Stirred by pop culture and icons of Gallic cool, Bella Freud’s cult candles, scents and cushions have fast found their way into the most keenly edited collections. Her latest inspiration, however, comes from somewhere closer to home, making a tongue-in-cheek nod to her colourful family history with an exclusive new fragrance, Psychoanalysis. Visiting the designer at her Chiltern Street store, we analyse Psychoanalysis as its creator unpacks her life in design, layer by layer.
How would you describe the Bella Freud aesthetic?Upmarket irreverence. A mixture of classy – drawing on references of Parisian dressing – and elegance, mixed with not being preoccupied about what people think of you. It’s about being smart, stylish and not giving a shit.
Have you spent much time in Paris?I’ve been loads of times and have watched a lot of French films. I became interested in Paris by way of couture. When I started out, couture was a such a big thing. Ready to wear was much more of a dilution, so I think of it as the home of intensified glamour and elegance.
Are there any Parisian women you think have the Bella Freud aesthetic?I think it’s more the case that I have some of theirs. People like Lou Doillon, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Catherine Deneuve and Juliette Gréco. That slinky, feline femininity. I get a lot from them and I would like to think that they would like what I do.
Does this sit back to your personal style?I’m probably a bit more tomboyish than that. I like to be messy with something that elevates, or the other way around.
Have you always wanted to create?Yeah – aside from wanting to be a vet, farmer or lion tamer when I was a kid. That’s the thing that makes me feel grounded and independent. That’s my family, it’s what I’ve learnt.
Have you been quite inspired by your family?Definitely. They’re the people that I look to for guidance in what they did and what they said. All of my family are quite artistic, so that seems like more of a safe bet than being something like a banker.
"I wanted it to conjure up the feeling that one would imagine being in a room with a psychoanalyst, being analysed and the thoughtfulness and the smell of the room."
Aside from design, do you have any other creative outlets?I’ve made lots of short films and I’m doing some more. I’ve been learning to do screen printing. I feel the more I push myself in other directions, it brings back information for design work. I also learnt the drums, I don’t really get that much chance to practice anymore but it’s all part of it. Reading, I consider that a creative outlet. Anything that gets my mind opening.
How do you find time to do all this? Well, you just have to make time. I have this idea that I just want to do nothing, but actually doing nothing isn’t very relaxing. It’s more relaxing to do things and learn things. Even though it’s tiring, the result of it is relaxing because it means that when I am just messing around doing nothing, I have these interesting things to think about. If I’ve got nothing interesting to think about I start feeling anxious and like I’m going backwards. I need to feel active in order to feel comfortable and calm.
Can you tell us a bit about Psychoanalysis?It’s quite a moody scent with various layers. I wanted it to conjure up the feeling that one would imagine being in a room with a psychoanalyst, being analysed and the thoughtfulness and the smell of the room. The romantic thing to do with putting a lot of trust in someone and letting them reflect back to you how to go forward. I liked the joke of it as well. Making a perfume is always considered such a serious thing but it’s quite playful to play around with it. I wanted it to look really good too – I’m really happy with the way it’s turned out. The mirrored, bleak reflection – all the undercurrents.
So, once you’d thought about what you wanted - how did you go about creating the scent?I work with a nose and I tell her the mood and my feelings about it and she comes up with some options. Sometimes it’s right immediately but this time it was more like I didn’t know what I wanted until I smelt the fragrance. It’s like exploring but I’m really happy. I like the depth. When you first smell it there’s a feeling of deepness, which drops down into a gentleness. Then I like the idea that there’s a bunch of flowers in a corner somewhere. It’s woody but the flowers are quite romantic and hopeful.
Is scent something you’ve always been interested in?It’s very evocative to memory. I’ve never had loads of scents but when I have chosen one I’ve worn it for a long time. I tend to be very faithful as I think of it as part of my identity. I don’t like to meddle with my identity I want to consolidate that.
What was your first fragrance?It was a scent called Joy which was very heavy and old fashioned. I’d read about it and someone bought it for me. I chose it without really knowing. It feels quite historical. I liked reading a lot of 19th Century literature so it went with what I was interested in. Then I went onto the Guerlain scents. They are very heavy and overpowering and then I went on to Fracas which is the opposite. It’s the most appetising scent which I wore for a long time. When Christian Lacroix made a scent I just bought it straight away because I love him so much and I wore that until they stopped making it.
Are you still faithful now, or do you flit between your own perfumes?I mostly wear my signature scent which is an amber-based perfume – it’s quite delicious and it reminds me of other things I like. It’s a tiny bit like the smell of cakes. I wear a bit of 1970 because it’s got more tension.
Are there scents that evoke certain feelings or memories for you?There’s a Guerlain fragrance called Abbey Rose which one of my first boyfriends wore and then Anita Pallenburg wore it and it takes me back. It’s like time transport and reminds me of all the things I was interested in at that time too. It’s incredible. More than any other thing, it can switch you back to something.
Where are your go-to places in London?Places that have really strong black coffee and then I like going to bookshops and I like Tate Britain very much, also the National Portrait Gallery. Wandering around Portobello which is my local. I occasionally go and look in Céline – I love Phoebe Philo’s clothes, so a look in there always makes me feel good.
How did you decide on the aesthetic for your store?I worked very closely with a designer called Maria Speak who’s an architect and interior designer and her and her husband have this business called Retrouvius which does reclaimed furniture and marbles. She helped me do my flat, so when it came to opening my shop she was immediate first choice. I trust her a lot and I admire her taste. She had the idea to make it like an extension of my home. I wanted to the shop to be like places from the ‘60s and ‘70s where people would come to hang out. I feel comfortable here and there are lots of things that echo my home. Things like the record player... I just wanted to have things that if you got locked in, you’d be okay.
"I feel that when you go in to Liberty you’re going to find a delightful surprise. The way it’s designed is always intriguing and the perfume department is really superb – people are very knowledgeable."
What’s next for Bella Freud?Expanding into different territories – the far east and America. Also, I’ve been building up my tailoring business and the heart of my design is knitwear I like the idea that it has a soft interior and the suits and jackets start to build up and accessorise it. I’m also developing more homeware. I really enjoy that.
Why did you choose to launch it exclusively at Liberty London?It seemed like the store with the most heritage. I feel that when you go in to Liberty you’re going to find a delightful surprise - there’s a feeling of discovery when you go there. The way it’s designed is always intriguing and the perfume department is really superb – people are very knowledgeable. When you go in there you feel as though you’ve arrived. That’s exactly where I want to be with Psychoanalysis.
Can you share a Liberty London memory? When I was 14 my father took me to Liberty and bought me a skirt. That was really unusual, he didn’t really have the attention span to take me shopping for often. I found this skirt, pale blue with white stripes and it was just amazing. I asked him to pretend he found it in a jumble sale and cut the label out in case any of my step sisters saw it. I had the skirt for a very long time.Shop now