With her unmistakable blonde locks and piercing green eyes, Laura Bailey is one of London’s favourite style icons. As a model, writer, brand ambassador, creative partner and most of all mother, Bailey’s multifaceted creative endeavours are nothing short of remarkable.
Whether she’s writing for Vogue, championing new talent in her role with the British Fashion Council, or acting as an ambassador to Save the Children, she approaches every responsibility with equal passion and diligence. With a name that has become synonymous to British fashion, Bailey’s expert knowledge of the past, present and future of the British fashion scene is second to none, and no doubt why she is so in demand for different projects.
Juggling multiple professional roles with the role of being a mother, it’s hard to comprehend that the perfect balance of work and home, that she currently has mastered, is her idea of slowing down. However, one also can’t fathom the pace at which her career begun. From being scouted on the King's Road, to jetting off to her first job a few days later, the very beginning of Bailey’s career saw her catapulted into one of the world’s most chaotic industries, where she settled, learned to adapt, to create and then to thrive.
This week, sit down with London’s favourite green eyed girl, whose unparalleled insight to balancing the whirlwind, that is the fashion industry, with the demands of motherhood will leave you feeling inspired and ready for anything (even severe weather conditions).
Semaine: So, let’s start at the beginning…
Laura: I was born in Oxford, quite a complicated childhood. My dad lived in Scotland so all my holidays were in Edinburgh, I still really love Scotland actually, I’ve got a really strong emotional connection to Scotland. I went to university on the South coast and studied English Literature. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, I kind of had vague ideas but I was always drawn to film and the theatre, but very much in a backstage way, and I wanted to write. Really, I feel like I did my alternative education and a different kind of growing up when I moved to London, after I graduated. This is also when I met my first agent, at this point I was working behind a bar and I didn’t know how I was even going to pay my bills. I was 22, quite a young graduate…I haven’t talked about this stuff in ages!
Semaine: How were you discovered as a model?
Laura: Oh such a cliché, on the King's Road, walking to my job behind the bar at the Chelsea Arts Club - I was a very bad waitress and a very bad bar girl…I nearly didn’t even go and have the meeting with the agent and then my friends kind of dared me, and then - well it’s sort of a common story - I really wanted to travel and that was the hook for me, the idea that I could be paid to travel and work was kind of a dream. I was very lucky that in the beginning...lots of amazing trips, I was also doing music videos, I love music so that was really exciting to me and I was literally in the mood of “let’s give it six months”, while I sort of worked everything out.
Semaine: Writing and modeling do not necessarily go hand in hand, but given your studies in English literature, you have always had a bookish side...
Laura: When I moved to New York, really early in my career [Laura explains she went to New York for a weekend trip and then stayed for five years], I realised that whilst I was modelling, I could also write and also take my pictures. Especially when I was doing a trip, I’d start sometimes to write it, I started writing for Conde Nast online when it first went online, I started to do more travel writing. For me, someone who is kind of a little bit tortured and shy about modelling, it kind of made everything make sense, it completed the circle. I love New York, it’s where I met my best friends, it’s where I feel like I grew up.
Semaine: After living in New York for five years, you came back to London. What prompted this move back?
Laura: I moved back to London in 1999/2000 because I’d met an English man. I still felt like a New Yorker in my head, but I was working more and more for European publications, whether that was modelling or writing, so I felt drawn back to Europe. I felt drawn to London again. It was also a time where there was a whole group of us that had kind of worked together and lived together, and for whatever reason we were all moving back to Europe. I love an excuse to go to New York, I still love New York, it was just kind of a natural cycle back to London… it was also a little to do with work and a lot to do with love!
Semaine: How did life change when you moved back?
Laura: I suppose in the last ten, fifteen years my world kind of got smaller in a way because I’m a mum, and I’m really London-centric. And they [the children] come first, but it’s become incredibly broader in work sense, I think in the time that I’ve been in London, my different creative worlds and passions have become much more overlapping and interrelated, and obviously a lot to do with the digital world. I also I became more confident as a person, to try new things, to take more risks - however that may be, whether it’s working with different people or doing something completely alone, or even taking some time out. The most surprising thing recently is that, because I think of myself as very much a lone wolf, happiest when I’m on the road with my camera or with my close friends, storytelling and on adventures. But actually, my work world in London now is very dynamic on a business level, on a branding level, on a journalistic level.
Semaine: Contributing editor at British Vogue, Close friend of the Chanel House, the British Fashion Council, Creative Partner of Zanzan Eyewear, co-founder of Loquet, ambassador to Save the Children...the list even continues beyond this. Can you tell us more about your multifaceted career?
Laura: I really value my role at Vogue, very much as an outside, ideas person. I love pushing new talent. My involvement in the British Fashion Council gives me the same kind of thrill. Being able to have my ear quite close to the ground, and being able to react quite quickly to things, and because of the diversity of the world that I work in, it’s really amazing. I really love being able to give people a push, that I believe in, and that’s a real privilege. And also, I feel really proud to be British, proud of what’s happening in London now creatively, and I still really love every week being totally surprised by different teams, different people, whether it’s an artist, or a photographer, I love the challenge and the clash of that energy.
Semaine: How do you balance these passions with home-life?
Laura: I don’t think I made a conscious choice to find it, but you have no other choice than to be 100% present with the kids. The things that I used to reject the domesticity and the stability, everything I thought was a bit scary before, now I find it incredibly grounding, and nurturing and balancing to everything else. Like yesterday, I finished the shoot in time to be at my son’s football. That for me is to have the best of every world, I love working, I wouldn’t stop, but I really will try to be there for everything if I can. In a way - it sounds so hippie and it’s hard to explain - for me being the best mother I can be, not necessarily good or bad, being present, and making good decisions around my family and my home is much more of an achievement than anything in work. That’s what I’m most proud of, and it turns out that that’s when I’m most happy. And you know, in London, how precious all of the simple things are, the dog in the park, the stolen drink with a girlfriend, the sport with the kids. I love the balance of that compared to 24 hours in Paris, a shoot that goes on all night, I love both, but I need both now. And also, because of the age my kids are now, it’s really amazing to sometimes take them on a trip for work, I really love seeing the world through their eyes on the road. My travel fantasies very much now incorporate them, which is really special as well. But I certainly haven’t got any rules, and it certainly goes wrong a lot. The other thing, if we’re going to do this cheesy therapy stuff, is that I’ve learned how to ask for help occasionally, because you have to. Whether that’s to ask a girlfriend to pick the one of the kids up when you’re running late, or whatever, I literally thought before, that I had to do every single thing on my own so that’s been a big learning curve too.
Semaine: Let’s talk more about your current projects, how did your involvement with Zanzan eyewear come about?
Laura: First of all as a fan really, as a customer, I was given a pair and they really stood out. Anyone that knows me knows that I will always wear shades, I love shades. I wear shades in the rain, I wear shades into the evening. I feel like myself in shades, and that’s been since I was a student.
Semaine: What do you think it is about shades you love?
Laura: Well, other than I’ve got really sensitive green eyes, and that they’re genuinely helpful. I like a bit of protection, I like the illusion of glamour, I’ve watched far too many old movies, I like the whole thing. Whenever it was, 3-4 years ago, I just felt I had a lot of shades and I had a lot of vintage shades. I kept going back to Zanzan they suited me, I like quite a strong oversized frame and I think they’re incredibly clever with colour, with the palette. I wore them again and again and got to know the founders through that relationship. Then when I learned that they were wanting to go to the next level, they approached me along with some other people and I decided to take a chance and get involved. It happened very organically, and still is, and now It’s challenging and really my main job, despite doing a bit of modelling or photography. My main role with them is really to be a sounding board and a messenger. It’s been a joy and so exciting seeing their growth and planning the year ahead. It’s been really exciting just getting the newest style, trying it on a girlfriend, seeing them fall in love with the product is really thrilling for me, alongside helping create the imagery.
Semaine: And your involvement with Loquet?
Laura: Loquet is nearly three years old and it’s very much my great friend Sheherazade Goldsmith’s baby and it was her idea. I helped her set it up. We’re partners in it but she’s very much the day to day super business woman. It’s gone better than our wildest dreams, so that’s really exciting.
We’ve got our first store now and are really proud to be stocked in some of the most amazing stores in the world, in my view. I love the emotional impact it has on people. So, again on a day to day level, I’m a sounding board for Sheherazade. I’m art directing on the shoots, overseeing the designs, but I’m not in the office, it seems to suit me being an roving outsider. On a Sunday night, kind of in a panic, I have to make a map of my week, with some room for change, just to stay on top of things because I am juggling quite a lot!
Semaine: You wear so many hats, and are involved in so many different creative capacities, is there anything you feel like you’ve always wanted to do and haven’t done?
Laura: The thread through everything for me really is storytelling so that’s whether I’m writing or taking pictures. I still love modelling, especially with my old friends and new people too, but especially my old friends, so that’s like a holiday for me these days. I used to be so work oriented, now I feel like I have changed, I have become a more visual person. Now I’m taking pictures for work sometimes, for love, I was always documenting everything, but not kindof connecting that with the idea that I could do that for somebody else. So that’s giving me real joy and actually uniting my worlds.
Semaine: Do you have any advice to surviving the industry?
Laura: One thing that took me a long time to understand is the power of saying no, the power of taking time out. The nature of a freelance career is that work becomes the dominating force, whereas I’ve now learnt that it’s everything else that feeds the work. My advice to myself is very much to make sure that I drop out, to make sure that I’m not on my phone and am just doing one thing at a time well, in a very busy life. Through everything, the things that have given me the most strength are literally to be kind and to take risks in equal measure. It’s so important for me to respect the entire team, to have nice manners and being kind counts for so much. Take risks, do not be afraid of failing occasionally, let go of the illusion of perfection in all worlds. Relish the mistakes and the journey as well as the goal.
Semaine: And any life motto you like to keep in mind?
Laura: An Andy Warhol quote comes to mind, that I’ve always been drawn to. It says “every day is a new day” or something like that. The way I interpret it is, be your best self, whatever that is, don’t be defined by the past, by mistakes, by a man. It’s kind of just a showing up philosophy, just showing up and being the best you can be.
By Kezia Navey for Semaine.