Fashion & Faith
Her great-great grandfather was the Viceroy of India (1921 to 1926). The spiritually inclined Lady Natasha Rufus Isaacs, and her partner Lavinia Brennan are co-founders and creative directors of luxury ethical fashion label, Beulah London. Given their conservative English upbringing, their sudden catapulting Hollywood-esque rise to the top of the fashion tree was a pleasant surprise, even for them. It happened when the Duchess of Cambridge wore a stunning red jersey silk gown from their first collection, to a high powered charity event at St James Palace and of course like any other upcoming designers, they were both surprised and thrilled. Natasha and Lavinia have a signature knack for creating dreamy ethereal feminine clothes that has found them an army of admirers including Kate Moss, Cat Deeley and Demi Moore amongst many others.
The talented duo are firmly home girls ferreting their inspiration and the essence of their collections from their experiences and surroundings. They helped raise funds for the United Nations Blue Heart Campaign, which supports victims of human trafficking. Most new fashion designers would be tempted to highlight Royal patronage but Natasha is discreet about it even though she has attended Prince William’s wedding to Kate Middleton and mingles with Prince Harry and Princess Eugenie in the royal circles. Their desire to get into the fashion business came from a wish to give back after working with sex trade victims in the slums of Delhi.
On their first visit to India a few years ago, they had met abused and impoverished girls and women learning to be financially independent. Their first collection was ambitiously made entirely in India but now their production is in London. These rescued women however still work for their label making printed silk fabrics in Kolkata for their exquisite coveted dresses and blouses and will also be crafting canvas bags for their spring/summer 2012 collection.
We met at their studio in Fulham in London and chatted….
What made you come up with the name Beulah?
Natasha: Lavinia and I had always loved designing. We used to design our own clothes and I had designed the bridesmaids’ dresses for my sister’s wedding. We actually got into it through a charitable angle rather than a design background. I had finished my job at a church charity called Holly Trinity Brompton in South Kensington and prior to that I had worked at Sothebys. Lavinia too had finished university. The word Beulah is from the Bible and it means to come out of a place of darkness into freedom. I guess that exactly captures our whole ethos and the charitable vision we have of wanting to employ these girls and try to set them free.
What inspires you in your work?
Natasha: Each collection is inspired by different things. Our last collection enveloped the idea of being clothed by love and we had heart prints on our dresses. Our whole style is about making women feel beautiful and produce shapes that flatter their figure, whilst keeping them simple and easy to wear. Colours are a big inspiration and it was fantastic to see the vibrant colours that women wear in the slums in India. Our silks are all brought from India and our fabric bags are made there but the production is all in London. Our parents have been very supportive from the start but it’s important for us to do it on our own.
What are your impressions of India?
Natasha: We were in Delhi for two months and then we went to a place near Jaipur. I had been a few years ago as well and at that time I had travelled all over Rajasthan and to Agra and seen the Taj Mahal. It was incredible but as I had gone at a time when it was very hot, we had to come back home early. I love India. We lived in one of the largest slums outside South Delhi and it was quite an eye opener. We visited Mumbai last year and liked it. We found it more chilled out than Delhi. It was fun as we were staying with some English people there. Once when we arrived in Delhi and were driving on the motorway we saw a cow charging at us, and for me that sums up the whole of India!
Lavinia: When we were in Kolkata and went to look around a factory making bags that employs girls who have come from the red light district, there was a lady who followed us around on the tour. Afterwards, she thanked us and encouraged us to spread the word so that others too could come forward to reach out and help employ these girls. That was interesting, to see a woman who had been trafficked herself and been through the whole process then wanting to change the lives of other people around her and desperately make a difference.
Celebrity endorsements are a must for all designers. Who do you think would look best in your clothes?
Natasha: We would love to dress Angelina Jolie and Emma Watson, people who have a strong conscience in addition to a desire to look beautiful. We like dressing all types of women and like them to look and feel beautiful.
Do you support a charity linked to India?
Natasha: There is a charity in Delhi we support called Open Hand and the one in Kolkata is called Freeset. Freeset employs abused girls and as our business grows we hope to help them out financially.
Lavinia: Trafficking is a worldwide issue, but as we love India we tried to link our support to a charity there through our work. I am fascinated with the culture and despite all the stark poverty there is so much tolerance and happiness there. I taught six HIV boys Maths and English while Natasha worked at the local slum school in Delhi. These boys that I taught were adopted by parents who had three children of their own that were completely fine. It was incredible to see how all these children mingled freely with each other and received tremendous love from their parents.
Who have you met that you admire?
Natasha: There is an English woman called Ruth, a teacher who has dedicated her life to looking after impoverished slum children in Delhi. She teaches these kids and lives there with them. Seeing such selfless acts of love truly inspired and challenged me as well.
How do you relax and unwind?
Natasha: It’s stressful starting your own business so we try to switch off on the weekends and spend time with friends. And as we want to do it on our own independently and subsidise our lifestyle, we work two nights a week in a private member’s club ushering guests. It gives us an opportunity to meet people too. Once a guest told me, how do you feel about not having a career and I told him I have my own business.