Despite tube strikes and traffic jams, a slew of editors, stylists, photographers and designers turned up en masse at the Condé Nast College of Fashion & Design to celebrate Lulu Guinness’s 25th anniversary with Hilary Alexander, to find out exactly how one of Britain’s most cherished accessory designers parlayed one little handbag into a global brand.
“I wasn’t drawn to fashion,” explained Lulu as she turned back the clock to talk through the early days of the business. “I loved glamour and I loved old-style glamour. I started by designing briefcases – but people used to say to me, we want bags that look like you do.” Founded in 1989 when Lulu was 29 years old, briefcases quickly grew into rose baskets. It was a surreal idea that sold.
Outré concepts sit at the heart of the Lulu Guinness brand – and 25 years down the line, Lulu insists that she’s not likely to run out of them anytime soon. “When people say to me ‘what’s your inspiration,’ I don’t get it because I have ideas all day, everyday, just rushing into my head.” As if to demonstrate, Lulu opened the meeting by showing the room her brand new virtual press day box, complete with popcorn and champagne.
Dressed in a Moschino cheesecloth black and white check dress, smattered with red roses to match her trademark red lips, Lulu was every inch the fifties glamour puss. “The bags that sell for us are the ones that have our character,” she explained. “People don’t want a bag that they could get from anyone else. That’s not what we’re for.”
Regularly spotted on everyone from Dita von Teese to Alexa Chung and Paloma Faith, Lulu’s designs have built up an enviable fan base. “Back in the day, we never gave anything away, as the celebrities bought everything,” Lulu explained, recounting her first experience of celebrity endorsement. “She came into the shop, the actual Madonna. She was this tiny little person, with a big parka, a big hood and a giant bouncer. That was our first celeb. These days, you’d do Twitter but we just rang our friends up. We were quietly very happy and told everyone we knew.”
With a few top secret collaborations in the pipeline, Lulu’s 25th year is set to be bigger – and more iconic – than ever before. She’s even produced a collectable silver clutch to celebrate. “I think that my 25th anniversary handbag, a mirrored lips clutch, is actually the most beautiful bag I have ever made.” You can even put your lipstick on using it, a perfect reflection on the central motif that made her.