Stella McCartney: Don't call me Daddy's girl

What more can she do, other than 'become a smackhead and live off my parents' fortune', as she once snapped. At Chloé she increased sales by 500 per cent. Gucci gave her three years to make her label profitable, and she'll do it in two. Now 33 with a child of her own, will she at last be forgiven for being the child of a Beatle?
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The Independent Online

As Sir Paul McCartney ruefully says, "Nobody is Beatle-proof", least of all his fashion designer daughter Stella. When, at the age of 25, Stella McCartney's name was announced as the new designer to the house of Chloé in April 1997, her predecessor, "Kaiser" Karl Lagerfeld, sniped, "I think they should have taken a big name. They did - but in music, not fashion. Let's hope she's as gifted as her father."

As Sir Paul McCartney ruefully says, "Nobody is Beatle-proof", least of all his fashion designer daughter Stella. When, at the age of 25, Stella McCartney's name was announced as the new designer to the house of Chloé in April 1997, her predecessor, "Kaiser" Karl Lagerfeld, sniped, "I think they should have taken a big name. They did - but in music, not fashion. Let's hope she's as gifted as her father."

Now 33, Stella McCartney is creative director of her Gucci Group-backed own label. She did not listen to her mother, Linda, who warned her: "It's such a competitive, fickle world. Do you really want to do something where people judge you?" And how. Even Jeff Banks, the Jimmy Tarbuck of British fashion, had a go, calling her "just an amateur who has made it in the fashion world on the back of her dad's money".

Last year, Gucci Group chief executive Robert Polet instructed McCartney and her stablemates Alexander McQueen and Nicholas Ghesquiere at Balenciaga that they had until 2007 to turn a profit. Since Gucci bought 50.1 per cent of Stella McCartney for £6m in 2001, the label has remained in the red. But this is due largely to investment in New York and London stores. Sales of Stella McCartney increased by 50 per cent in 2004 and she expects to turn a profit two years ahead of her deadline.

The knives have been out for Stella ever since her graduation from Central St Martins fashion college in London in 1995. "I thought everyone hated me," she said of her remote attitude at fashion college. What they called arrogance she called shyness. Fellow St Martins students were furious when McCartney stole press attention when her friends Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell modelled her graduation collection. McCartney was reported as snapping: "Other students ask their friends to model and I've asked mine."

Days after Stella McCartney's autumn/winter 2005 own-label collection was shown in Paris, the jury is still out on her bankability. The Independent fashion writer Susie Rushton reported: "McCartney's position on the fashion landscape has often seemed not to extend far beyond dressing her celebrity friends ... [but] the confident collection demonstrated how McCartney's signatures have matured and become more convincing propositions." The Guardian believed that "After a chilly year or two on the sidelines, her look is being welcomed back", while The Daily Telegraph noted the absence of McCartney's usual celebrity front row.

The reason for McCartney's absence from the runway this season was the birth of her first son, Miller Alasdhair James Willis, on 25 February. Her husband, Alasdhair Willis, whom she married on in 2002 watched by Madonna, Liv Tyler, Kate Moss and her then Gucci boss Tom Ford, was publisher of style magazine Wallpaper* in its heyday.

Vogue confounded the critics who said Stella's no-show was irrelevant - the inference being that McCartney is propped up by talented studio staff - by reporting that "Stella worked on and was able to complete the collection". She was signing off outfits from digital photographs hours before she went into labour.

Stella McCartney has an ally in Donatella Versace who followed her late brother as creative director of the house and cannot quell rumours that she too is merely a figurehead. Unlike Versace, Stella's private life is intentionally unglamorous. She says she's a "really boring" country girl and is keen to emphasise her love for horse riding, walking and swimming, though it's hard to imagine that your life is that boring when your best friends are Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Moss and Marianne Faithfull.

Chloé president Mounir Moufarrige's shrewdness in appointing the 25-year-old McCartney was endorsed by a 500 per cent rise in profits and a booming press profile. Before her, Chloé was about as relevant in high fashion as Laura Ashley. McCartney and her Notting Hillbilly posse gave the label a hip replacement.

McCartney admits she designs clothes "me and my friends would like to wear". Her mixture of slinky lingerie and tomboy tailoring struck a chord with girls who didn't want to be slutty or bourgeois. McCartney dedicated endless collections to her mother, Linda. Like Linda, Stella is an animal rights activist who will not work with fur or leather.

Karl Lagerfeld calls her principles "grotesque". "Everyone knows Gucci has made millions of dollars by working with leather," he says. "When she signed with them, she closed the chapter as far as holding these sorts of scruples with any kind of credibility."

McCartney is the kind of girl who squares up to controversy. She blithely used Beatles music for early Chloé catwalk shows and paid homage to Linda's sartorial gypsy spirit when she died of cancer in 1998. Talking a year after her mother's death, McCartney finally flipped over the relentless "Beatle's daughter" barbs. "When I would make a good drawing in primary school, it was because my Dad was famous. Or if I got a part in a school play, it was because Dad was a Beatle. What do I do? Do I become a smackhead and live off my parents' fortune?"

At 15, McCartney was already doing work experience at couturier Christian Lacroix's studio with no thanks to Paul or Linda. She has often said that she's happiest in her London studio. To her credit, McCartney is never snapped falling out of nightclubs. This could be due to a "normal, idyllic childhood" when McCartney would call herself Stella Martin to escape recognition.

However, another stick the media has found to beat McCartney with is the endorsement of her celebrity friends. McCartney famously designed Madonna's wedding dress and sculpted the strapless number Gwyneth Paltrow wore to this year's Oscars. There's even a suggestion that only Stella McCartney looks good in her clothes. This is unfair. Fashion houses pay upwards of £500,000 to an A-list actress who agrees to walk their couture down a red carpet. In comparison, Paltrow wearing a "mate's rates" dress seems charming.

Marriage seems to have mellowed McCartney's ladette streak, and this is no bad thing. She can now admit she was "trying too hard" at Chloé when she emblazoned outfits with slang. Though her latest show featured handbags decorated with horse brasses, the McCartney look is largely elegant and mature. Stella McCartney is a good designer, but not a great one, who just happens to have a famous dad.

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