My first ever designer handbag was a Lulu Guinness. I first saw it when I was interning at the Observer aged 19, and I wanted this boxy ladylike bag more than I’d ever wanted anything in my life. It was postbox red with a lipstick holder on the front and another that functioned as a mini coin purse. I was prepared to sell any one of my brothers in order to make it mine, but came to the conclusion none of them would be worth enough to raise the necessary funds.
Eventually, my parents bought it for my 21st birthday, preventing the issue of losing one of their sons, and I treated it like treasure. I carried it everywhere with me; I didn’t care if it worked with my outfit or not. It made me feel grown-up, pulled-together and like the sort of person who might one day work in fashion. It was so well-made and well-conceived; it never broke or lost its gloss after being dragged round every student dive in south east London. It became my first ever style signature.
As my style changed, and I was tempted by the lure of other luxury brands, I started wearing my Lulu less, but I never got rid of it. I’ve cleared out my wardrobe since, but that bag has always remained at the back – it reminds me of a certain time in my life and it is every bit as beautiful and special now as it was then. As the label’s new creative director, David Hodgson, says, few brands ever achieve that personal connection with their customers – and those that do often spend millions trying to create it. It’s a strength that he hopes to capitalise on as he unveils his debut collection for the label.
“I spoke to lots of industry people before I took this job, and everyone had a very fond memory of a Lulu piece – a bag that they were bought for their 21st birthday or a memory of a clutch that they didn’t buy but wish they had,” says Hodgson. “That surprised me; you can’t really artificially create that love and affinity with a brand. The narrative of the collections were strong and women could lose themselves in that fantasy world. I want to continue that storytelling. Once you’ve discovered Lulu, you always want to stay in touch.”
Hodgson might not be an instantly recognisable name, but he has a CV that suggests exciting things could lie ahead for his new employer. Originally from the Lake District, the British designer worked under Stuart Vevers for five years at Loewe, before eventually launching his own consultancy business where he worked with Vevers again on the relaunch of Coach, masterminding the bestselling Amazona bag. Other clients included Proenza Schouler, Joseph and Strathberry, a favoured brand of the Duchess of Sussex. He is also, incidentally, married to designer Henry Holland.
Hodgson’s previous experience has taught him not only how to view a brand with fresh eyes and to tease out its DNA, but also what goes into a bag that women have to have.
“It has to work,” he says. “There’s no point in having just a pretty bag, it has to function too. It has to open easily, the pockets need to be in the right place, it has to be well-organised. It has to be light – there were so many bags for previous brands I’ve worked with that were so heavy you could kill your nana with it. On top of that it has to be pretty. Ideally, it should be something you’d want to pass down to future generations.”
In his new role at Lulu Guinness, he wants to draw on the brand’s heritage (it turns 30 next year), while infusing a sense of modernity. The brand’s charismatic founder is still involved, holding the title of founder and artistic director, and Hodgson visits her every week to pick her brain.
“It’s important to have a sprinkling of Lulu in everything,” he says. “There’s a mutual love and respect for each other. She knows that for it to work, she needs to pass it on.”
Unsurprisingly, his boss is a big influence in shaping who the Lulu Guinness woman is. “She’s so interesting and interested,” he says. “She never looks back, only forward, and I wish I was more like that. I want to celebrate her as a person and her as a brand.”
While famous Lulu fans include Kate Moss, Helena Bonham Carter and Alexa Chung, the easiest way to think of the target customer is in terms of her world and her outlook on life. She’d own the perfect cashmere jumper and day-to-night shirt, he says, as well as Dr Marten boots, a pair of Mary Janes and a big pair of black sunglasses.
“She’s the cool aunt you wish you had or the sibling that you could go out dancing with,” he explains. “She’s the woman you want to see at a dinner party because you know she’ll have interesting stories, or you just want to know what she’s wearing because you know it’ll be something you wish you had.” Really, says Hodgson, the Lulu woman is defined by her attitude.
“She’s assured in what and who she is,” he says. “She has this warmth and energy that’s infectious – you just want to be around her and she wants her bag to be an extension of her personality. You never know what you’re going to get with Lulu on any given day, but you know it’ll be filled with love, affection and warmth. She’s not serious and she often laughs at herself. And she’s so interested by life. She has something about her that other women admire.”
Hodgson has already worked at the brand for a year, but only unveiled his debut collection in September. His first few styles – which include the ladylike Queenie and the more playful Bibi – imbue the feminine irreverence of the label, combined with an added freshness. In a matter of months, the Bibi totes have already become a bestseller. Its witty, novelty embroidered designs – be it a dart board or a bingo ticket – have attracted new patrons including Josephine de la Baume and Alice Eve.
“It’s the right time, when the world is so crazy, for us to design something fun that puts a smile on your face,” says Hodgson. “We all know that what we’re wearing or carrying has the capacity to make us feel so much better and to put a spring in your step. It’s the right moment for Lulu to be given a new lease of life.”
From: BAZAAR UK