City+: I work for Bella Freud

Cozette McCreer is PA to the fashion designer
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The Independent Online
I used to manage Jasper Conran's shop but I decided I didn't want to become a Mrs Slocomb salesperson so I took two years off to work as a shepherd in a Kibbutz. On my return, I wrote to a number of designers saying that I was willing to do anything for free, which could have been dangerous since the fashion world is notorious for exploiting unpaid labour. But, luckily, it was Bella Freud who asked me to come in, replying by return of post. Little did I know that the whole fashion world was in chaos due to London Fashion Week having been brought forward a week. My office was Bella's kitchen table in Ladbroke Grove and the scene around me was both manic and great fun, like a loopy student house filled with people and dye vats in the bath, quite a transition from the organised world of Jasper Conran. My first job was to find free underwear and tights for the models.

The fashion world is known for being cutthroat and backbiting, people want to know your background and which fashion college you went to. But Bella was different; she let me prove myself. Although I didn't have the training, I discovered that I knew a lot of the fashion agents through hanging out in clubland so I was given the job of arranging the show and booking the models. Fairly soon Bella asked me to go to Paris with her to help sell the collection and from then on my asking her at the end of a day if she needed me the next became a running joke, until finally I asked her if I could be put on the books and she agreed.

Unlike a lot of designers, Bella isn't a prima donna; she's consistent so I know what mood she will be in. She also trusts me implicitly to gauge what's "Bella" and what isn't. We often play good cop, bad cop, with Bella being the nice one and me being the nasty in order for me to be her protective buffer. I'm her troubleshooter, guardian and what she calls "the person who controls Bella's brain". The downside is that a lot of people scream at me, particularly during a show when I have to deal with a room full of models, buyers clamouring for tickets, too much coffee and not enough food, and then someone losing the T-shirts. It's supposed to be the most glamorous event imaginable and yet you look like crap, feel awful and become tearful. It's at times like that when Bella gives me a hug and a cup of tea and lets me get upset. But once I've had a cry I am fine. I've never been a sulker or taken it out on others, that's what I call bad management. On a normal day I work from 10 to 6pm, but during show time I work from 10 til 3am.

The models are a new breed now, very well behaved; most know that they are getting paid huge amounts for simply being a freak of a genetic gene pool. I've never worked with Naomi but Kate Moss, Honor Fraser and Stella Tenant are all very charming. Honor often pops in for a cup of tea and Stella's quite happy to wait around with a book. Bella likes models, and still gets a kick out of casting. Bands like En Vogue sometimes call us direct to see if they can borrow clothes and Bella is friends with Liz Hurley, Lucy Ferry and Mariane Faithful who often borrow stuff to wear to special dos.

There are aspects to Bella's life that are a bit "fash" for a down-to- earth girl like me. I find it a bit hard, for example, to take her feng shui man seriously when he tells her it's bad to have pillars when they are obviously there to hold up the ceiling.

I confess to being the world's worst schmoozer, but I know when to bite my tongue if people are being difficult. Because Bella shows me so much respect others tend to too. I'm certainly not a secretary, a secretary does her job and then goes home whereas a PA remains to give moral support. My job has included everything from selling, being a production assistant, sowing on buttons and having clothes pinned on to me. I need to read and remember a lot, to be able to remind Bella that big flowers on trousers happened two seasons ago. It's also my responsibility to make sure that Bella's got everything ready for the fashion shoots for magazines like Vogue. It sounds a bit school marmish but it means that Bella can get on with creating. I used to do a lot of accounting, which I hated, until Bella got an accountant for my Christmas present. A bigger organisation would lack this flexibility.

I've been here for four years, but since Bella went into partnership with Italy my workload has halved so I've decided to look for a new job. I'd like to work somewhere with the same degree of freedom, where else could I get away with chopping my hair off and dyeing it blue?n