Lisa Butcher – the model, TV presenter and mother of two – gives us the dirt on the fashion industry, why you should never work with friends and her role as a designer….
What were the best and worst aspects of being a model?
I never really enjoyed doing catwalk to be honest, it was the least favourite part of my job. My favourite jobs were commercials because you got to do more than just walking up and down smiling. When you are doing eight shows a day, it gets very tiring. The worst part for me was that with every new show, there was a new hair and make-up change. There’s very little time and the hairdressers were incredibly rough; they weren’t as careful as they might have been if they’d had more time. I just got fed up with it to be honest.
As a model, did you have a favourite fashion week?
I really liked London, because it’s home and there’s nothing quite like strutting down a catwalk on your home turf! The second was New York, because it was so organised. My least favourite was Milan, because it was unbelievably disorganised. We’d be waiting around backstage for hours without being fed – and the only thing on tap back in those days was champagne, so you can imagine all of these models full of champagne on empty stomachs. You’d have casualties falling off the catwalks – luckily it’s not the same now!
More and more is being revealed regarding the mistreatment of models – did you see evidence of that in your day?
I tell you what was interesting when I was modelling – in the film industry, child actors have a chaperone to look after them, but in modelling, it was never that way. You would literally have 14 year old girls plonked into a country they had never been to before. They didn’t speak the language, they were given an A-Z map and they were just told to go to the castings. In Italy, you would be assigned a random, often very handsome, Italian man to drive you around on his moped, who actually hadn’t been vetted by anyone, so he could’ve been anyone! It was weird that it slipped through the loop – how are there these young girls being looked after by people who have never been vetted? I actually think it’s quite dangerous. That’s why I would never let my kids go into modelling at a young age. You become depersonalised; you are a projection of someone else’s ideas, it’s all about what other people think of you and therefore you are not a person, you’re just a commodity. That, at an age when your hormones are flying about and you don’t know who you are yet, is really detrimental to the formation of your personality and your character. Go into it in your late teens, but to go into it when you’re barely a teen is crazy; you don’t need distractions from everything you’re supposed to be learning and doing at school, that’s paramount.
But our society is so youth-obsessed that now a model’s career is over when she hits 19 or 20, right?
Well that’s absolutely right; your career is stopping when most other people’s are starting and you feel like a has-been, and that’s also not very nice! I remember one article was written about me, probably in the Daily Mail, saying ‘‘She’s over the hill at age 25!’’ and I thought, ‘‘What?! This is the time I should just be starting. How come I’m over the hill when I should just be beginning; this doesn’t make sense!’’ Luckily, I have a really close family around me. I took time out, regrouped and came back to do fashion in a slightly different way.
How do you think the fashion industry can combat the size zero trend?
I think the models need to be educated about nutrition. Agencies should have nutritionists that girls can talk to. You don’t have to be skinny in an unhealthy way, and to be honest most of the girls are naturally skinny. I think they need to know the dos and don’ts of the industry, and I loathe the pressure they are put under to lose weight. As a young teen, your bones are growing, you need calcium and you need to be healthy. Yes, you need to be small to fit into the clothes, I understand that, but I was put under so much pressure and I ended up very sick. I wouldn’t want that to happen to anyone else. Unless you’re in a position where people will make clothes for you where you can be any size you want, you have to fit into sample size. Sample sizes have got smaller and that’s when the whole size zero debate started. I mean, these girls are not tiny, they are very tall and have to be a size zero, and that’s when the casualties start to happen.
Who is your favourite British designer at the moment?
I love Vivienne Westwood – I used to do her shows; I just love her, her clothes are beautiful and she knows how to dress a woman, she knows how to accentuate curves, she knows how to make a woman look sexy, not in an overt way, but in a quirky way. I can’t praise her highly enough. She has so much fun with the clothes; she’ll have some sort of classic dress and will put a finishing touch on it to make it very special.
How would you describe your own personal style?
There’s a bit of a hippy in me, there’s a bit of a rock ‘n’ roll edge and it can be quite classic at the same time, so it depends on my mood when I wake up. I’m quite a lazy dresser, therefore I live in my jeans and I’m running around a lot during the day, so it needs to be comfortable.
You worked with your best friend Micha Paris on What Not to Wear – would you advise working with friends?
No, I wouldn’t advise working with friends in the slightest! I found it very, very tough – she did too and it had impacted on our relationship, on our friendship. She was pregnant or she’d just had her baby, so it wasn’t an easy time for her, but we got through it and our friendship survived!
Tell us about being the face of Fairtrade Cotton?
Yes, I was their ambassador since the end of 2009 and being their ‘‘face,’’ I was lucky enough to visit Gujarat in India, and actually see the communities and the cotton harvest, which was really interesting. Obviously, India is an incredibly poor country and I was prepared for the worst but I was pleasantly surprised, after driving three hours a day to get out to the cotton fields, that the communities seemed incredibly happy because of what Fairtrade has achieved. The parents make more money now, so the children get to go to school, they have clean running water, non-contaminated water systems and the kids learn about the organic approach to farming, which I thought was great. I’d love my children to learn about that sort of thing! It blew me away and I just thought ‘‘Why can’t more farms farm the organic way and make sure that people get paid enough?’’ It’s a relatively simple thing to do.
So Fairtrade has an effect on the community as a whole?
Well yes, it does and the thing is, Fairtrade was really struggling with cotton, it’s not like buying a bag of tea. It’s an emotional choice buying clothes, you’ve got to feel and look great in them. I think in the past you probably imagined organic cotton clothes alongside white socks and Birkenstocks, but now they’re making really cool garments, something really aspirational made out of cotton. I’m trying to spread the word and a lot of people out there are doing the same, as it’s an important issue.
How did you get involved?
The Fairtrade Foundation approached me. I grew up in South East Asia surrounded by tea plantations, so from an early age I was aware of the issues that affected workers. Ever since I was little, I wanted to do something that could give a little back and so when Fairtrade approached me, I jumped at the chance, because it was exactly the type of thing I was looking to get involved in.
Now you have taken a new career direction, designing for Long Tall Sally. How did that happen?
Well, after What Not to Wear, they approached me. Long Tall Sally was quite an antiquated brand, it had been around for years and years and had kind of lost its way a little. Then the Bennett Brothers bought it out, re-vamped it and asked me to be the face. I asked them if I could design, not knowing whether I could do it or not to be honest, but I thought it would be quite a nice to get my creative juices flowing and it’s been fantastic, I’ve really enjoyed it. I love it.
Is this the first designing you’d ever done?
Yes, absolutely and it’s paid off, luckily! It’s really nice to draw up some ideas and see them developing in front of your eyes; watching a design become a garment is a really exciting process, and it’s great to have new challenges. I’ve been in fashion for over 20 years, being a projection of someone else’s ideas and being a model, so it’s quite nice to be creative myself – and it’s fun, it doesn’t seem like work to me. I think that’s the best work you can do, you just really enjoy it. I go skipping into work every morning! If possible, your work shouldn’t be a toil, it shouldn’t be something you dread doing every day.
How hard is it to find clothes to fit you?
I’m 6ft and oh my god, I still have problems finding clothes that fit me! My favourite jeans are the ‘‘Houlihan’’ cargo pants from J Brand – open a magazine and everyone’s wearing them – but they only come in a 31 inch inside leg. So as much as I try to follow the trends, I just end up looking like a bit of a child in them, because they look like knickerbockers on me. That’s a prime example of how I can’t wear normal clothes, so for Long Tall Sally I would do a version of those pants that would fit a tall person like me. I’m pretty much designing for myself, it’s great!
What is your idea of luxury?
It would be sitting on a beach in South-East Asia – Thailand or Bali, somewhere like that, with my kids at a very nice hotel, maybe an Aman resort – and know that I have nothing to do or think about for at least a week! Oh, and a big pile of books next to me, that’s my idea of luxury! On a day-to-day basis, I actually go and have a holistic massage every week. It’s totally indulgent, but I find that it’s the one thing that keeps me sane. I have 2 hours every week just for me; no-one can call me, no-one is going to expect me to answer their e-mails, no-one to ask me to do something – it’s my time and that’s very important for me, and if I don’t have that I find myself going a bit stir-crazy!
Find out more about Lisa’s work with Fairtrade cotton and Long Tall Sally here: