Bella Freud: ‘I always knew ironing was an art form’
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My personal style signifier is stripy socks. My feet are always cold, so I often wear them with sandals – such as slides – or high heels. We used to wear stripy socks at school, and it’s one of those habits that has stayed. I’m always on the lookout for cheap pairs – I used to buy fantastic packets at Portobello Market, or I once found some great ones by Sonia Rykiel, although they were £60 a pair.
The last thing I bought and loved was a This is Shit poster from Scott King Studio. I saw it on Jeremy Deller’s Instagram, and I bought one immediately. I am interested in people who make protest prints and posters. It was in the middle of lockdown, and it just seemed so appropriate. It’s red with black writing, and cost only £50. It’s wonderful.
An unforgettable place I would love to go back to is Senegal. About two years ago I went to Dakar with Oxfam and Bay Garnett, and it was the most marvellous atmosphere – the people and the music were amazing. I spent a lot of time at the Marché Sandaga, and the way people dressed was another level of coolness – some in traditional printed clothes with turbans, and then some people were wearing sportswear. There was just so much style. When I was there, I found these almost fluorescent, bubblegum-pink sheets and pillowcases. I use them all the time. My bedroom is a golden-yellow colour, and these pink sheets look brilliant in it.
The best book I’ve read in the past year is Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. He’s only 31 and he’s already won the TS Eliot prize for his poetry. This is his memoir about his upbringing with his mother and grandmother, and it’s completely spellbinding and devastating, written in a detached way that is also extremely compassionate. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever read. I rationed it so that I could have his voice in my head for as long as possible. £8.99, penguin.co.uk
A recent “find” is an art dealer called Richard Saltoun in Mayfair. They have lots of artists from the ’60s, such as Colin Self, whom I’m a real fan of. His work is really odd and mesmerising. One of my friends, who is an artist, was saying that he was much admired by other artists – Francis Bacon, David Hockney and my dad [Lucian Freud].
The last meal that truly impressed me was one I made in an online cookery class, by a charity called Migrateful that supports refugees and migrants. I’m not an adventurous cook – I eat a lot of bread and cheese, put it that way. But I made this Sri Lankan curry, with turmeric, cinnamon and star anise, and it felt like a real breakthrough.
The podcast I’m listening to is The Ballad of Billy Balls by Crimetown. It’s narrated by iO Tillett Wright, who’s a trans writer and artist. The story is about a couple in New York in the ’70s; the man gets murdered, and it’s an unravelling of how the whole thing happened. There’s a plot twist that gave me goosebumps.
My style icon is Susie Cave – we’ve been friends since the ’80s. She is an intensely feminine, private person who dresses quite covered-up, but she draws everyone’s eyes to her. She’s got an amazing figure and it’s clad in these beautiful dresses that she now designs. Every time I see her, I am bewitched by her style and beauty – it never seems to stop evolving. thevampireswife.com
The last music I downloaded was a Little Simz EP called Drop 6. Listening to it is like being in outer space. I love music that has good words, and this felt like a message. I was really in the mood for it and the rhythm was easy to absorb. It was like someone got my DNA and found something to match it.
The best gift I’ve received recently is a care package from one of my closest friends, Karma Nabulsi. In it there was a bag of runestones and a little box with Palestinian embroidery on the top – we have a charity together, called Hoping Foundation, for Palestinian refugee children. Inside that was a tile with papier d’Arménie that you burn to scent the room. There was also a book called My Life by Giuseppe Garibaldi. The bag was full of heavenly things that meant so much to me. hopingfoundation.org
I have a collection of photographs and pictures. I don’t like the idea of collecting anything, but I like the way these are all together. I have some precious art that has come my way via my father, and I’ve also got some photographs. The first I ever bought was by Hunter S Thompson – it’s of his wife, naked, sitting on the edge of a mountain in Big Sur, and you just see the side of her body and she’s all golden. There’s a dog sitting next to her, guarding her. It’s like some sort of Greek myth.
In my fridge you’ll always find Hellmann’s Mayonnaise. I’m really bad –sometimes my son will send me a photograph of the fridge with nothing in it saying, “Where’s the food?” But we are both obsessed with Hellmann’s. When I am stressed, my appetite shrinks, but if I put mayonnaise on something it opens it up. I like to have it with everything.
The gadget I couldn’t do without is my iron. There’s something incredibly soothing and calming about ironing. I read an interview with John Galliano when he got the design job at Givenchy, and he was talking about this machinist called Monsieur Edmont, and he said, “He might be a better machinist than me, but I’m better at ironing.” I thought, “Yes, I knew this was an art form.”
The last item of clothing I added to my wardrobe is a swimsuit from Yasmine Eslami. I met her at Vivienne Westwood; she was just coming in as I was leaving. She had the most amazing legs and wore tiny miniskirts. She was like a French film star – she didn’t say anything, but you couldn’t take your eyes off her. She now has a shop in Paris selling the most marvellous underwear and swimsuits.
An indulgence I would never forgo is black coffee. But it doesn’t feel like an indulgence; it feels like a necessity and a right.
The clothing I’ll keep to pass on are my father’s old suits. He used to have his things made at Huntsman, and some of them are covered in paint. But they’re really beautifully crafted. My son Jimmy now wears them.
The beauty staple I’m never without is a perfume I made, called Signature. It has an amber base. I put it on before I go to bed, and it just softens me and goes straight to my heart.
My favourite room in my house is my bathroom. It’s got this striped marble cut into huge tiles, and these art-deco mirrors alongside the bath instead of a splashback. And then there are these ’70s chrome consoles with a mirror that I found in a shop called Gallery 25 in Belgravia. Maria Speake, the interior designer whom I work with a lot, turned them into a huge double table. It gives me so much pleasure every time I see it.
My beauty guru is Joanne Evans, who I’ve been going to for 15 years. She’s the most genius facialist and now has her own place on Portland Road called Skin Matters. I fall asleep half the time, and when I wake up it’s as if she’s waved a magic wand. There are other specialists who work there as well, such as Nubia Dantes, who gives an amazing Brazilian massage that is anti-cellulite, and they do vitamin infusions as well.
My favourite website is the Interference Archive. It’s a little museum in Brooklyn that has an archive of protest literature, pamphlets, posters and papers from everywhere from Palestine and Cuba to punk, gay rights and the anarchist movement. I’ve been to the actual place a few times, but I go on the website often, just to have a look.
The one artist whose work I would collect if I could is Manet. I particularly love the ones of the bullfights – I find them so affecting. When I was trying to find out what paintings I liked as a teenager, it was like they came and got me. There is something about real life and romance in them, and things being unlike anything else.
With time on my hands, I have been learning Arabic. When I was a child, I lived in Morocco and used to speak it fluently. My son is learning Arabic at the moment, and one day he asked me to help him with his homework, and I couldn’t, so I thought I would start learning again.
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