Fashion and interior designer Pearl Lowe on vintage fashion, not-quite-perfect interiors and how she ended up raising thousands for the NHS with her Liberty-print face masks…
“I’ve got this brain that works in overdrive, I want to create all these things,” Pearl Lowe is talking me through her lockdown experience. “But I have these ideas and then have to put them into action and that’s why it gets so busy…”. Busy is a major understatement for the fashion and interior designer, who – having released her interiors book, Faded Glamour: Inspirational Interiors and Beautiful Homes last year – saw her fashion line take an unusual turn during the pandemic. Her popular Liberty-print silk dresses (handmade in Somerset where Pearl is based and modelled by daughter Daisy) have been temporarily overtaken in demand by face masks, made using the same much-loved fabric. And boy, have they been selling like hotcakes. Here, Pearl explains how it all came about…
The face masks are beautiful, why did you decide to make them?
The day they announced we were going into lockdown I was like, ‘Great, I have all this fabric and all these dresses – what am I going to do with them?’ I also wanted to help others so I thought, ‘OK I’ll give all the proceeds from my dresses to the NHS, that’s something I can do’. But nobody was buying dresses since nobody was going out. Then I thought I might make some masks to match using the Liberty-print fabric, so I got my local seamstress to make some in different fabrics.
Did you anticipate the huge demand?
Honestly, I thought I’d be lucky if I sold 100 and gave away the proceeds, that would be fine. But then it started to go into the thousands and I ended up having to get a factory involved. My husband Danny [Goffey] took a picture of the girls on a walk – they’d said, ‘Mum can we wear these?’ and I’d said ‘sure’. Then I put it on my Instagram saying, ‘I’ve got these masks if anyone wants them, just DM me’. I’ve never seen so many DMs – I was like, ‘Oh my god, I can’t cope!’.
It’s great how the pandemic has pushed so many people in different directions creatively, isn’t it?
I’m really grateful. I raised thousands for the NHS so that was really nice. But the most amazing thing is that it took my head away from the lockdown and what was going on. Because my mum, my brother and my best friend were all so ill with Covid, so it was a nice way to literally take my mind off everyone being sick and the devastation the world was in.
Do you think staying busy has helped your mental health?
Yes. When I’m not creating I’m really depressed because I have a creative brain. I think it needs to be actively creating things otherwise I get really down. Being an ex-addict, it’s about finding things that will keep me on the right track. I always say when I’m not creating, I’m dangerous. But there have been lots of magical moments as well. Like reconnecting with the family – it’s been nice to have everyone back home.
As an interior designer, how would you describe your style?
Faded glamour, definitely! Like I was once quite glamorous but am obviously now a bit rough around the edges [laughs]. As I’ve got older, things aren’t quite how they used to be! It’s a term I used for many years summing up houses I love which were once really glamorous, but are now really rough around the edges too. So wallpaper is peeling off, there are paint chips and lots of old furniture. So then I thought, ‘I’m going to go and visit the people I know whose houses take my breath away because they’re so beautiful’ [for the book].
Your house looks spectacular, but as a designer is it ever truly ‘finished’?
No, I’m pleased with it but I do keep changing it which annoys the family quite a lot. I get really bored and try and experiment. Sometimes I get jobs at people’s houses and so I experiment in my house. I painted the kitchen black with red inside recently and the kids were all like, ‘It’s so depressing!’. So I painted it back again during lockdown.
Your mum was an interior designer, is that where you get it from?
Yeah, she’s done something like 85 houses I think. She’s so funny, she’s still working. Even when I was seven I used to say, ‘I want my room like this, I love this colour’. For me, my massive passion is interiors. It’s the thing I go to bed at night and think about, you know? It makes me really excited and I love it. If I buy a magazine, it will be an interiors magazine.
Decorating on a budget – what do you recommend?
I’m always on a budget – we used to flip houses and that’s how we earned our money. My son said when he was 14 that he’d moved 14 times! We moved around a lot but we’ve actually been here [Somerset] nearly four years. It’s really easy to decorate on a budget. For instance, I love wooden floorboards, so the other day I took up all the carpet. My husband said, ‘It’s going to be so cold!’. I said ‘Trust me!’ and it looks amazing. I found some old Persian rugs – they weren’t expensive, around £30 pounds from Etsy – and put them down and they look lovely. Just painting a chest of drawers a really lovely bright colour, or getting those little glass knobs instead of regular handles can look great too.
What do you think holds people back when it comes to interiors? Fear of getting it wrong?
Yeah. Lots of people were like, ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe you just changed your kitchen then changed back again’ to me. But don’t be afraid! Don’t live with something you don’t like. It’s like Marie Kondo says, if you look at something and it brings you joy? Then that’s going to be joyful. If you wake up in the morning and love everything you see, your life will then attract all this wonderful stuff because you’re so happy every day. It was a big mistake painting our kitchen black because even though I love black interiors, our house is so light and every time we’d walk down into the kitchen, I just felt really sad. It was pulling me down and didn’t spark joy. So I think it’s really important to be brave.
Where are your favourite places to pick up second-hand furniture?
I always go to the flea and antique markets. Obviously, there’s Kempton, if you live near London. And I go to the one in Shepton Mallet which is unbelievable. It’s on every month and it’s full of treasures and incredible stuff. But there’s loads online too – we’re so lucky with the internet now. I’ve found some amazing things in garbage sales, auction houses and on eBay. I’ve just bought an amazing vintage Moroccan chair that’s coming today, actually. I remember doing an interview with the interior designer Sophie Robinson and she said, ‘Look, you’ve got to know what you’re keying in’’ – you’ve really got to use the right language.
Any other tips for buying second-hand?
I think sometimes people are afraid of using sites like eBay in case it comes and it’s broken. But I’ve got a great carpenter – I ring him up and he comes round and fixes everything, putting new locks or handles on stuff. You spend might spend £100 for a day’s work but it’s really worth it.
What are your biggest interior no-no’s?
I love going into people’s houses because you can really tell who they are from the way they decorate. I had a client once who kept saying, ‘My husband won’t support this’ so her house was very masculine. She really wanted femininity, but he didn’t allow it and I remember thinking, ‘Oh you poor thing’ because she just wasn’t allowed to express herself. I find that quite annoying. And my pet hate is anything that’s ‘in the style of’ so if someone buys a French cabinet but it won’t be old, it will be in the style of it. Honestly, I get so upset. I like second-hand things.
Now the spotlight is on sustainability, but you’ve shopped that way for a long time.
For a really long time. I’ve always been very aware of my carbon footprint and if something is old wood for example, you’re not going to have to chop down more trees. I think it’s beautiful to embrace that history. I’m the same with clothes – I’ve always bought vintage since I was 14. I remember if I’d go to an event in London people would want you to wear something designer and I’d wear some vintage thing. But when you buy a vintage dress it’s unique to you and no-one else is going to be in it. And you can pick one up for £60 or so. There are so many reasons to buy vintage or antiques. And it means we’ll always be original.
It’s got so much easier now too, hasn’t it?
Yes, we’re so lucky because when I was younger, we didn’t have the internet. So it was really a case of having to stumble across a shop and hope that it had something you loved. Yeah. Whereas now you can just google it, get it online and it gets sent to you.
It also means you can pass treasures down…
That’s what I’ve been doing. When Daisy was 14, she would take all my clothes and sometimes I’d go out and I’d see one of her friends in one of my dresses. And now the same thing’s happening with Betty. She’ll say ‘You can’t fit into this mum, why do you care?’ but I keep everything. I’m such a hoarder, it’s terrible.
For more information on Pearl Lowe’s collections, visit PearlLowe.co.uk.