I first discovered Isabelle Fox several years ago now, and instantly fell in love with the careful design, loving relationship and beautiful ethos behind the brand. Not only known for their nostalgic silhouettes, it’s the craftsmanship and thoughtfulness that really pull these pieces together. After finally meeting Isabelle Waring (the brains and heart behind Isabelle Fox), earlier this year for pastries and eggs in none other than London’s The Wolseley (very apt, in my opinion)- it was evident that the brand runs in her blood, and despite having a background in law- shows with grace that it’s truly never too late to follow your dreams (and yup, bag a feature in British Vogue)…
Isabelle! For those that haven’t heard of you, or your gorgeous brand before, can you introduce yourself?
My name is Isabelle Waring and I am a 27-year-old fashion designer and entrepreneur. I run a womenswear fashion brand called Isabelle Fox, which was inspired by the relationship I have with my grandmother – a couture seamstress – who has made clothes for me for most of my life.
Your brand, Isabelle Fox- began two years ago in 2016, and before that you didn’t have a typical path into design- how did it all begin?
It has been circuitous, that’s for sure. My grandmother and I have been designing and making clothes my whole life – from fancy dress costumes to white tie events – but before starting the brand I actually studied French, Literature and Philosophy, spent a year studying Metaphysics in Paris, interned at the United Nations in Geneva, then turned to law and was called to the Bar of England and Wales as a Barrister in 2015 – that is the short version! It certainly hasn’t been your average route into fashion but I had spent years – decades, even – dreaming about launching a brand and so, in 2016, I decided to jump in at the deep end.
In reality, much of what you do as a fashion designer and entrepreneur requires you to negotiate with people, contend with legal documents and manage relationships, so my training thus far has, I believe, given me the edge. From a design perspective, I have always designed clothes so I have, for a long time, nurtured this creative element even though I have no formal training. My grandmother worked as a couture seamstress in the 60s and 70s so she is the one I turn to for technical knowledge, though I have picked a lot up along the way.
I think your journey into building your brand is a real testament to showing girls that it’s never too late to change things up and really pursue what you love- how did you go about starting the business? How did you even know where to begin?
I had absolutely no idea what I was doing when I started. Most of my friends are lawyers, bankers or academics so I was never going to find a way in there. I didn’t know a single person in the fashion industry and, looking back, it never crossed my mind that this would cause any problems. All I knew – and I think this basic belief or concept of a business is crucial – was that I knew how to make clothes people loved (I was forever being stopped in the street by women wanting to know where I’d bought my outfit, which were always the things my grandmother had made for me) and I knew what kind of brand I wanted mine to be: ethical, beautiful and not punitively expensive. This, to me, constitutes the very core of the brand and I have always felt that if I manage to stick to this principle, I can’t go far wrong. From there I Googled, attended as many events as I could, met as many people as I could and slowly began to create a product and network within the industry. We have just reached our two-year birthday and it has only been in the last six months that I have felt I have some kind of network in the fashion industry on which to rely for support and encouragement.
Your designs always boast such gorgeously strong elements of nostalgia and such classic design- how does the process for each collection begin, is there anyone or anything you turn to for particular inspiration?
Thank you! In terms of design I always start with mid-century styles – in particular the 40s, 50s and 70s – and go from there. I’m particularly interested in individual women. I love the likes of Audrey Hepburn and Sophia Loren, but I am also more interested in women who are lesser known in the present day, such as Lee Miller and Edith Head. For me style is not just about what you look like, it is the mood you project and that is about so much more than just what you are wearing. What I love about clothes, however, is that you can recreate a piece of that mood and give it to someone else – therein lies the magic of clothes.
In addition to looking to old-school icons I also draw on travel and current trends to inform what we are going to make. I am acutely aware that the line between “classic” and “modern” is a very fine one, and I like to sit right in the middle of it. I love looking at über-modern design but it simply does not fit my lifestyle, body shape or aesthetic. Equally I hate to look too retro or fusty. Isabelle Fox is all about occupying the middle ground so that each piece feels fresh and modern but flattering and comfortable too.
‘I knew what kind of brand I wanted mine to be: ethical, beautiful and not punitively expensive. This, to me, constitutes the very core of the brand and I have always felt that if I manage to stick to this principle, I can’t go far wrong.’
I feel like as well as design, style-wise you always get it so right. Do you have any tips for maintaining a timeless wardrobe that still feels modern and exciting?
Thank you again! I am a true believer of and subscriber to the principle that it is better to have one great item of clothing than five mediocre ones. I actually don’t have that many clothes. I find I almost always regret fast fashion purchases because they begin to feel flimsy and imperfect so quickly, whereas I have well-invested pieces that I may have saved up several hundred pounds to buy, but I wear to death year-in year-out. This is ultimately more economic and I always feel better in them. I’m quite spoilt because my grandmother has always made the pieces I want so that they fit me perfectly, but my second tip would be to invest in alterations. If you find something you love in a beautiful cut and fabric, don’t let it go because it’s a little loose on the waist or long in the leg; get to know your local dry cleaner or tailor and spend an extra £20 or so on making it perfect for you. A good fit will elevate a piece from good to great.
What advice would you give to sixteen-year-old you- looking back?
I had many struggles as a teenager but, to be honest, I wouldn’t give myself any advice (and, frankly, I would never have listened to it anyway). I would do everything as I did it and I would have allowed myself to think and feel negatively about others and myself, as I did. The infinite mistakes I have made and every hardship I have endured have all made me who I am today, and I can say now, with surety, that I am proud of who that person is – as imperfect as I am. Although I am a great believer in positivity and optimism, I am a true pragmatist and I do believe that the difficult parts of your life teach you something you may never otherwise have known.
Living in London, and working primarily from your gorgeous home- how do you separate work and play, and still find time to switch off?
I have to say; I haven’t found that balance yet. I work around 75 hours a week and I work virtually every day; in total I take around 7-10 days a year off work. I try and travel as much as I can so that I can at least get away, but I always end up working remotely, even if it’s only for a couple of hours. It’s not a schedule for the faint-hearted but I am constantly entertained and enthused by what I do so I don’t begrudge it. It is one of my greatest ambitions, however, to take a holiday and turn my phone off; I’ll let you know when I’m there!
What does your perfect Sunday in the city look like?
An empty Google calendar, a long walk by the river and an enormous Sunday lunch by an open fire.
Finally! What’s next for Isabelle Waring and Isabelle Fox?
At the minute we are focused on the business, which is going from strength to strength, and, most importantly, promoting and retaining the values with which it started. We are currently finalising our Spring/Summer collection that we will show to press early November, and which will be available around February/March time. Other than that I am utterly clueless – if you had told me this time last year that we would have two features in British VOGUE I would have bet every penny I had on that being a total non-starter, and yet it happened. Who knows!