Amanda Wakeley tells me she has ‘never really been wired to hide under the duvet when life throws a whole lot of cr**’ at her. ‘My partner [financier Hugh Morrison] says: “Life is a battle —we just muscle up.”
‘I think that’s quite a male approach,’ she says — but it’s a mantra she’s made her own.
‘Actually, it is a battle. Everyone’s had knocks. It’s how you deal with them.’
Indeed. In the past two years, Amanda has had to ‘muscle up’ to the sort of harsh blows that would floor a heavyweight boxer. Sixteen months ago, her luxury fashion label, into which she’d ploughed the best part of her adult life and was, she concedes, a child of sorts, collapsed into administration.
Little more than a week later, her ‘fearless, incredible’ brother Charlie died at the age of 62. The younger of her two brothers, a respected radiologist who was blissfully married with two grown-up sons, Charlie had been battling a brain tumour for 15 months.
His death, she says, came almost a year to the day after the two men who violently attacked her were jailed for a combined total of ten years. Amanda was threatened with an axe and throttled in a tussle for her gold Rolex in 2019.
‘It was terrifying thinking I might not survive,’ she says. ‘It was one of the most frightening experiences in my life, but I’d tried really hard to move forwards.
‘Then, everything came at once,’ she says, speaking about these ‘big, big blows’ for the first time.
‘Losing a sibling is huge. I don’t think you realise how huge it is unless you’ve been there. It is heart-breaking and just feels very unfair. But there were silver linings. We had some incredibly happy days and have never been tighter as a family.’
A month before her world was turned on its head, Amanda, Hugh and her family shared ‘the most heavenly walk’ with her brother at the spectacular Exbury Gardens in Hampshire.
In the past two years, designer Amanda Wakeley (pictured) has had to ‘muscle up’ to the sort of harsh blows that would floor a heavyweight boxer
‘I will never forget Charlie pushing his nose into the flowers and just doing this.’ She inhales deeply. ‘Or him saying: “Listen, listen, that’s a robin; or that’s a this or that.’ He was so good on birdsong. You hold onto memories of those lovely things, those gifts from nature, don’t you?
‘But what I do realise as I speak [to other people] is that so many of us have had significant challenges in our lives. It can be heart-breaking and seem so unfair, but it is the lottery of life.
‘There isn’t a day now that I don’t wake up and think: “I get to be here today. I’m going to make the most of it.” That hackneyed word “gratitude” comes to mind. You realise we don’t all get to be here. My brother doesn’t get to be here.’
Amanda Wakeley show at London Fashion Week at The Natural History Museum in London. Sixteen months ago, her luxury fashion label, into which she’d ploughed the best part of her adult life and was, she concedes, a child of sorts, collapsed into administration
She pulls her huge sloppy cashmere sweater around her. Amanda, whose eponymous label was a favourite with some of the most beautiful women on the planet, such as Catherine, Princess of Wales, Princess Diana and Angelina Jolie, says clothes can be armour. ‘It doesn’t have to be chainmail,’ she says. ‘My armour can be a big cashmere sweater.
‘The night before Charlie died, I collected this little one,’ she says of hers and Hugh’s 18-month-old Labrador, Luna — or ‘Luna the lunatic’.
‘We had lost our last dog six months before that. We’ve always had dogs. So every day I had to get up in the morning and get her out, train her, laugh and get some exercise myself. I had a purpose, and getting outside in nature is fundamental to me.
‘It’s hard if you’re feeling low, but I can honestly say that there isn’t one time when I haven’t come back feeling better.
‘Exercising Luna allowed me time to reflect, start processing the grief and then get on with my day. These were big, big issues, but I’ve never felt like a victim.
‘I began to think how lucky am I to be here, to be able to have a clean sheet of paper [without her luxury fashion empire] and think there are so many things I want to do and so many things I’m excited about — but you do have that moment of unsteadiness first.’
On Saturday, Amanda began her weekly 12-part podcast series, Amanda Wakeley: Style DNA, in which she interviews the likes of Trinny Woodall, Grace Dent and James Blunt about how fashion has shaped their lives.
‘I always designed because I knew the power of feeling comfortable in your clothes, whether it’s a big old cocooning cashmere sweater or a wedding dress that’s going to make you feel like a complete goddess.
‘I’m interested in the whole psychology of how wearing something that makes you feel great can really impact your day. And, the counter, how if you don’t feel like you’ve quite got it together, you’re not going to have such a good day.
‘Four years ago, I came up with this phrase, discovering your “Style DNA”’ — and she began to write an outline for a book.
‘Then, I started to think, actually this could be a fantastic podcast.
‘And then Covid happened — and I had new opportunities.’
The informal podcasts make for compulsive listening. Take, for example, Trinny Woodall’s confessions about her body dysmorphia and particularly the acne that tortured her through her teens.
‘She talked about it all with such raw honesty and good humour,’ says Amanda. ‘Many of us, as women, deal with our insecurities through laughter. I’ve never laughed as much as when I interviewed food critic Grace Dent. She’s someone who can vocalise what she identifies as “her flaws” in such a self-deprecating, humorous way.’
Amanda is glowing from her early morning walk when we meet in her and Hugh’s spectacular glass-fronted apartment overlooking the River Thames in Chelsea.
Amanda’s eponymous label was a favourite with some of the most beautiful women on the planet, such as Catherine, Princess of Wales (pictured in 2011)
A swan flies past the window and, yesterday, she tells me, she saw a seal. This is about as close to nature as she can get in the city.
Inside, the apartment is sleek, with functional lines and vases of white flowers.
There’s also a rather impressive drum kit, which, she tells me, belongs to Hugh.
They’ve been together for 17 years after meeting at a fashion event in New York ‘many moons ago’. Many moons before that they happened to be neighbours in the States but never met. ‘It’s sort of sliding doors, which is incredible,’ she says. ‘I don’t think either of us takes it lightly.
‘We share so many common values. As you get older, you really appreciate the importance of shared values and shared references. Gosh that makes it sound really unromantic. It’s not. It’s a real meeting of souls.’
But no wedding vows?
‘We’ve both been married and we’re both committed to each other. I’d never say never, but it wasn’t a fundamental part of our relationship. To us, it’s about the adventures of life.’
This month, Amanda and Hugh are off to Antarctica with friends, where they are ‘not just watching the penguins. We are ski touring, which means we get off the ship in the morning, climb the mountain and then we ski down. It’s going to be amazing.
Amanda’s fashion empire went into liquidation five months ago.
‘That was sad,’ she says. ‘You’re saying goodbye to colleagues you’ve spent an inordinate amount of time with. That’s tough; really tough. But it wouldn’t have been worth it if it wasn’t sad, would it? I’d spent so many years nurturing it.’
Amanda doesn’t have children. ‘I probably never met the right person at the right time and I was very focused on work,’ she says.
‘However, I look at my incredible relationship with my mother, who is 89, and think: “I’m not going to have that.” But I’ve got other wonderful relationships in my life.
‘I am a big believer in there’s no Nirvana. You have children and it’s not perfect. You don’t have children and it’s not perfect. We miss out on things, but I didn’t feel that I could do it all well.’ Amanda was 28 when she founded her company with a £20,000 lump sum from her father. The fledging label was just 18 months old when Princess Diana made her famous.
Amanda Wakeley says she has ‘never really been wired to hide under the duvet when life throws a whole lot of cr**’ at her. ‘My partner [financier Hugh Morrison] says: “Life is a battle —we just muscle up”
My goodness, she knew the power of clothing,’ says Amanda. ‘It was fun working with her because she was so informal and mischievous. She was great.’
Amanda looks out of the window at the river flowing past. ‘In life, we do have to be grateful for every day that we’re here, live the moment and treasure the shared experiences.’
Two weeks ago, Amanda marked her 60th birthday with a ‘gorgeous’ dinner with Hugh. She didn’t want a fuss. ‘It’s just a number. Move on,’ she says. ‘That’s just me.
‘It comes back to that thing that if you think it, you become it. I’m not going to start hardwiring my brain to think “you’re so many years”. I’m not in denial. What’s more important is how you feel — and I’m feeling vibrant and healthy. I nourish my body with good food, I exercise and I stretch to make sure I feel good.
‘I look at my 89-year-old mother and she’s there in skinny jeans, a lovely big Wakeley cashmere and Converse sneakers and she looks great — absolutely great.
‘I think it’s a fine line between looking after yourself and accepting that ‘yes, I’ve got a few more lines on my face but those lines have lots of stories’.
In truth, Amanda has the face of a woman at least ten years her junior. Botox? She laughs. ‘I’ve got friends of all ages and I don’t think I know many people who don’t have the odd tweak,’ she says.
‘Inside, though, we’ve all evolved. Sometimes, even the knocks can be positive.
‘Having a tiny bit more time allows me to be a little bit more reflective. When you’re on the hamster wheel of fashion, you’re pedalling faster and faster.
‘It’s pretty relentless. You sometimes think, when you’re spinning on the wheel, how do I slow it down? Five years ago, I was banging my fist in the studio, metaphorically speaking, saying: “We’ve got to become greener. We’ve got to use less plastic. We have to work out a way of having less waste.”
‘But, when a business is moving so fast, and part of the nature of that business is to be fast-moving, it’s hard to take that moment to rethink. In a way, it’s much easier to start a business from scratch in a more sustainable fashion.
‘I don’t miss designing a collection at the moment because I know I’ve got new projects in the pipeline. What’s fantastic is we still own the brand name, which allows us to explore some exciting new opportunities for licences and collaborations with others.
‘I am a creative director and I love having the freedom just to be that without having a business with seven stores and 65 employees and all that goes with it.
‘One of the conversations we’re currently having is about the possibility of reaching a much wider audience with affordable, but beautiful, wardrobe staples.
‘It’s so exciting, the thought that many more women could be wearing a Wakeley design that’s well-conceived, well-cut, sustainably produced, ethically sourced . . .
‘Last summer, I had a clean sheet of paper in front of me and could say, ‘OK, this is hopefully the second half of my adult life. What am I going to do to make a difference? For me, life has always been about having purpose and evolving.’
And never hiding under the duvet from life’s blows? ‘Never.’
- Amanda Wakeley: Style DNA is available on all major podcast platforms.