both clothing and home accessories-, can really enhance your home and your wardrobe. It’s like wearing a fabulous cashmere scarf in a flattering colour that will brighten up your look.
For the leather pieces, I have been working with Venetian leather craftsmen, artisans who believe that craftsmanship, hand stitching each piece and thus, making them totally unique is the only way to work. I found them through a dear friend of mine; they keep to the old style of leather craftsmanship and preserve it to a very high standard. That is exactly my style: true craftmanship of the highest standard.”
Actually I was lucky enough to attend the launch of this wonderful new collection and was blown away. There are very few men that can create something so simple and yet so clever and beautiful.
The piece that caught my imagination most were the cross Gold/Mercury Knightsbridge tote. Here is a wonderful example of summer into winter, day into night, sunset into moonlight.
Bruce’s cashmere stoles made me long for my parents’ house in Perthshire, my black Labrador Daisy, and a roaring log fire. I could so see myself wrapped in such luxurious and soft material!
But between you and the siren in me, I am just longing to find that custom-made red crepe full-length wrap evening dress laid out on my bed with a matching cashmere throw for my birthday.