Drawing on experience
She went from Jasper Conran's basement to a bargain flat in south London, but the fashion designer Julie Verhoeven has maintained the glamour Tessa Williams-Akoto reports
Published 19/10/2007 | 12:04
Known for her whimsical illustrations, Julie Verhoeven is one of the most respected forces in London fashion. Beginning in the late 1980s as a design assistant to John Galliano, she has been a consultant for Martine Sitbon and chief designer of the Italian brand Gibo. She has designed limited-edition bags for Louis Vuitton and is now working on accessories for Mulberry. Hand-drawn and serpentine lines are hallmarks of her style.
My home is like a constantly evolving sketch book. One wall in my sitting room is covered in pictures and artworks, and I have books pinned up on it too. I recently bought a jigsaw picture of Charles and Diana's wedding from a charity shop – I love it. There are other 1970s artworks too. I like a lot of different styles and materials.
I've lived here for 16 years. I first rented it from a friend of my brother's. Then when I moved to live in Paris for two years while I was working for Martine Sitbon, no one lived here.
When I got back, it was for sale, and when I heard the estate agent was planning to buy it, I went into a panic and decided that I had to have it.
I bought it for £42,000, which was cheap, even in the 1990s. It's a three-storey flat, with two bedrooms and two bathrooms.
Things are at odd levels – the bathroom is on the ground floor and the toilet is on the third floor.
When I was in Paris, I lived in the Marais with my then husband in a small studio flat. I didn't like Paris. It lacks grittiness, and I like grittiness.
It seemed too clean. You don't see that many colourful or dodgy characters there as you do here.
I was brought up in Sevenoaks in Kent and studied fashion at Medway College.
After I graduated, I moved to London to work as a design assistant for John Galliano. I lived in the most beautiful flat in Regent's Park Terrace, which belonged to Jasper Conran, whom he was going out with at the time. It was a self-contained flat in the basement and in a lovely area, just a stone's throw from the park.
At that time, Camden was still grungey, but I loved it and loved being close to Regent's Park. I don't like parks usually. I like greenery and the countryside, but the idea of enclosed green spaces in a city is very strange.
I could live by the sea, though.
But if I were to live anywhere else, it would be New York. When I worked freelance for the American fashion designer Richard Tyler, I would stay in hotels. Chelsea and Soho are two of my favourite parts and Broadway fascinates me.
But I adore living in London. I like going into the West End – the shops and simple things such as getting on the bus and the fact that there is always noise.
One of my favourite things is a nice biscuit cushion designed by a friend, which sits on the sofa. She designed a series of cupcakes and jammie dodgers as cushions. I like her irreverent style and use of Pop Art.
My home is very colourful. I have added vinyl strips to the floors – a cheap solution, as we had taken out the carpet and were at a loss as to how to cover it without any money. Also there is a lot of industrial tape on the walls in striped patterns that acts as wallpaper. The telephone is covered in masking tape. It looked horrible before.
My bedroom is at the top of the house. I have too many clothes and masses of shoes. I even have a pair of wings hanging in one corner.
The loo is one of my favourite rooms. It is so personal-looking. I covered the walls in black-and-white photocopies of pictures, mostly from the 1970s, and fashion prints and music pictures, and then I added fluorescent pink.
I have unusual art pieces in my house. Some white crutches I made for an exhibition rest against the fireplace in the sitting room, and there is a bear holding a huge industrial whisk in the hallway. And I have a massive trainer from an exhibition at the bottom of the stairs.
I don't do a lot of entertaining, mainly because I can't cook. I like to go out a lot to private views, though, and I love going out to the French House in Soho.
I collect a lot of music, from Grace Jones to Carmen to Blondie, on vinyl and CD, but I don't like jazz – you can't sing along to it. I get my ideas and inspiration for my work from characters and I'm fascinated by all types of people. The fashion illustrator Howard Tangye has been hugely influential in my career. I used to go to his evening classes when I was at college. I love his drawing style.
If I could change my home, the first thing I would do is get a new bathroom suite because it is avocado. There is also a hole in the ceiling in the upstairs junk room – I need an odd job man to come in and do lots of odd jobs.
About two years ago, I did think "Right – it is time to move" . And I even booked a painter to come in and paint everything white. But in the end, I bottled out. I couldn't be bothered to move, because the upheaval seemed too much.
Julie Verhoeven is currently showing in the exhibition Decadence, Decay & the Demimonde at Home House, 20 Portman Square, London W1H 6LW.