Sunday, 24 November 2013


I am a passionate knitter.  Much as I love designing and making clothes, in an ideal world (where hand knitting would be paid what it is actually worth)  I would stop sewing at the drop of a hat to be able to just knit.  I remember my Aunty Babs helping me when she babysat for us at the home we moved from when I was 5, so I started early.  From the proverbial scarf I quickly progressed onto knitting for my Sindy doll (English version of Barbie). 

I just found this photo on the web (and I'm pretty sure Mum still has this booklet in her sewing box) and seeing it again for the first time for years I am smiling to myself whilst I realise how early my style inspirations were formed.  I guess I was a Chanel fan before I even realised who Chanel was.

I knitted TinTin sweaters for Paul Smith in my younger days ...

... and I've knitted all through my life; there's something about the contact of the needles and yarn in my hands that I find so satisying, and it's my way of relaxing.  It's such a part of my life now that if I have an evening where I'm home too late to pick up my needles I feel like I've really missed something.

There are always examples of my latest hand knits in the shop and they fly off the rails.  They are all one offs, and I like to think they show what you can do with 2 needles, some yarn and a little imagination, an alternative to what comes to mind for most people when they think of 'hand knitted jumpers'.  

This year I had the opportunity to participate in a Yarnbombing project in Narbonne, where I live. For those who haven't heard of Yarnbombing here's the Wikipedia definition:  Yarn bombingyarnbombingyarn stormingguerrilla knittingurban knitting or graffiti knitting is a type of graffiti or street art that employs colourful displays of knitted or crocheted yarn or fibre rather than paint or chalk.  I can't tell you how much fun I had playing with different designs and stitches.  It was a voyage of discovery and quite an inspiration.  I picked up my crochet hook again too in the interest of speed (crochet is so much faster than knitting) and love the results.   

And knitting is making its way back to an "acceptable" past time for women other than white-haired grandmothers.  The move to "hand made" in our society has been growing for over a decade, and more and more people are discovering the satisfaction of standing back and admiring (and having admired) something they have physically produced, as well as discovering an age-old skill.  And of course, this leads to an appreciation of the beautiful hand made work that comes from those countries that we have historically exploited and a realisation that we should pay them a more realistic price for this labour-intensive work (even if this battle is still waging in Western society: hand made versus "intellectual" work, and don't even start me off on the "female" skills versus "male" skills monetary value discrepancies).  

So, why not get out those needles, search youtube for some tutorials, and get knitting!

Monday, 18 November 2013


We all get bored with our wardrobe and have experienced that feeling of standing in front of the open doors, gazing at everything hanging up, and seeing nothing that inspires.  That's just the moment to stop looking and start playing.  I mentioned in My Signature Dress how that hugely successful design came about, and it's an idea that lends itself to other garments, particularly skirts. Here are just a few of my ideas that have worked well.

The elasticated waist skirt is simply hitched up under the arms and belted for a simple and stylish dress.

The drawstring waistline of the skirt becomes the halterneck of the dress version.

This bias cut skirt works really well as a dress, here over slim indian style trousers.

So, next time you're stuck for something 'new' to wear, just remember that a skirt is never just a skirt, and how much fun you can have just by adding a belt!

Monday, 28 October 2013


In yesterday's Sunday Times STYLE magazine there was an article entitled Meet the Theresas.*  "They are over 50, fabulous and living proof that your fashion shelf life doesn’t scale down with age", says Laura Weir, Fashion Features Director at the magazine. Well, Halleluja to that.  Despite that fact that her referenced photos include 2 Hollywood actresses and the divine Inès de la Fressange (guaranteed to make most of us sigh with the knowledge that we are never going to look that good), I see myself and my friends in the women she writes about, and my list of regular clients certainly fit into the category of women who create their own style that suits the life they lead, aren't frightened of fashion, and have the means to make it happen. Laura Weir says that the 50+ age group spend more on clothing, footwear and accessories for themselves than any other age group, worth £2.7bn, or a whopping 41% of the total UK clothing market.  

I made my fashion victim errors in my youth, as did we all, and by the time I started designing my own collections for others, that desperate need to wear the 'latest' fashion was long behind me and I had found the joy of designing clothes that were in harmony with my aesthetic taste and my need to create my own statement about who I am, rather than trying to cram a square peg into a round hole, so to speak. The fact that my designs are about how I dress obviously means that they do not have universal appeal, given my body shape, but it's the only way I know how to design.  In fact, I believe it's this very element that attracts the clients I have, like-minded women who are looking for individuality, comfort, elegance and quality fabrication, and are prepared to invest in pieces that they know they will wear again and again, regardless of what is happening in the 'fashion' world.

The lovely Fronza, from the SS12 collection

I also believe that the 50+ age group can wear clothes that a younger woman can't. It takes the sort of confidence that comes with age and experience to be able to wear such pared down clothes and choose the right accessory to make the look yours and yours alone.  You should wear the clothes, not have the clothes wear you. 

One of the best compliments I ever received was from a French woman in the village. She said how much she'd always loved choosing what she'd wear each day, but after a few months of living in Lagrasse got fed up with the comments "who does she think she is?" However, since I had opened my shop and she'd seen me around the village each day in my designs, it had given her the confidence to get back out into the fashion world and put on her gladrags, even if it was only to go and buy her baguette. Of course, it's not Lagrasse that's the problem here, and it would take too long to go into the pyschology behind that silly comment, but it's proof that the more inspiring examples you see, the easier it makes it for you to assume your rightful place.

It's encouraging to see that high street brands are finally realising that there is a huge market out there that until now has been largely ignored, and with more and more older women demanding their place in front of the camera and media eye, laughter lines and all, it would seem our time is finally come.  In any case, I shall carry on doing what I always have, putting my style out there for anyone who appreciates it, walking the walk, talking the talk and loving it.

* You will only be able to access the full article if you have a Sunday Times subscription.  If you don't but are curious to read it, email me and I'll forward you a copy.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013


A good few years ago now, I was getting dressed to go out to dinner, and I had 'nothing to wear'.  So I started playing around with what I had in the wardrobe, and took out a long semi-circular wrapover skirt that I hadn't worn in a while.  The urge took me to pull the skirt up under my arms, twist the waist ties together and pull them around behind my neck.  I looked in the mirror and gaped ... behold a fabulous dress!  That was the dinner outfit and the next day production started,  A skirt that doubles as a dress, and visa versa.   This is that very "skirt":

In Lagrasse by the river, with the old footbridge in the background

There's nothing I like more than a garment that can be worn more than one way (and that will be the subject for another post).  I refined the cut and made the design up in lots of variations and it was a winner from the start. Its bias cut flatters almost every shape, is multi-size, so allows for those holiday waistline variations, and is about as feminine and flattering as you can get.  Yet again, simplicity is the key.  Here are two versions:

Fronza photographed in the full length version, in the Monk's Dormitory at the Lagrasse Abbey

Joëlle wearing it as a dress, then a skirt,  from the SS11 photoshoot

When I asked Kate McLean, my graphic designer, to design a logo for my business, this was literally her first proposition, and it's stayed ever since.

The great thing about this garment is that there are so many ways of wearing it.  Here are some photos of Laure, one of my lovely clients, who has that je-ne-sais-quoi when it comes to wearing clothes.  She dived into the shop a couple of summers ago, grabbed this dress off the hanger, disappeared into the changing room, reappeared a minute later with it tied like this, and hung around long enough for me to take a few shots.  And she walked out of the door wearing it, the ultimate compliment to the designer.

As a wedding dress:

 Some colour variations:

This dress is so popular, so classically beautiful and so much part of me that I'm not ready to push it out of my collection any time soon.

Monday, 14 October 2013


As my regular clients will know, I design and produce two collections each year.  Each collection features new designs, but I also keep a basic 'capsule' collection within the main collection itself, made up of timeless designs that have universal appeal. 

In each capsule collection, there will always be a dress, a skirt and trouser and a couple of tops, a jacket and in the winter range, a coat.  Essential items that create several stand-alone outfits, and that mix easily with the rest of your wardrobe to extend their range even further. 

My Jenna jacket is just one of these and I thought it would be interesting to see it here in various fabrics, on various models, to illustrate just how versatile it is.

Summer 2011, Winter 2011/12 and Summer 2012

Winter 2012/13 and Summer 2013

And below, further variations.   These coats are all variations of the same basic Jenna jacket design.

Winters 2011, 2012 and 2013

Tuesday, 8 October 2013


In my last post I explained how my height ultimately led to my current career.  Last night I came across the article "Things you should never say to a tall woman" in the Huffington Post.  Very apropos.  My son, who was looking over my shoulder, read the list and said "do people really say those things to you?". " You betcha", said I, "and more".  Here are some from their list and from mine:

"I'd date you if you were shorter."
"Good luck finding a husband!"
"It must be hard to find a man who's comfortable with your height."
"You must have played basketball in high school!"
"Do you play volleyball?""How TALL are you?!?!"
"Oh my God, you are HUGE!"
"Have you always been this tall?
"You shouldn't wear heels."
"Being petite is so much harder than being tall."
'You're an Amazon."
"How's the weather up there?"
"Could you grab that for me?"
"You could be a model... you know, height-wise..."
"You have long feet."
"When are you going to stop growing?"

"You must have trouble finding nice clothes." (not any more)

Gwendoline Christie (of Game of Thrones fame, 6' 3") says she always felt at times pretty genderless because of her size.  I confirm.  I have lost count of the number of times that I've been called Monsieur.  Try coming back from that.  

The other day, the husband of a client actually stood in the middle of my shop and told me and the other clients that  I reminded him of one of the characters in Avatar.  He called in his brother to come and "look" at me, and asked if he could take a photo.  And at a recent dance workshop, a woman warned me about hitting my head on the hanging lamp (that cleared my head by over half a metre) then proceeded to double up laughing at her marvelous wit.

And then there's the Giraffe factor.  Arianne Cohen, author of The Tall Book and 6'3", relates how a woman said: "Oh, you look just like a giraffe!"  Then the woman said, "Don't worry honey, it's a compliment."   Most of the time you don't even get the qualifying remark, just the giraffe bit. A giraffe.  Really?  

On the left, a giraffe, on the right me (in case you weren't sure)

Of course, I am aware that we all have our crosses to bear.  Women in particular, are assessed, by men and more worryingly, by other women, by their appearance.  Fat, thin, pretty, (not sure about those last two) ugly, short, tall, big boobs, no boobs.   And of course, I don't know what public comments these other cardinal sins provoke (well I do about the no boobs).  I just get tired of going out into the world, having put on my best face, dressed myself up (see last week's quote "People will stare, make it worth their while") to be reminded by some passer by, lest I forget, that I am "tall".

Maybe it's a cultural thing. When I was in India, where I am most definitely tall, the only comments were accompanied by such obvious admiration that it was a lovely experience.  "Ah Madam, you have great height". When I'm in South Africa it's "You are so lovely and tall".  In London or Paris no-one even notices.  But here in the Midi it's a constant source of comment and apparent amusement (apparently irrespective of their nationality).  I won't risk irritating anyone here with my speculations as to why that might be, but all I would say is that they obviously need to get out more!

Tuesday, 1 October 2013


That's what I learnt very early on.  As a 6'2" woman you never disappear into the crowd, and I realised when I was quite young that once you're over a certain height, you're just 'tall', whether you're 6'2" or 6'5". So on went the high heels and the 'bring it on' attitude.  And thus the designer was born.  Whilst at 6th form college (16-18 years old) I had a Saturday job in a local fabric shop and I returned home each Saturday evening with armfuls of fabric, which I would transform into my latest idea on my sewing machine in my bedroom, listening to Greg Edwards on Capital Radio, rushing downstairs to eat my dinner (thanks Mum!) in between seams, then dashing out around 10 to meet my night club partner-in crime, Catherine, and we would dance our socks off and parade around till 3 or so in the morning.  The outfit went in the bin the next day and the following Saturday it all started again.

Younger days

And now, I really just do a more sophisticated version of this routine.  Unfortunately I don't have Mum to get my dinner ready any more, and sadly no longer go out dancing till 3am, but I practice new ideas out on myself that I wear to gauge customer feedback, and then put those ideas into future collections.  My collections are always based on my personal style, and unashamedly influenced by my height and the premise above: Give people something to look at, cos honey, at 6'2", they are gonna look!

From my first ever brochure, in 2009


Monday, 23 September 2013

INSPIRATION (Part 3 : Hot off the press)

The planner for this week says "Start Spring/Summer 2014 prototypes".  The new season's collection had already been forming in my mind for a while, a vague impression of colour and silhouette, but slightly ghostlike, a bit fuzzy around the edges. But no more! I spent 2 wonderful days in Cadaquès this weekend, and now the edges are sharp and the focus is clear.  Only two hours drive south to another world of colour, style and attitude. 

It's no wonder that so many artists have been inspired by this piece of coastline and the Catalan lifestyle. The sea and sky blues dominate in the sharp September sunlight with the hot pink and red flowers of the white village houses' just starting to fade towards Autumn. The relaxed atmosphere of a seaside town, the lilting movement of the fishing boats in the bay, tapas and aperitifs at every corner. I feel a relaxed, feminine collection coming on.  Let's see how it turns out!

Monday, 16 September 2013

INSPIRATION (Part 2 : Style choices)

I've loved clothes all my life, and given my family heritage (craftswomen, from embroiderers to potters and everything in between) and my height (6'2") I made my own clothes from a very early age, with my Mother, who trained at Barrett Street Tech (now the London School of Fashion) as my teacher.  When I moved to France in 1989 and was looking for a way to finance my life here, inspired by the many comments from friends who asked me where I got my clothes, I decided to take the plunge and start my own business offering the style of clothing I wear to others.  And that was the day I discovered my real passion and purpose in this world, and have never looked back.

How did I get to 'my style'?  As I said, I've always been tall, a classic "rectangle" body shape and no boobs.  That meant the body-hugging lycra style was never for me (apart from at the gym), but my height allowed me to wear pretty much anything else.  

I can't draw at all, my way of drawing is by sewing, so I go from mental image to paper pattern, always test new ideas on myself, wear it in the shop to see what the reaction is and edit accordingly.

I'm a huge fan of generous cuts, letting the fabric and gravity work their collective miracles on a variety of body shapes, and nearly always wear one size bigger than I am to get that lovely drape that comes with the extra width.  My body shape has meant that my clothes never needed much shaping and I have taken this style through to my collection.  More sculpture than close fit, but it's definitely helped to define the Beverly Smart look.

The simple, uncluttered style I favour mirrors my need for order and tidyness, but also my love of fabrics ... when the cut is simple and kept clear of fussy details then the fabric shines through and does what it does best.  That's also why I'm such a fan of bias cut clothes - the drape that comes from this way of cutting is simplicity itself.

I'm a huge wearer of accessories too, which are the best way to make "your" look just that, your own individual style.  I like to think that my clothes stand well alone, or make the perfect background for that statement necklace or earrings or scarf.  

As I continue to design collections that are based on my personal style, it follows that the mainstay of my clientele are 40 plus.  By this age, you've got over the need to conform to whatever this year's fashion dictates are, generally know what you can't wear (although this particular comment deserves its own blog post) and are looking for stylish comfort in good quality fabrics; from the feedback I get my designs tick all those boxes!  To end, here are some photos of my models from my recent fashion show, all over 40, just to prove my point.

Monday, 9 September 2013

INSPIRATION (Part 1: fabrics)

I'm often asked "how" I create, where my ideas come from.  You would think they were simple questions to answer, but not so, at least, not for me.

First and foremost it's my fabric selection that inspires me.  I just adore fabric, particularly natural fibres like wool, linen and silk. Natural fibres are so wonderful to work with; not necessarily easy, but so satisfying from a finishing point of view. When I visit my two main fabric suppliers it's like being let loose in a michelin star restaurant after a day or two of fasting! I generally have no idea when I go in what my collection will be, colour- or style wise, and I start with a full walk around of the stock to see what they have to offer. Then there's a second tour, where I'll touch the fabrics that appeal to me, and check prices with the supplier. Rolls are pulled out and put on the cutting table, and at the end of that tour the preselection is done.  A little bit of refining (usual financial) and the actual selection is done.

Fabrics for AW13-14

By that stage, the new collection is already forming in my head. My style designing is always inspired directly from a fabric. And it's often the inspiration that just one fabric gives me that sets the whole collection. Imagine the Okavango Delta flooding after the rains;  that arrival of the rains from the top left corner is that one inspirational fabric that gives rise to all the variations that make up the final collection.

The weight and drape of a fabric is crucial in my style choice.  For example, I'm a huge fan of bias cut garments and this needs a fabric with the right weight/density ratio to work well.  I also love sculptural clothing, meaning clothing that almost stands on its own, without a body inside it.  This necessitates a fabric with body and a closer weave.  Of course, this process is done pretty well unconsciously now, having been honed by my 40 years of sewing experience.

My signature bias cut dress on the left and the sculpural jackets on the right.

Then there's texture.  I love mixing textures within a garment; mixing matt and metallic linen within the same dress.

SS13 Collection

Or applying matt hand felted woollen strips to wool & cashmere fabric, that has a lovely satin pile. Then add felt onto the felt strips to get even more texture.  This particular idea in the photo below was a recent solution to a problem caused by a child tearing a couple of the holes, but looks so amazing it's given me lots of ideas for the Winter 2014-15 collection.  It really is true that the best ideas come from mistakes or problem solving.

Next week I'll talk more about how the designs themselves come together for each collection.  Have a great week.


Monday, 2 September 2013

Winter Accessories at BEVERLY SMART

The collection of jewellery that I put together in February during my annual Cape Town visit has been a huge success.  Lots of recycled materials, or "détourné" as they say in French (means diverted from their usual use here), wonderful traditional beading techniques updated and applied to contemporary designs, and of course the fabulous one-offs from Guidemore, the Zimbabwean jewellery designer who never ceases to amaze me with his creativity.  Here are just some of the gorgeous things you can find in the store right now.

Two of Guidemore's creations using a mixture of traditional African beads and rubber washers and tubing.

Climbing rope revisited.

Recycled bicycle inner tubes.

Masses of beautiful zulu beaded ropes.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Designer Collaboration

You all know that I'm a huge a fan of South African design and craft, and for this winter's collection I worked again with Stephanie Bentum of KRAFTHAUS to create a range of clothing with hand felted decorative edgings.  Last year's range was a huge success and so this year we developed the idea further using this year's colours.

This is a limited edition collection. Every piece is a one-off, matching hand made and dyed merino wool textured felting with my selection of pure wool and cashmere fabrics, to create sculptural garments that stand out from the crowd.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Winter travels

Note : A technical glitch meant that this didn't get posted on time, but better late than never.  I've been and come back, so will have another blog ready soon on the amazing time I had in Cape Town.

Another new year, a new collection photographed, and I’m busy packing my suitcase for my annual trip to Cape Town to find and bring back more lovely hand crafted accessories for my Lagrasse boutique.  Last year’s accounts and stats are done and dusted (my best year yet, thank you all) so I can fly off happy in the knowledge that the boring stuff is dealt with and it’s all about design and creativity from here on. 

This year’s South African visit involves accompanying my SA host, Binky, on a  road trip (a 3000km round trip no less) to collect beautiful baskets from a women’s township project in Kwazulu-Natal.  Binky collects and sells traditional and contemporary basketware, and this project is where we will be collecting some of her most impressive baskets, giant gourd-shaped works of art, much appreciated by Conran, Anthopologie and Mahatsara in Paris.

To whet your Beverly SMART appetites here are a few pictures of some of the South African jewellery from my new season’s collection, taken from the recent photoshoot of the Spring/Summer 2013 collection, now online.

Who’d have thought recycling water bottles could make something so beautiful?

And here the necklace is a recycled bicycle inner tube and the earrings are paper mâché.  Resourceful, ecological and eye-catching.

So, back to my packing…
A bientôt!