Fast fashion? Darling, I only wear couture

Fast fashion? Darling, I only wear couture: BARBARA TAYLOR BRADFORD on why the secret of real value is to spend a small fortune on designer outfits — then wear them for ever

  • Novelist Barbara Taylor Bradford has an estimated worth of £200 million
  • She explained why despite her wealth she’s an advocate for ‘slow fashion’
  • She advises saving up to buy something expensive, looking after it and reusing it
  • Barbara describes her taste as timeless and says the method is value for money 

When it comes to clothes, novelist Barbara Taylor Bradford’s mantra is: buy something expensive and it will last years.

And while the wardrobes in Yorkshire-born Barbara’s spacious New York apartment are bursting at the seams, there’s not a trace of ‘fast fashion’ here.

The collection of designer outfits and one-off creations made for her by a seamstress flown in from Paris — some costing nearly £20,000 and decades old — is perhaps best described as ‘slow fashion’.

‘I don’t think of the money. I buy something because I like it,’ she says. And what she likes, lasts.

In fact, BTB, as she likes to be known, rarely sets foot in a department store. Instead, she takes her film producer husband Bob Bradford to designer boutiques, where they choose outfits that are made to measure.

Barbara Taylor Bradford (pictured) revealed why she believes in splurging on expensive styles instead of embracing ‘fast fashion’ – Pictured: Gold coat made by dressmaker from Turkish fabric: Cost: £1,500. Age: Ten years. Worn: Ten times. Cost per wear: £150

She also loves buying exotic fabrics and having them made into one-off outfits, like the gold coat featured on this page. She found the fabric in Istanbul.

And when she’s gone to this much effort — and expense — no wonder Barbara expects outfits to last beyond the next few seasons. ‘I do not subscribe to this fashionista idea that clothes should be discarded after five years,’ says Barbara. ‘I’ve got some that go back decades, and have been worn hundreds of times, yet look like they were made for me yesterday.’

Despite her wealth (the 85-year-old Woman Of Substance novelist is thought to be worth £200 million), she’s appalled at today’s throwaway culture, with clothing the fastest-growing type of waste in the UK.

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Last week, it emerged that Britons send 235 million pieces of clothing to landfill each year, and that charity shops are being flooded with low-quality items that cannot be resold. This is because of the trend for fast fashion that means items are so poorly made, they do not last.

Barbara says: ‘While, of course, not everyone can afford couture, it seems the other extreme is becoming a very real problem. Perhaps retailers and manufacturers should show some responsibility and find a middle ground — making better-quality clothing at a reasonable price.

She advises: ‘Save up and buy something expensive. As much as you can afford. Look after it, and you will have it for ever. I have developed this attitude over many years and it works for me.’

Barbara had 24 Hermes bags on her last count – Pictured: Oscar de la Renta jacket: Cost: £9,000. Age: 18 years. Worn: 180 times — including when she collected her OBE. Cost per wear: £50

An ongoing problem for Barbara is finding enough space to store her collection. Five years ago, she downsized from her 13-room Manhattan apartment to a £3.9 million three-bedroom home on Park Avenue.

Together, we try to work out how many closets she has. We’re close to a dozen when she ushers me through the kitchen and maid’s quarters to a long room with floor-to-ceiling wardrobes.

Probably once a grand-scale pantry, some cupboards do hold crockery but in most it’s clothes, clothes and more clothes.

Then there are the designer handbags — 24 Hermes at the last count and just about every other big name, too — neatly stacked on shelves. Almost all are presents from her husband, who clearly loves spoiling her. He is also responsible for her spectacular jewellery, bought during 55 years of marriage.

In 2013 — before they sold their old home to actress Uma Thurman for £8 million — Barbara auctioned a third of her collection at Bonhams. One lot, a single diamond ring by David Morris, went for £446,500. In all, the auction raised ‘just under’ £1 million. ‘But I still have 80 pieces left which I cherish,’ she says.

Barbara says she has about 30 pairs of shoes – pictured: Two-piece evening suit, made by dressmaker: Cost: £1,600. Age: Six years. Worn: Eight times. Cost per wear: £200

Barbara and Bob, who never had children of their own, have decided that their entire estate will be auctioned and the money divided between heirs. She can’t put a price on her designer collection. Its worth, to her, is in the memories pieces invoke and the pleasure she gets from them.

When I ask if she’d ever hidden expensive purchases from her husband — she laughs. ‘No, I tell him everything. He’d find out anyway: he does the accounts.’

Bob is amused by his wife’s attraction to shoes. He once joked to a reporter that she owned 2,000 pairs and it became part of the BTB myth.

She insists she never owned that many, and now has about 30 — but that’s after a serious clear-out.

Barbara says her love of fashion goes back to her Yorkshire roots. ‘I come from Leeds, where the ready-made clothing industry started in the 1800s,’ she says.

Her first job was at the Yorkshire Evening Post and Barbara remembers saving for ‘good’ clothes even then — scrimping for a C&A beige raincoat, which lasted years. And why change now?

So is she ever worried about people noticing she wears the same things again and again?

‘If someone recognises an outfit, I’m quite glad,’ she grins. ‘It shows I am getting value for money and my taste is timeless!’

Barbara claims she’s glad when people recognise that she’s worn an item before – pictured: White organza jacket and black trousers from London boutique: Cost: £5,000. Age: Nine years. Worn: 20 times. Cost per wear: £250

Barbara’s latest novel, Master Of His Fate (£16.99, HarperCollins) is out now.

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