marchioness > archive > issue 2 > A Love Letter to Luella
Words by Marianne Gallagher / Edited by Jessica Fynn / Photography by Linda McIntosh
♦︎

A Love Letter
to Luella

DADDY I WANT A PONY TEE - Luella / Silk Kimono - Hillier Bartley / Leather Trousers - Hillier Bartley

© Linda McIntosh

ABOVE AND BELLOW: DADDY I WANT A PONY TEE - Luella / Silk Kimono - Hillier Bartley / Leather Trousers - Hillier Bartley / Necklace and rings - Marianne’s own

♦︎

Luella Dayrell Bartley is the queen of my heart.

DADDY I WANT A PONY TEE - Luella / Silk Kimono - Hillier Bartley / Leather Trousers - Hillier Bartley

© Linda McIntosh

Since I chanced on her dresses somewhere in my teetering-into-20s-teens, it’s always been so. And in the moodboards of my mind, her silhouettes reign supreme.

 

But it's about more than shape. It’s a stance. An attitude. Character.  

 

When you look at their creator, you understand. In the Ellen Nolan portrait of her in the National Gallery, she sits unpainted in nonchalant, navy schoolgirl pop socks and a tan corduroy shirt dress, curled up in a wingback leather chair with a tomboyish tilt of the chin that says: go on, fucking dare me. 

 

I don’t love her because of any aesthetic or intellectual pretensions. I’ve just always thought she was the coolest girl. As most idiots do, I fall in love through the eyes. Yet happily, her tailspin sent me chasing the winds of my cultural education. 

 

Bartley's brand of girly punk was infused with knowing musical references. Besotted with notions both ‘proper’ and ‘improper’, she dealt in irreverence: juxtaposing elitist and collective heirlooms, hacking jackets and 90s acid house t-shirts equally dosed with abandon.

 

Paul Simeonon of The Clash once said, “Pink is the most rock’n’roll colour”. And she’s ALWAYS been rock’n’roll. She set the template for a certain kind of 00s indie femininity - but Bartley did the thinking, so Chung didn’t have to. Runway models stalked to CAN at her iconic 08 Autumn/Winter show, culminating in a glorious pagan procession to Donovan’s Season of the Witch. 

 

Her inspiration lay in the tug-of-war between the classes, a spectrum of grungy sensibilities and hyper-femininity caught somewhere between Kurt Cobain and Princess Margaret.  A ransacking of tradition and uniform: the country coat, the tartan trouser, the trappings of the equestrian worn with the spirit of the punk. 

 

The reclamation of the tea-dress, the salvaging of the granda cardigan, the resurrection of the pillbox. My teenage fantasies of sylph limbs and sugar-plum fairy pastels, crystallized in a mini-crini.The way she subverted the classics: reinvigorating the heritage Mulberry brand with the chains-n-whips-excite-me straps of the Giselle IT bag. 

 

Collections were always coyly, cleverly titled, the “Daddy…” shows (‘I Want a Pony’ and ‘Who are the Clash?’ respectively); Dial F for Fluoro, Cowboys and Indians at Glastonbury. Inspiration was sourced everywhere: Britt Ekland in the Wicker Man, the Duchess of Derbyshire, casual girls on football terraces and Hooray Henrys out on the piss.  

 

Stealing the cocktail dress back from the 80s, she re-cut with irony, rendering it super-short and sharp, stuck-out with tulle. Even the high-street homages that turned up in provincial town nightclubs (I should know, I wore plenty) retained some of that two-fingers up energy, worn with the correct intent. 

 

Dowager tweeds were dipped lysergic in palettes of purple and orange, roped with pearl necklaces and a magpie’s nest of charms: Granny Takes a Trip on the Sugarcubes at the Tea Party. Good and proper. 

She trained her beady eye on Britain’s fixation with class and costume. Knowing as all peacocks do of their plumage, that what we wear on our backs expresses our sense of ourselves: our working class pride, aristocratic insouciance, middling anxiety or the subcultural sedition that straddles them all. 

 

She reads as much meaning into the bus conductor trousers of Bananarama as she does the frayed, rakish collar of a torn toff’s Turnbull & Asser shirt. She thinks deeply about the messages we transmit, implied and tied on, in the art of dressing ourselves. This is who I am, we say. I watch these films. I like those books. Look at me! I know who the Raincoats are. 

 

There is romance and rebelliousness. In bucketloads. She carries this spirit through from the folded Luella to the fully-operational Hillier Bartley: the girl-power coupling with best friend and accessory designer to end them all, Katie Hillier. Making the clothes that are a bit ‘off’. The ones that she wants to wear, now she’s older and wiser and still cool as fuck: knowing it’s not weak to be femme, or embrace the power of the dress-up box.

 

Her clothes drew the silhouette of the woman I wanted to be when I grew up. Who I coloured myself into, in some ways. 

 

Enshrined in a special chamber of my heart is Look 24 from her 2009 Ready-to-Wear: a lilac prom-dress lent asymmetric edge with a shoulder sash, attitude with blackened edgings and romance from the embroidered posy of flowers around its waist. This is the dress I will get married in, I think when I see it. Still do.

 

I looped those first Luella moments over my mum and dad’s dial-up internet. They led me, like guidebooks, to subcultures and soundtracks that paved the path of my life. 

 

They were dresses, sure. But they were also love letters, scripted in cloth and stitch, to the girl of Luella’s imagination, informed by the women of her life. To a way of moving through the world - with charm, wit and a certain kind of cheek. 

 

We can think of no more fitting tribute.

© Linda McIntosh

© Linda McIntosh

© Linda McIntosh

© Linda McIntosh

TOP LEFT: T-shirt - Model’s own / Beaded belt - Luella / Ondulée Bangle - Olivia Taylor

TOP RIGHT AND BOTTOM LEFT: Outfit styled with Luella dustbags

BOTTOM RIGHT: Jacket - Luella