Monday 14 April 2014

Interview with Lydia Rose Bright at Bella Sorella

Lydia Rose Bright burst onto our screens in hit TV show TOWIE in 2010 and won masses of fashion fans with her cool and quirky style. Since quitting the series in late 2012, Lydia has made a venture into fashion. Lydia and her sister Georgia are the proud owners of boutique shop Bella Sorella. With a collection of era-influenced dresses styled for a new generation. Crushing on all things girly and glamorous, Lydia Rose Bright channels timeless style rather than throw away trends, adding delicate beadwork and handcrafted crochet to floral print dresses, full length maxi dresses and sweet separates.

I had the opportunity to interview Lydia at the end of 2013 to learn about her love of vintage style at her boutique in Loughton, Bella Sorella. With Christmas and Lydia's recent travels I wanted to bring this to you all at the right time and what better time than her recent return to our TOWIE screens!

I planned to interview Lydia as part of my Essex trip to find out what all the TOWIE hype is really all about, see what the shops have to offer and what an Essex night out is really like. I travelled to Essex with my friend the very fabulous Betty, owner of Betty Blue’s Loungerie. We drove off to Essex early on a Saturday and made good time. I instantly felt like I had arrived in Essex as we saw from the car park the line of girls in their workout gear heading into Essex Bikram Yoga studio. A short walk to the high street and we easily found Bella Sorella. I saw the lovely light blue front of the boutique and gorgeous window display. We went in and as we were a bit early we had a look around before introducing ourselves. It was nice to see the store; we were greeted to see if we needed any help. We were browsing so declined, the girls Georgia and Lydia were very friendly, professional but not at all pushy. I had a good look through the rails and watched the girls as they served other customers. It was very reassuring to see smiling happy customers paying for goods and getting all the help they needed at the dressing rooms. All the items were clearly laid out and easy to find, all in size order. There is a real mixture in store of casual wear, day dresses, evening dresses, party wear, prom style gowns, sterling silver and costume jewellery too.  Once the store had quietened down I introduced myself. The girls were very friendly. Lydia was dressed casual in Bella Sorella items, hair tied back and not a scrap of make up on. Her skin looked flawless, a real porcelain beauty. We held the interview in the store, this way we could get a good feel of the boutique and talk through some of the clothes with Lydia.

Lydia’s collections are going from strength to strength. Lydia launched her first collection which was her Christmas collection in 2012. She then followed with a spring/summer collection and 3 autumn/winter collections. Now for 2014 there are 2 spring and 2 high summer collections. Originally she would have 15 pieces in a season whereas now it’s more like 40! There is a growing demand for more and more new product, especially being linked with so many suppliers; everyone wants to see the latest items that are ‘new in’. It’s safe to say business is booming and the future looks very bright for Lydia.

Lydia designed her brand which initially was supposed to be stocked at just Bella Sorella and by her manufacturers (Lipstick) on their website. Lydia decided to approach some more suppliers to see if they would be interested and approached Very, New Look and a few other suppliers and they were really interested and took on board the first collection and then the next time they got in touch with other brands such as ASOS who came to the girls for a buying meeting and were sold the first collection. The only company that has come directly to Lydia about stocking is River Island who are their latest stockist.

One of the great things about Lydia’s clothing is that she does personally design each garment. Lydia has a factory in Tottenham where she has her design studio and where they make their first samples. There are few other factories dotted around the London area they use when the clothes go to be produced for the suppliers.

I do personally love things to be ‘Made in England’ as I feel British is best. My friend who was with me for the trip is a fashion designer and business owner. Betty Hobcraft from Betty Blue’s Loungerie who produces all of her products within the UK herself. When I asked Lydia if all of her clothing is produced in the UK I was pleased to hear that it was. Here is why she has decided to do this: ‘Firstly, as I came out of school when the recession was hitting hard I am a strong believer in keeping the economy in the UK because I feel we do need the help. Secondly, for quality control as it’s so much easier to get better quality products in the UK. Because I first initially designed my collection on such a strict time scale I need something that could turn around really quickly. I didn’t have to wait for all the delivery. If I want a sample and need to tweak it slightly I can do it there and then and get it to the factory in the next couple of days. It’s got so much more benefits I feel.’

There is a world of beautiful fabrics to choose from and Lydia does choose and source the fabrics themselves. Lydia said; ‘We use an agency that buy in loads of samples and get in the swatch cards for us. We just tell them what we want and they source it for us. I use a lot of laces and a lot of crochets so I’ll tell them to source them for me lots of those because there are thousands and thousands of them to choose from but they get my style. I then decided what samples I want to go for. For example, say I have a dress with a crochet trim I will make up ten dresses with different crochets and that helps me to distinguish what ones I want to go for.’

There is a lot involved and its does take time from the initial idea of a garment to it being fully produced. ‘I am constantly cutting things out of magazines and newspapers etc. If I am going to do a full on mood board researching into designers etc it will usually take around two weeks, then I will start my sketches which will take for a full 20 piece collection around another two weeks if I am going in every other day. There is another designer who does my patterns and CADs for me and that takes her around another two weeks, samples then take another two weeks and after this I go in and make any amendments. Really from start to finish of a full collection it will take around a month and a half and then as soon as my order is placed it’s around an eight week delivery. As soon as I have done all my buying meetings it takes around 8 weeks for the delivery to come.’

Lydia doesn’t actually put the clothing samples together herself because the quantities are so high into the thousands it actually takes around 200 people who do all the background work for her due to such high numbers.

Being in the recession and independent businesses are finding times hard I wanted to learn how the sales are split between online sales and in store sales. Lydia said, ‘I would probably say now there is a lot more going on with online as it’s so much more convenient. I would say the way things are moving forward a lot of people do prefer shopping online. Although the boutique does bring a lot of traffic through the door due to local tourism and the TOWIE status, online I feel is where the real demand is now. With this in mind moving forward if people were to ask if I would look to open more stores I feel my focus will be more around the online business. I wouldn’t really look to open more stores as I don’t think they would do so well if they were outside of Essex.’ The Loughton store is the main store for the girls. They do so well with this due to its location in Essex and the tourism for the area, weekends are crazy busy as I had experienced. With Lydia’s most recent return to screens I am sure this will boost even more.

We hear so often that ‘the high street is dead’ which is not the case here. Every business has competition and with being a boutique and online retailer Bella Sorella no doubt has its competition out there. I asked Lydia if she is finding competition online when it comes to her designs and styles. Lydia advised, ‘You do find a few people copying your designs which does of course get quite aggravating, but there is always the knowledge that you started it first. There is competition out there and there are so many massive brands out there now that it’s becoming such a dominated market with the massive high street retailers, which is why it’s so great that they have come on board and supported me by stocking my brand. I feel like Bella Sorella itself being an online retailer stocking brands will never become as big as ASOS as they have already cemented themselves within the industry but it’s so great that they have come on board and stocked my range and in return that helps Bella Sorella and remind people I have a store as well so it’s all swings and roundabouts’.

I asked Lydia where she gets her inspiration from for her fashion range. Lydia said, ‘When doing mood boards I will research what’s big on the catwalk because although I have my own signature style  I like to follow trends in some aspects. For example I am doing my spring summer range now which I have finished designing. I am having all my samples being made up at the moment. Culottes are going to be massive for spring/summer so I will incorporate that. Also shimmery materials and iridescent materials will be big so I am incorporating that in it. I do try to follow trends. High summer has a lot of pastels in it, a lot of lemons etc. I want to do what a lot of the high street retailers and designers are doing because that’s what everyone is going to be looking for. I also do massive vintage shops as well before I do my designing. I buy in bulk a lot of vintage clothes to use for ideas. For example if there is a dress I absolutely love we will take it and chop it up and change it around and base the sketch on that. I will also take a lot of magazine snippets as I may see a celebrity past or present in a dress I love, for example the Ada dress I absolutely love, it was based on an Audrey Hepburn dress that she wears in the opening of Breakfast at Tiffany’s which has a cross at the back. There is another dress called the Carina which has a big organza bow which is based on a Marilyn Monroe dress.’

Lydia always wanted to go into fashion; it was a movement she was always going to make. The platform she was given from TOWIE has definitely helped her establish her name in the industry. It also gives huge self-advertisement when pictured in magazines, if Lydia wears one of her own garments whilst being photographed and that image makes its way into magazines/newspapers it is great advertising for the brand. Following the show Lydia has now gained many celebrity friends who help to push the brand and promote her product by wearing it. Lydia knows full well if she wasn’t on TOWIE she would really struggle to become a designer and open a boutique & online store and make this happen. Realistically she wouldn’t have been able to go down this route if it wasn’t for TOWIE as she wouldn’t have been able to fund the project. The route she probably would have gone is to design for another company rather than actually having her own name.

I asked Lydia about her more ‘high profile’ customers. ‘I do have celebrity friends that come to the store and wear my products which is amazing especially if they are pictured wearing the items. Denise Van Outen wears a lot of my dresses. She has probably worn about 10-15 of my dresses before in TV and magazines etc. Katie Piper is another person who wears some of my stuff and comes to the boutique as well. Danielle Lloyd has also come to the boutique and wears my clothing. Some of the Eastenders cast have worn some of the stuff in the past. Some of the Geordie Shore girls wear the range which is amazing. Charlotte from ‘The Voice’ came recently and got 4 of our evening dresses, she wore one to the classic brit awards.  She wears more Bella Sorella rather than my actual brand. TOWIE cast haven’t really so much, I don’t think it’s really their style.’

I asked Lydia who she would like to have as a customer, she said ‘I would love it if I had some big A-List celebrities and American Hollywood stars but I think that’s a bit out of reach but that would be the dream. When anyone celebrity or non-celebrity wears my brand it’s great. When I went in a club the other day I saw a couple of girls wearing my dresses so I went and got a picture with them. It’s so exciting to see anyone wearing my collection; it’s a great sense of achievement.'

I always ask every business owner what advice they would give to other aspiring entrepreneurs as it’s so important these days to take advice from others in the business. Lydia’s advice is ‘You really have to be so passionate about what you’re doing in business. It has to have relevance to you and you have to be so passionate about it as it is such long hours and you never ever switch off. Whether I go out for dinner or for drinks I am always constantly thinking and ticking so it has to be something you love as you need to put so much time and energy into it. You really need to do your research as well when you open a new business. You need to research if there is anything similar, if for example you are opening a store you need to really research the high street and what audience and market are there. Also look into government schemes as well as there is a lot of help put there for young and new entrepreneurs as they want to help and aid people who want to go into business.’ 

There are good bits and bad bits about any job. When it comes to running your own business I asked Lydia what she feels are the best and worst aspects. Lydia said, ‘I would say the best thing is you have no one to dictate to you and if you make mistakes it’s only you that will be disappointed in yourself. The worst thing is that you want to switch off but you can’t, even on holiday you want to relax but you can’t your always stressing and worrying about things. Also sometimes you do have to put in loads of hard hours which is difficult. For example when we did our tour it was amazing and really successful for us but we did not stop for two months. We did 12 hours days and had about 6 hours sleep it was non-stop. You do put in a lot of time and effort but eventually the bigger your business becomes the less hours you need to put in as you can get more people in and watch it grow.’

The tour was so successful for us, we met so many people. It really generated a lot of interest in our online business afterwards. We sold lots of products on tour and did really well from it. We travelled the whole country; it was amazing but such hard work. We had to drive sometimes for 9 hours straight then get there and have to set up and have about 4 hours sleep then go to trade, it was really, really hard work but amazing. It was very much public facing, so even if you’re tired you have customers and people are excited to meet you so you have to be upbeat which is tiring.’

I asked Lydia to describe her style in her words; she said ‘I would probably say that generally when we go out its girly, very feminine. I love the 50’s era so I am a big fan of that style, red lipstick, lace, glamorous etc. I have always been into glamorous dressing.’

When Lydia first started TOWIE she did support the dyed blonde hair, fake tanned skin etc. I asked Lydia what has changed to make her want to support a more natural look. ‘I think it was because I always had the same sort of dress sense. I was always into more vintage shopping and into that kind of era. It was my beauty that was different I had the tans and the big blonde hair. I think as I grew up I was only 19 when I started on TOWIE so I was going through that phase where everyone around here when you are at school etc are bright orange etc. I was still going through that phase learning how to do make up etc. I was going on a few shoots and they had styled my wardrobe in my style which I loved and it was suggested maybe they should match my make up to my clothes and started to make me over in a different way which I realised did suit me more. So eventually I stopped being so orange and stopped with the big hair, and had it all chopped off. I went really short.’

‘Because I had bleach in my hair for so long it was all breaking off so I had to go darker and I didn’t like it. I was at that in-between blonde and decided to go darker until my hair gets a bit healthier. As soon as its healthier and grown out I am planning to go back blonde eventually. I quite like being dark, It’s nice to have a change. I like brunette at the moment but I would like to go back blonde. You have to constantly reinvent yourself; you can get bored with the same look. I like experimenting, that’s what fashion and beauty is all about.’

Over time Essex has gained a reputation for being a glamour hub. Hair, beauty and style are very big here. I asked Lydia if this had an effect on her being a role model for young people. She said:
‘I do like to be glamorous but I am not one to be afraid of coming into work with no make-up on (at the time I was talking to Lydia she was working without any make up on), mind you after this I am going to go and put some on. I am not conscious of it though. I enjoy being glamorous and when going out and being pictured I wouldn’t go out without having my hair and make-up all done. Casually day to day I don’t always wear heels and I’m quite chilled out, I’ve been papped before without make up and don’t really mind. Where we live everyone gets so dressed up when they go out, it’s a really big thing.’

I totally relate to Lydia’s view, I too love being glammed up however day to day I don’t feel pressure to be 100% glam all of the time. I have no make-up days, minimalistic looks, flats etc and don’t mind. If I go out I usually do my own hair and I am in practice for different styles but it’s great occasionally to get it styled professionally too. Lydia similarly if going out for dinner with friends etc will do her own hair and make-up however she does enlist the help of professionals for red carpet events (I unfortunately haven’t been to one of those!). Lydia does admit as she has hair extensions in at the moment she struggles to do anything with it so is getting her hair done by professionals a lot more often.

I know myself I have a routine I use for beauty, it can vary and products change.  Lydia did explain that she uses the same products when it comes to her make-up and beauty. ‘I have my set regime with my moisturisers etc, I don’t chop and change with things like that as I know what suits my skin type. For my make-up I do have a set day look and a night look, I don’t tend to change that other than a lip colour or something as I know what suits me now. I always have matte look, brown smokey eye, lashes. My lip colour gets changed around a bit but always the same kind of base. Hair I change all the time, I sometimes go through a phase where I always have my hair up or down styles.’

‘I love my foundation as I am really into matte porcelain skin, I always use MacStudio Fix Fluid as it’s my favourite foundation.

I love wearing lashes. My favourite are Giles Deacon lashes – they are amazing, they really fan out.

I love MAC red lipsticks like Russian Red and Ruby Woo. They have a really bright pink one called Candy Yum Yum which is amazing as well.

Skin care I use a lot of Rodial, products like Snake Serum and Glamtoxday. They are real tightening creams. 
I have quite dry skin. I do get break outs but I do have regular facials so my skin type usually is quite normal. I’m lucky as I don’t get oily skin.’

I personally have a few set favourite red lipsticks and over time you learn what works and I have my staple few favourites. I asked Lydia if she had a favourite red lipstick what would it be, she said ‘If I could only choose one it would be Maybelline 24 hr lip stain. You can touch your lips and it doesn’t come off. It’s a really good staple lipstick for all day wear. I love matt lipsticks but they can dry your lips out if you wear them all day. It doesn’t come off; I have to scrub my lips with a toothbrush. That’s what my mum wears all the time as well, she always has red lips. I don’t think I ever see my mum without red lips, as soon as she gets out the shower she puts it on again! She never goes without, she needs to get it tattooed on really!’

A lot of girls take fashion and beauty inspiration from their mothers but not Lydia.  ‘Not really, I never took make up inspiration from my mum because she doesn’t really wear any. She’s all into letting your skin breath and cuddling trees, she’s not really into make-up. I kind of have to do hers when we go out, she doesn’t have a clue how to do it. Style wise not so much probably because my mum has an eccentric style but my mum was always telling me to have my own style, not follow trends, so I took that advice from her but I don’t take style tips off her otherwise I would be dressed like my mum. She does a lot of layering and she wears clogs and cow shoes with bells on and sarees and stuff like that, stuff I would never wear. She is very eccentric in her dress sense like that!

Shopping is very much a personal thing. Myself and Lydia share some similar styles and I tend to do a lot of vintage/second hand shopping as well as retail high street shopping. Lydia says 'I do a lot of high street shopping. I love Miss Selfridge, they are probably my favourite high street retailer. Their stuff is unreal, especially their party wear. I do a lot of basic shopping for essentials in Warehouse they are good for things like leather trousers and blazers etc. River Island as well they do some good bits. I do a lot of designer shoe shopping as well. I don’t buy designer clothes much as I can only really wear something once so there is no point in me spending say £700 on a dress I can only wear once.

If I do designer shopping its mainly on footwear. I have quite a few Jimmy Choos as they are classic, a lot of my court heels are by Jimmy Choo. I also have some Charlotte Olympia they have some crazy statement footwear. I do have some Louboutins but they are uncomfortable, I wouldn’t buy anymore. I do have a pair of Chanel heels that are amazing.'

For the rest of my time in Essex I have mainly planned my time around TOWIE. I asked Lydia what kind of things she would say you have to do if you were coming to Essex. Lydia said she would ‘recommend seeing all the TOWIE cast boutiques as you’ll be able to meet a lot of the guys working in their shops by doing that. For the evening I would recommend Sheesh in Chigwell. If you’re coming down to Essex for the weekend I would recommend to stay down here (Loughton) as it’s so much nicer than Brentwood way as that’s more in the sticks. We have lovely restaurants around here. You can also stop at Mojo’s or Nubar.’

You of course have to go to Sugarhut one night as it’s the TOWIE thing to do. Although Lydia doesn’t really go out in Sugarhut, she’s only been in there herself four times! Where she lives so close to London it would take her half an hour to get to Brentwood, half an hour to get to Oxford Circus too so normally nights out end up London way.

Lydia and Georgia’s hidden gems:
Catch Restaurant
Queens Road – designer shops
Bluebell Chigwell
Buckhurst Hill/Chigwell

Once the interview ended we had a good look around with Lydia learning about some of her favourite pieces and what she thought would look good one me. I tried on some dresses and with a little help from the girls decided on the Larna dress in teal which for you lucky people is currently on sale! I also bought a Bella Sorella candle which smells beautiful and is glittery on the top! 

Lydia put a little bit of make-up on to see her through the day at work and we had our photo all together.

I would like to thank Lydia and Gerogia for having us to the store and their time for this interview. I hope you have enjoyed learning more about the Essex pin up beauty.

Stay tuned to find out more about the Essex adventures of Leanna and Betty and what happened after we left Bella Sorella!

xoxorecline and relax in –just
as those stars of Hollywood did in the 1930’s to 1950’s old
fashioned films did!recline and relax in –just
as those stars of Hollywood did in the 1930’s to 1950’s old
fashioned films did!recline and relax in –just
as those stars of Hollywood did in the 1930’s to 1950’s old
fashioned films did!recline and relax in –just
as those stars of Hollywood did in the 1930’s to 1950’s old
fashioned films did!

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