Luella Bartley: All dressaged up

Famed for her 'It Girl' handbags, Luella Bartley has now restyled the British showjumping team in pink, apple-print blazers. Susie Rushton meets a designer who's not a one-trick pony
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The Independent Online

Luella's girlie-with-a-sneer designs will have the Scandinavians quaking in the their jodhpurs: pale-pink linen blazers printed with apples, skinny jeans with hearts stitched on to back pockets, pink hi-top Vans trainers decorated with skulls-and-crossbones and, the ultimate trophy handbag, a matching pink Gisele bag, one of the British designer's bestselling (and most costly) pieces. She's even designed special pink-black-and-white quilted horse blankets.

Entering territory usually reserved for fashion's corporate brand names - Giorgio Armani, for instance, who provided wardrobes for the 2005 England football team - Bartley's decision to "dress" the 10-strong squad seems entirely fitting. After all, this is a designer who named one of her early collections "Daddy I Want A Pony".

"I've always had a connection with horses, and my collections have always been slightly equestrian-based," says Bartley, 32, who has ridden, herself, from a young age. "No matter what we do, it's always a bit English and horsey. So I had it in the back of my head to do something that's more integral to the equestrian world, something more 'real'. I wanted to give something back."

The project began to take shape four months ago, when a fashion-industry friend of Bartley's, whose daughter was in the national team, suggested that she act as sponsor. "And obviously, we don't have any money to give - but we can make clothes," she says.

Bartley, a former fashion journalist who launched her label Luella in London back in 1999, is now a fixture on the New York fashion week calendar, despite keeping her studio and home in Britain. While she's known for her gently ironic take on posh-girl staples such as boxy blazers and preppy polo shirts, as well as tomboy elements such as drainpipe jeans, it's her accessories - and in particular the harness-strapped Gisele bag - that have propelled her into the big league.

This latest project, however, perhaps demonstrates a subtle change in outlook. Her uniforms for the British under-18s and under-21s showjumping squad - which will also be worn at another prestigious event in Hickstead, Sussex, at the end of July - come ahead of a new Luella store in London, and represent something of a revival in the label's public profile. Clearly, though, Bartley is taking personal pleasure in this horsey tie-in: "I think the reason I'm doing this is that I'm living vicariously through this lot," she says, adding that she's "not very good" at riding herself. She's not the only female British designer to reveal a passion for horses, a fact of which she's well aware: "There's something about girl fashion designers and horses: Phoebe's [Philo] got one, Stella's [McCartney] got one. There's that whole thing. I wanted this project to be more than me just saying, 'I like horses' - which I do always say."

A full equestrian range is not, she admits, in the pipeline but the ease with which she has transplanted the recurring girlish symbols of her brand - hearts, apples, the colour pink - to the riders' uniforms prove there's a strong brand identity to Luella. "They look so cute! You've got to see the boys' outfits!" she yelps, as the 10 young riders from across the country, each wearing their pink-and-white outfits for the first time, mill around her studio, a former school in Shoreditch, east London, waiting to be photographed in their new uniform. "I was kind of worried that the clothes were going to be too trad for them," she says anxiously, as a teenaged rider poses in a Fifties-style navy-blue taffeta dress (a design from Luella's autumn/winter 2005 collection), intended for the black-tie dinner at next weekend's event.

So, what do the riders think of their new gear? "This wouldn't be what I would choose," says national team member Emma Shaw, 21, cautiously, "but it is brilliant. I really like the dress. Last year we had to buy our own clothes." Lee Williams, one of only two boys on the squad, who have been provided with black jeans, black blazers and a tie printed with pink horses' heads, chimes in: "It's very nice. It's different. Normally we'd just get a Marks & Sparks blazer and trousers."