Pair a love of the countryside with a passion for fashion and you get Bella Hoskyns, designer of cool country clothing. She talks to Stephanie Smith.
We’re all different, when it comes to what we like to wear, how we prefer to look and feel in our clothes. We have favourite fabrics and textures, colours and cuts, so often it can be hard to find exactly what we want. If only we could design something ourselves, and have it made to our particular tastes and needs.
This is the thinking behind Bella Hoskyns, the bespoke clothing brand launched last year by Arabella Hoskyns-Abrahall, a woman who loves fashion and country life in equal measure.
“I have absolutely no training in fashion,” she says. Originally from rural Warwickshire, Arabella studied English and Film at Newcastle University – a mistake, she says now. “I’d always loved clothes, loved magazines, and I should have gone into it at the beginning.”
However, at university she met Bertie, a lawyer, and now her husband. They moved to London, where Arabella worked for a fashion agency representing overseas designers, and then for Tatler magazine.
“I’d always wanted to have a country clothing range,” she says. “I’d had a few things made for myself, because I hadn’t been able to find anything I wanted to wear, and got great feedback, and thought ‘well hang on a minute, I can do this’.”
Arabella and Bertie both enjoyed country pursuits such as shooting, but she remained less than impressed by the clothing available. She says: “The things that were out there to buy looked a bit new. They weren’t rustic enough, so I thought if I can make something that looks like you’ve had it forever, that’s a bit more feminine than just a girl’s version of a man’s design, that would be a good take on it.”
After 14 years in London, the couple decided to leave the city four years ago, before their children started school. Bertie is from the Barnard Castle area, and they had been renting a cottage near Haltwhistle, in Northumberland, from his cousin. Bertie had often visited there as a child, as had he and Arabella since their student days. It was the place they loved most, so they decided to move there.
Soon, Margot, now eight, and Rollo, now six, were joined by Fergus, now two. It was after the birth of Fergus that Arabella decided to go for it and start her clothing line. “Things just clicked into place,” she says. “Whereas I had struggled 13 years ago to find people to make my products, I walked into the village shop here and asked if anyone knew anyone who sewed and they said ‘yes, go upstairs’, and there was a very talented girl at her sewing machine.”
This was Becca Losh, whose expertise has proved invaluable. Not long after, Arabella found fabrics and a manufacturer. “It just seemed to come together, and that’s how it’s continued,” she says.
Initially nervous about presenting her first, admittedly small, countrywear collection, a friend persuaded her to take part in the Northumbria County Show. “I wasn’t really ready, but I got great feedback, critical and positive,” she says.
Design-wise, Arabella notes how she wants a garment to look and move, gives that to sample maker and pattern-cutter Becca, and then takes that pattern to her manufacturer in Kendal. The focus is very much on being British, she says, using all UK fabrics, many from Yorkshire. “My husband teases me that I could furnish the house with swatches,” she says.
The Bella Hoskyns customer age range is wide, from 30 to 70-ish. Bespoke is an important service. “So the younger ones can have a more urban look and make it less countryish. It’s quite flexible,” she says.
Customers can order bespoke garments, choosing size and style, and then select from a range of fabrics, from tweeds to velvets, to create their own item, which takes four to six weeks to produce. Or, if they need it sooner, they can buy from a selection of stock already made.
Arabella shows her brand at country fairs, and customers also find her through the Bella Hoskyns website and Instagram, or by word of mouth. Next month she takes part in a rather gorgeous sounding shopping event at the Shell House in Terrington, near Castle Howard. She is looking this year at finding concessions and stockists, as well as developing the line in different fabrics, for example, the high- waist trousers in velvet for evening wear. A hacking jacket with peplum back elicited many compliments in the Royal box at Cheltenham and coming soon is a peplum hacking jacket, a waterproof coat with detachable fur-lined hood and a new style of waistcoat, men’s gilets, plus more new designs for autumn.
“You want it to look effortless,” Arabella says of her core countrywear. “Rather than trying too hard, you want it to look like you’ve had it all your life.”
Bella Hoskyns is taking part in a pop-up shopping event on May 11, at the Shell House, Terrington, from 10am-5pm. See Priddenprandevents.com. Find out more about Bella Hoskyns on bellahoskyns.com.