We talk to the leading British accessories designer Lulu Guinness as she opens the first of several stores in Dubai this summer.
British designer Lulu Guinness to open Dubai shops
Lulu Guinness’s assortment of kitsch bags with winking girls, lip-shaped clutches in rainbow colours and novelty vanity cases are unmistakably hers.
“Fashion is meant to be fun,” says Lulu Guinness, sitting in her London office showroom, surrounded by the accoutrements of 25 years as one of Britain’s leading accessories designers.
Her style is distinctively British – the lips motif is everywhere and her latest range has been inspired by boiled sweets with bright candy colours throughout – but Guinness, 54, sees market potential in the Middle East and is opening the first of several stores in Dubai this summer. The bags, beloved by the likes of Madonna, Kate Moss, Björk and Elizabeth Hurley, could be on the shelves of her first stand-alone outlet in the region as soon as August.
The store is expected to open in Souk Madinat Jumeirah in Dubai, an unusual site, considering most designer brands are drawn to the shopping malls.
“It sounds very charming,” says Guinness. “I have not been out there yet, but I wanted somewhere full of hustle and bustle and a bit different from a sort of soulless corridor of luxury shops.
“I just really hope the women in Dubai enjoy my bags and that they lift their spirits. My bags are feminine and colourful and quite pretty and decorative, and I think that appeals to people in the Middle East. The women are quite feminine there and are not always looking to have a functional day bag. They like things that are a little bit more decorative and they like the sense of humour.”
Guinness, the daughter of the late baronet Sir Miles Rivett-Carnac, a naval office and merchant banker, came relatively late to the fashion game. After leaving school, she spent a year studying graphic design before moving to Paris to be closer to her boyfriend at the time. The three years there, which she spent modelling and hanging out with stylists and make-up artists, shaped her own style.
“At that time, Paris was the place to be,” she says. “I learnt about style and French women and editing down your look. It certainly was my biggest influence for a long time. I probably learnt more there than at any art or fashion school. All the people I was working with were creators.”
But she says when she founded her company in 1989, when she was 29, it was more by fluke than because she had a burning desire to turn fashion into a career opportunity.
Then newly married to the playwright and musician Valentine Guinness, the son of the Guinness heir, Lord Moyne, and having done a variety of jobs, from acting, modelling and public relations to producing corporate videos, she decided she wanted to hit on a bankable idea that could enable her to give up work.
“I was working in corporate video then and my hours were very long with nights and weekends,” she says. “I thought if I could just design something that made loads of money, I could retire. The Filofax was the status symbol of the time, so I looked for an idea that would take the Filofax to the next step.
“I loved fashion and design and wanted to design something lovely for people to use. It was those days when people wanted to show off their Ray-Bans and Sony Walkmans – it was all about the item.”
The Lulu bag, her first creation, was designed to be a briefcase version of the Filofax, made of black leather with a luxurious purple or red suede interior, plastic pockets and detachable document holders.
It was stocked in department stores including Liberty, Browns and Joseph and while it did not make her a fortune, buyers were charmed by her sense of style.
“All the buyers I managed to get appointments with said: ‘We wish you did more bags like you dress’ because I had quite a sense of my own style,” says Guinness. “That was the beginning.”
With her love of vintage bags gifted by her grand-mother, Guinness focused on the accessories she loved, such as novelty bags from the 1940s and 1950s and brought them up to date with her own dash of cheeky humour.
Her Florist Basket bag, a suede pail topped with delicate fabric roses, has been installed in the permanent fashion collection in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and was inspired by the idea that “you could carry a vase of flowers with you all day”.
“I had some beautiful roses in my house and thought: ‘What a shame, I am going to work and won’t see them.’”
The lips clutches, which come in an assortment of colours and fabrics, were prompted, in part, by her love of surrealist artists such as Dalí, who created the Mae West Lips Sofa, and partly by the bold red lipstick she wears at all times.
“Those ideas can seem quite left of field but that was what established me in the fashion business,” says Guinness, who was awarded an OBE by the Queen in 2006.
Her latest products include a Brighton Rock clutch that looks like a “stick of rock” while her autumn/winter collection will include less uniform versions of the lips as an homage to the Matisse cut-outs exhibition currently running in London.
Now divorced and a mother of two, Guinness wants to expand into cosmetics, in part because she says no beauty firm has ever been able to perfect a matte red lipstick that is not drying.
As with everything she produces, her trademark style will be stamped on the packaging and container, which she says will give her an edge in a saturated market.
“Like all crafts or jobs, you do get better at it,” she adds. “I then come up with more ideas and see the potential for more things. You do a different bag and as it goes into production, you think of another idea it could lead into.”