Laura Bailey: 'If you'd told me 15 years ago I'd still be modelling – well, I would have laughed in your face'
Jess Cartner-Morley meets Laura Bailey – model and London Fashion Week ambassador
guardian.co.uk, Friday 27 January 2012 23.00 GMT
London Fashion Week, being rather grand these days, has three ambassadors. One of them you will almost certainly have heard of – she's called Samantha Cameron – and one of them you may not, unless you are a keen reader of the fashion blogs and gossip columns Poppy Delevigne stars in. Bluntly put, one gets British designers into the Downing Street drawing room, and the other looks very pretty in their clothes.
The third is Laura Bailey, who is not so easy to pigeonhole. She has been a model for 15 years, and dominated British billboards for several years last decade as one of the original line-up of M&S "girls", alongside Twiggy. As a one-time girlfriend of Richard Gere and the longtime partner of Working Title film producer Eric Fellner, she has played the Blonde Girlfriend on the outer edge of a lot of paparazzi pictures. She counts Sheherazade Goldsmith and Thandie Newton among her best friends, and does the Notting Hill school run in Stella McCartney most days.
But the thing about Bailey is, she's really not at all how that sounds. One recent London Fashion Week, while the It-girls were posing for the paps on the Somerset House cobbles, Bailey was to be found in a basement room giving an earnest speech in support of Esthetica's ethical fashion design. She has made a film highlighting Ghana's maternal health issues for Oxfam and designed a range of jewellery for fair trade label Made. She had a regular column in the Daily Telegraph, and writes for Vogue and the Independent. She has never taken a yoga class, but cycles everywhere. She tells me twice that "financial independence is very important to me", however symbolic this may be since she lives with a millionaire film producer who is the father of her two children (Luc is seven, Lola is three). She is well read (having just finished Julian Barnes' Sense Of An Ending) and her personal heroine is Christiane Amanpour.
In other words, Bailey is an idealised vision of the broadsheet-reading girl next door. Hearteningly, she has a perfectly normal number of fine wrinkles for 39, but is nonetheless quite ridiculously beautiful, with awesome cheekbones and legs and golden green eyes and thick mermaid-blond hair that owes nothing to extensions. (She flipped her hair over and I looked underneath. Investigative journalism, fashion-style.) As a thirtysomething mother who has a perspective, however insanely privileged, on the bigger picture, she is a welcome counterweight to the notion that fashion is a matter for self-absorbed teens.
Her official title in the front row is cultural ambassador, and she plans to strengthen the links between film and fashion, her two "genuine passions". (This being Britain, that she will bring to bear on the role her connections as Mrs Working Title is left unsaid.) "Film can be a modern way to tell the story of a collection or a brand; it can make fashion accessible to more people; it can help create something that has a life online. Right now, I'm looking at matchmaking designers and directors, to make short films together." Long before she was an ambassador, Bailey was a front-row regular, so her new role "formalises what I was already doing".
Bailey loves a good catwalk show – her favourite last season was Christopher Kane, "I was quite moved by it" – and takes fashion seriously. "I can see that from a distance fashion looks frivolous, but it's big business, and a real point of pride in our fashion is a common thread in British culture, from our amazing catwalk designers to the incredible sense of style I see in the teenagers I know. There is a negative side to fashion, which is that disposable, celebrity-led fashion tends to fuel a sense of removal both from the craft of fashion, and from individual style. But it's hard to say that without sounding snobby."
The day of our shoot, Bailey has just returned from New York, where Fellner has been in hospital for treatment for a serious illness. Things have improved since, and Bailey says he is on the road to recovery, but the transatlantic commute between her partner's bedside and home with her children means Bailey arrives on set jangling with nervous energy and drinking black coffee, "ideally on a drip". The shoot, she says, is "a welcome distraction."
"If you'd told me 15 years ago that I'd still be modelling – well, I would have laughed in your face," she says. "But the funny thing is, the older I get, I really enjoy modelling. When I was younger I wasn't completely comfortable with the idea that I was a model, so I brought a lot of anxiety and ego about that to the table. These days, especially since having children, my confidence comes from elsewhere. It's a cliché, but if my children are safe and well then nothing else matters, and that is very liberating." I ask her which of all the photos that have been taken of her are her favourites, and she says, "I'd have to say the recent ones. Because it's only recently that I've begun to recognise myself in modelling pictures. Now they look like true portraits, and I like that."
• Laura Bailey wears jumper, £325, by Aquascutum, aquascutum.com. Sunglasses, £299, by Cutler & Gross, cutlerandgross.com. Hair: Jamie McCormick using Kerastase. Make-up: Maria Comparetto using Chanel S 2012 and Perfection Lumiere.
it was pretty much impossible to get a good photo of her at Chanel Couture last month, she is very nifty and people were crowding for Poppy, but this was my best shot.
credit: Aisling Kermath
Last edited by maybelaterblue; 25-02-2012 at 05:03 PM. Reason: credit.