HOW WE MET

Raffaella Barker and Emma Hope
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
RAFFAELLA BARKER AND EMMA HOPE

Author and journalist Raffaella Barker, 31, was born in London, the daughter of the writers George and Elspeth Barker. She lives in Norfolk with her husband Hugh St Clair, a lighting designer, and their two sons. Her latest novel, her second, is called The Hook. Shoe designer Emma Hope, 33, was born in Portsmouth, and studied her craft at Cordwainer's College, London. She opened her shoe shop in Islington, north London, in 1987 and now exports to the USA, Japan and Europe. She lives in Chelsea, London

RAFFAELLA BARKER: I remember meeting Emma about 10 years ago at Olympia during London Fashion Week. I'd gone along with a friend. We were only about 20 years old and I was very impres- sed that she had a stall there. I thought she was so talented and clever to be running her own business at that age. By chance, I was wearing a pair of her shoes, which I'd bought in a sale - the very first pair I bought when I came to London.

We became good friends when I was working on Harpers & Queen and I got Emma to take part in a feature about choosing your dream lover. Her boyfriend, who also worked on the magazine, did his dream lover and it was completely different to hers, which was quite funny. Emma was a good person to have in the magazine because she's a good designer and beautiful as well.

When I was 23, I got married and moved to Islington, which was near her shop, and we began to see each other a lot more. I used to cycle past every day on the way home from work. For my wedding present, she gave me a shoe token to spend in her shop. When I was pregnant I didn't buy many clothes, because I didn't feel very nice in them. Instead, I got fetishistic about shoes and started to buy lots of hers - including the most expensive pair in the shop. I used to pretend to my husband that Emma had given them to me when, in fact, I was spending a lot on them. So much so that when Woman's Hour recorded a feature about her in her shop, she persuaded me to pose as a casual customer. Hugely fat and pregnant, I rushed over in a taxi so they could interview me talking about my endless pairs of shoes.

I like her shoes because they're so beautiful and delicate. I live in the country now and they're just not the sort of thing you should wear for jumping around the garden, but I do, because they're the only ones I've got.

When we had our second son, we asked Emma to be godmother. She's a very good and attentive one, sending him postcards from all over the world and giving him wacky presents. She's a constant present-giver, which is lovely; just little things like a pair of sunglasses or a nice stamp. It's exciting for him to get things from New York, Japan or wherever she's been.

Emma's also very good when I tell her about my work. She always asks questions that nobody else would. When I started writing my novel she asked why one character would be attracted to the other when there was no reason at that time. I had to look back and think: "Yes, she's right," and make it more plausible.

She's got this air of vagueness and feyness which hides a completely business-like mind. I think people look at her and think there's some big man in a suit behind her business, but there isn't. It's like two sides to her character really. Emma's very ambitious, but not in an unpleasant way; she just gets on with it. One of her major qualities is that she makes everything look so effortless.

When she comes to stay with us in Norfolk, I find her very easy to be with. Sometimes our relationship is confiding; Emma's someone I trust very much. But most of the time we don't have time for intimate conversations because we're in a family environment. We talk about things we have in common; we both love horse riding. We can have these really teenage-girl pony conversations about jodhpurs, grooming kits and horse bandaging. It's incredibly enjoyable.

Emma's an optimist; we have a good effect on one another and always have a really nice time. We're similar in that we're always cheerful; we seize the moment rather than waiting for something to happen.

EMMA HOPE: I first remember meeting Raffaella properly when she came round to supper with a friend of mine. But I really got to know her when she got married and I made her wedding shoes. My first impression was that she seemed so alive. I also thought she was very honest and funny. She never stumbles over what she wants to say. Whereas I feel I should go to a school to learn the art of light conversation, I always think she'd be so confident in a room full of people.

Raffaella's very quick and accurate at describing people and events. She takes sides, which is attractive. And you feel she's always on your side, which is quite nice. When she lived in Islington, she was a great customer. She would come to my shop and buy shoes, then pretend to Hugh that I'd given them to her.

When Raffaella and Hugh moved to Norfolk, they stayed with her family while they were looking for a house. She's got a huge family of handsome brothers and beautiful sisters. They used to hold these quite terrifying rave parties. I remember going to one of them about five years ago and I didn't really know about raves. Raffaella was up on stage, dancing with all these babes. I went to sleep underneath a curtain because I couldn't find anywhere to sleep. Then I was kicked awake some time in the early hours, and Hugh said: "It's Emma Hope. She can't sleep there." They were very gallant and insisted on finding me a spare bedroom.

I like the way Raffaella's not a goody-goody. There's a streak of something quite nice and bad about her; she's naughty. Last year I got these Rolling Stones tickets at the last minute and asked her along. When we got there, she said: "I'm not going to stand at the back of the queue," and we just sort of squeezed in at the front. It's nice to be with someone who's got the balls to just stroll up and get to the front. Then we got stuck at the front of the concert in this great moving mass of people. After about 20 minutes my feet were off the ground. I turned round and Raffaella was there - she just dragged me back.

Raffaella's also a pretty smart novelist. I find her very funny to read. There's a frankness there that's nice. I really admire the way she can get her books written as well as look after a family. It's lovely staying with them both in Norfolk. They live in a fantastic house with big rooms, stables and a garden. There's something so optimistic about both of them. They're always planning expeditions and going somewhere. Raffaella's such a great mother; she's brilliant at organising activities for the children. It's also nice seeing them because there's no formality - you can go off and read a book rather than talk all the time.

Raffaella would love to be riding her horse along the beach; that's the way of life she's gone for. I think that's what I'm jealous of, but it's great because every now and then I get to hang out with her. We're both very positive when we meet up. Raffaella and I confide in each other and talk about everything. She's a real confidante and I know she won't blast what we say to anyone. I talk to her more about personal stuff, rather than banging on about what I'm doing with my business. Raffaella and I are interested in similar things; we've got the same sort of aims - to have a nice time.

When we chat on the phone and compare things that we've got, I'll say: "Well you've got a family and a horse, the seaside, a nice big house with a big staircase and that's what I want." Then she'll say: "Well, you've got this, that and whatever." But you can always see what the other person has got that you want.

Raffaella has a sort of Princess of Darkness aspect about her - always staying up late and partying. I also like the way she's always been able to cope with anybody. That's what I find so appealing about her; Raffaella's someone who is not afraid of people. !

Emma's also a brilliant cook. She'll go into the kitchen and make a lovely meal out of very little.

I always look forward to seeing her because she makes me laugh; we make each other laugh. Emma and I laugh at absurd silly things - and at ourselves sometimes. When we went to see the Rolling Stones last year we both dressed up as rock chicks in these tiny mini skirts and very high- heeled shoes. We found it so funny; just looking absolutely ridiculous.

She always drives via an antique market and ends up in Norfolk about three hours late. She loves to collect things and finds some very strange things on the way. Her flat is full of very well chosen, idiosyncratic objects.

Comments