Article : Ross Pollard
The first meeting can tell you a lot about a person, it can set a relationship forever. You can find out instantly who someone is. During Fashion Week I was in a hotel room, meeting a designer I love Arina Pritch, I’d had a look at the collection and as the day was getting on we were gossiping and chatting, I was a bit worn out from running around so I’d laid on the bed. In walked Verna Taylor-Barker to see the Pritch collection, she jumped straight on the bed next to me and in her distinctive South London accent said she needed a sit down.
I think in that moment I knew I was in the presence of someone who didn’t stand on ceremony, who was just herself and as times gone on I’ve come to realise that Verna is only ever Verna, a gentle, honest and beautiful soul, and as importantly someone who also shows this industry isn’t about ego’s, it’s about good people doing what they love. It’s just that not every first encounter ends with me laying on a bed with an exceptional stylist in Verna, an amazing designer in Arina and a fashion legend in Prince Cassius, it’s quite a memory.
Verna is different to many in that while she’s always pursued her own style all through her life it was only in her mid 40’s she decided to move out of landscape gardening and became the well known stylist she is today with her distinctive look and hair. For her it’s not an image. “I dress like this when I go to Tesco’s, it’s just a natural extension of who I am. People follow trends, I don’t. I’ll pick from three seasons ago, I hate being restricted”. In her sense of honesty she tells me “I’d be crap at being someone else”.
Given her background, she has built herself up from having to fend for herself all her life, it’s led to her personal philosophy pushing across into her stylist work, it really has become a wider part of who she is and why she does it. “I want to help people be who they want to be, you have to build confidence, you can’t just give it, that’s who I am as a stylist. You can’t just turn up with a load of stuff, it won’t work, it’s about knowing who they are”.
One of the things that struck me while we talked was that for Verna, styling someone isn’t just about creating a look, it’s about helping someone grow, she often talks about how fashion can restrict people especially those who are younger and starting out. “I tell young people experience everything, people want to enjoy themselves, drink cheap cider, have fun, you need to experience everything”. Though when I ask her if she’d go back to her younger days she laughs that knowing laugh we develop with time and experience, “I wouldn’t go back to my 20’s, all those hormones, sexuality and stuff”. For her life is about what’s next, not what has been done before, she’s still very much on a quest to experience everything.
“I’m working on me, Verna”.
This lies at the heart of why despite having built a successful business she decided to throw herself into a new challenge, “I wanted to learn if I could be a creator, I’d sat there thinking I’m nearly 50, what can I do, my friends said go for it”. There is also a sense that she feels a need to keep showing herself what she can do, she’d already decided to do a degree in her mid-30’s but that hadn’t been enough. “I got to 34 and felt I still had something to prove, I could say see I’m not what you thought I’d be, I needed to prove to myself that I was bright. It gave me confidence”.
It’s after this that she said something to me that I wasn’t quite expecting, “people can be intimidated by me, but they have a false preconception”. The reason this surprised me is that I’m yet to meet anyone who knows Verna that has nothing but praise and affection for her. You can be at any event and out of nowhere she’ll appear with that big smile, a hug, and she’ll without pause ask you how you are, and in a world of superficiality she’ll genuinely want to know. She’d even told me off for considering quitting writing. While doing the interview she made me promise not to. This was her first interview and I’m so glad I got the opportunity to do it with her. Can’t wait to see her again, she’s always the perfect tonic for fashion week tiredness or cynicism about this thing we call fashion.
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Top Photo - Rankin
Articles - Various Supplied By Verna Taylor Barker
Final Photo - Gabor Szanti