Sadie Frost: Confessions of a fashion fiend

Punk bondage gear, skinhead bovver boots, new romantic frills, mumsy cardies, Hollywood ballgowns ... you name it, Ms Frost has worn it. As she opens her first London clothes store, the actress-turned-designer looks back on her life (and crimes) in style
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The Independent Online

As a fashion designer I've always been intrigued by perceptions of style. What makes one person stylish and another not? The fact that there are no hard and fast rules is what makes fashion, particularly British fashion, so stimulating. But today, I think it's increasingly difficult to have a unique and original look. We live in a time where everything seems so predictable, where most trends have been rehashed and nothing seems "new" anymore. The glossy mags are little help. Either the clothing is highly styled to the point that it looks great in the mag, but is unwearable, or the outfit is so boring in that "must have/everyone is wearing it" kind of way.

So where do I turn to when looking for true fashion inspiration? For me, it's always the street, watching people out and about in my hometown of London, or at gigs, making their statement of personal freedom. I love the way street style trickles up to the catwalk. Broadway Market near London Fields in Hackney is particularly inspiring. It reminds me of how Camden used to be when I was growing up. There are still a lot of bookshops, pubs and small quirky shops there – all a long way from today's homogenised high street.

Fashion has always fascinated me. When I was four years old, my mother used to dress me and my sister Sunshine in matching Victorian night dresses and floppy Stevie Nicks hats. On other days I'd be wearing Jackson Pollock-esque splattered jeans. This was the result of spending too much time at the studio of my father, a psychedelic pop artist, when he'd been let loose with his paintbrush.

My mother had a creative touch and would even cut patterns and make me micro-mini purple velvet hotpants which she'd embellish with all sorts of buttons and badges. She she was one of the original stall holders at Camden Market; she used to sell antiques there, and on Saturdays I'd spend the day sitting under her stall while she was working.

My first real hand at expressing myself was customising my school uniform. I used to turn my blazer inside out. I covered it with safety pins and drew the biggest anarchy sign on the back with a Magic Marker. In the early 1980s, I'd parade down the Kings Road, thinking I looked really good, hoping to fit in to some kind of punk scene. I'd spend hours hanging outside the World's End, Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren's store. I knew her son Joe, who I used to think was cute, and I can distinctly remember the butterflies in my stomach as all the cool punks walked in and out.

Later, in the mid 1980s, I was given the chance to become one of Vivienne's "girls". I did a couple of photoshoots for her and then she asked me to catwalk model for her. Myself and Patsy Kensit, who I had known since we were both kids at stage school, strutted along with our hair in curls under bowler hats wearing huge platforms and the pioneering "mini crini" (a combination of tutu and Victorian crinoline). Vivienne was always really good about the girls she picked. She'd use us fat, tall, short or old, and apparently I fitted into one of those categories.

I also did some modelling for Boy the famous punk shop on the Kings Road. One of my friend's parents designed for them, so they asked me and all my friends to model. We had multi-coloured eye make-up done like Soo Catwoman, (one of the Sex Pistols' entourage). It was a bit like Amy Winehouse does her eye make-up nowadays, only we did ours in reds or blues. We all looked completely unrecognisable.

Following punk, the whole skinhead and rude-boy era also had a huge effect on me. Fashion became androgynous, which, thinking about it, is something I've always liked. Feather cuts, bleached jeans and Doctor Martens paraded down Carnaby Street. During those times youth culture and fashion wasn't diluted so quickly, so we weren't all being spoon-fed by the media. There weren't endless magazines telling you how to dress, you just dressed. I'd be skanking to Madness at the Electric Ballroom or at the Music Machine (now Koko) in ' Camden, north London, drinking lager and black and snogging boys on the stairwell. At this time it was my identity. It wasn't about what you were, it was who you were.

I always wanted to stand out from the crowd, an attitude I shared with my oldest friend and now business partner, Jemima French. At the age of 15, we were kitted out in eye-catching outfits of striped tights, oversized jackets and daring eye make-up. We embraced the New Romantic era with a passion. I used to wear clothes inside out and upside down, I'd wear bloomers and baggy things and I'd get old lace petticoats, cut them up and wear them round my shoulders. I didn't really buy anything new in those days. I used to have a stall at Swiss Cottage market where I'd sell second-hand clothes, so got a lot of my things through that.

Even now, Jemima and I still get ridiculously excited about a new style of jeans or an amazing fabric. Although we work as a design team, our personal styles are very different. Jemima might be obsessing over a Dali-esque print, while I could be trying to recreate a Jean Shrimpton vibe from a picture I've uncovered. But it's this diverse range of influences that keep our label, FrostFrench, evolving. And this is a hugely important part of fashion: we all need to embrace change to ensure our personal style evolves with us.

To this day, music continues to inspire my design work. Songs by The Slits, The Clash and the Buzzcocks influenced my style as a youth and I suppose now they are embedded in me. I think designers should be capturing what's representative of their era, just as Yves Saint-Laurent did at Studio 54. The energy music creates can really set off a sketch or an outline, with the look gradually building up alongside the track itself. For many of our collections, I can think of a single track that summed up how we felt at that particular time. During my Debbie Harry phase, I created some really edgy pieces, whereas when I was listening to Edith Piaf it was all more romantic.

Of course it's not just music that has played a part in my style evolution. The work of other designers has been important too. Mary Quant, Biba founder Barbara Hulanicki and, of course, the legendary Vivienne Westwood, are all iconic British designers who have certainly influenced my look. What I most admire about Vivienne is how she harnessed the influence of youth culture into a new form of design. She's a genius.

My acting career and love of film have played their part too. I believe that fashion mirrors film, by creating a seamless interchange between fantasy and reality. Our latest collection, "In the Wings", draws on the world of performance and the discipline and taut energy that goes on backstage. It's heavily influenced by the art of film, and by cult classics such as Cabaret.

I loved the costumes which I wore when I played Lucy in Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula. They were very sexy, very feminine and very daring. The designer, Eiko Ishioka, didn't conform to what Hollywood costumes were meant to be about, she was very different and won an Oscar for her work.

British fashion has always been my main source of inspiration. Going to America, I feel one step ahead. I've never been impressed by how polished and glamorous they all look. I prefer to be a bit more rough and ready and a bit more street. That kind of look always seems a bit soulless to me.

In terms of maintaining my inspiration – I guess it will continue to evolve with my personal style. I admit I've made many fashion mistakes, worn too much red lipstick (some things never change), but that's part of the fun. When I dreamily slipped into motherhood I began dressing much more mumsy. I think it must have been the hormones, but suddenly I was wearing more florals with Alice bands and cardigans. But this never really felt like me. It felt weird and sometimes it seemed as if someone had hijacked my wardrobe. I think I lost my identity for a while. It's great to get it back but it does take time. It wasn't that I lost my confidence, more that I needed time to remind myself how I look best. Dressing like that I never felt as strong or as grounded as I normally do. It's like when I grow my hair, it doesn't feel like me. I need to keep it as short and as blunt as possible otherwise I'm all over the place. I like being tomboyish. I always have done.

I do love dressing up, too, but I've got four kids and am currently producing a short film, acting and designing, which leaves me with insanely busy days. You can't do that in skinny jeans and six-inch heels. For me, once fashion stops being fun, that's when I'll lose my passion, but with so many avenues of inspiration around us, I can't see how it can.

Along with having just launched the latest autumn/winter collection, I've spent the past year working on the launch of the first FrostFrench store. We wanted the shop to be something completely different from what you normally find on the high street, so we've sourced quirky items of furniture and the interior will be a stark combination of old and new, in that cheeky, humorous FrostFrench manner. An important influence on the design has been Elsa Schiaparelli – a French fashion designer from the 1920s. We love her surreal concepts and use of bold colours. The store is situated in Islington, a really great area of London, just down the road from Circus Space where I study trapeze. I'm planning to spend a lot of time working in there. And as I have lots of friends in the area, hopefully it will become a place where people pop in, have a cup of tea and hang out, just like I used to do on the Kings Road. *

The FrostFrench Autumn/Winter collection is available via www.frostfrench.com or at the new London store, 22-26 Camden Passage, London N1. Tel: 020 7267 9991

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