Wed, Oct 07, 2009 - Page 14 News List

Stellar Stella

The designer talks about the advantages of having a Beatle for a dad, and why she wishes the clothing industry cared enough to stop using fur and leather

By Jess Cartner-Morley  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON


Lunchtime in a fashionable cafe in west London, and a sleek young woman in an expensive ivory silk blouse and deftly cut black jacket smiles and asks the waitress what the soup of the day is. “Pea and ham,” comes the reply. The customer’s smile fades. Stella McCartney leans her head to one side and narrows her wide, gray-green eyes. “Why do you have to put the ham in it?” she demands, her voice cool and low but fractionally louder than it was a moment ago. The waitress, landed with the thankless task of defending pea and ham soup to one of Britain’s most outspoken vegetarians, can only shrug and look mortified. McCartney sighs. “Oh, it’s not your fault,” she concedes, ordering scrambled eggs on rye toast instead. “But maybe next time, they could just leave out the ham?”

The true legacy, it seems, of an upbringing in the inner court of 1970s rock aristocracy is less a penchant for sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll than a trenchant respect for nature and a belief in vegetarianism. Right now, McCartney is a woman on a mission, her two passions having come together in a drive to encourage us to reduce our carbon footprint by cutting back on meat consumption.

As a fashion designer, she has spent 15 years trying to distance herself from the “Beatle’s daughter” tag. But the moment I ask her about where her principles come from, all that changes. “The way my parents brought me up to see the world is still absolutely key to what I am about,” she says. “The beliefs I was raised with — to respect animals and to be aware of nature, to understand that we share this planet with other creatures — have had a huge impact on me.”

McCartney was born in 1971, shortly after the Beatles split up. After years on the road with Wings, Paul and Linda McCartney moved their family — Heather, Linda’s daughter from her first marriage, along with Stella and her siblings Mary and James — to an organic farm in Sussex, southern England, where they raised sheep, rode horses, grew vegetables, went to the local state schools. “I was brought up to understand that we are all here on planet earth together. The idea of taking responsibility for what we take out of the earth ... it’s not something we sat down and had lessons in; as a way of thinking it came quite naturally.” Alternative though it sounds, Stella’s upbringing sounds rather old-fashioned, in its way. The best piece of advice she was ever given, she tells me, was “do unto others as you would be done unto yourself. My mum and dad always said that and I don’t think you can go far wrong with that.” From the viewpoint of today’s melting icecaps, the ethos of respect for nature in which the farm was steeped seems more prescient than far-out.

These days Stella, her husband Alasdhair Willis (ex-publisher of Wallpaper magazine, founder of the British design company Established & Sons), their sons Miller, four, and Beckett, one, and daughter Bailey, two, spend their weekdays in west London and weekends in a Georgian house on the Gloucestershire/Worcestershire border in western England.

Rather poignantly for someone born into celebrity and making a career in fashion, McCartney is quite unusually unphotogenic; she’s far more attractive in the flesh than she ever looks in pictures. With her watchful, heart-shaped face and red hair, she looks like a little smart-talking urban fox in skinny jeans. Today her hair is scraped back into a bun; she wears no jewelry except her wedding ring. Her skin is porcelain with a smattering of freckles and she is slender, almost fashion-skinny. (After ordering her scrambled eggs on rye, she muses: “What I really want, what I always really want, is baked potato and grilled cheese. But then I’d be really fat.”)

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