Natalie Wansbrough-Jones

Stylist, art director, mother and one half of Nico & Nate

Photos by Andrew Woffinden (and Nico in dragon costume by Stephanie Sian Smith)

Natalie Wansbrough-Jones has an eye for detail that could give Phoebe Philo a run for her money. No joke.

Let’s start with her wardrobe. Many of us pretend to have a clear out once a year, which, if we’re honest mainly consists of wafting through our wardrobe, chucking out the occasional shitty looking t-shirt or an odd sock.  Not Natalie. Oh no. When she clears out – which is often – she is brutal.  But with brutality comes an air of calm (I know this because I sometimes look in her wardrobe to see how organised people live).  Where my wardrobe has the energy of a sweaty squash match, Natalie’s hovers in a state of serenity.  Genuinely only wearing fifteen or so items of clothing on rotation, she is a purist in every sense of the word.

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Her clearheaded minimalist approach to fashion is what defines her style. She wears a couple of much loved biker jackets on rotation (Balenciaga, Junya), Vintage Levi 501’s , NIKE trainers, Celine skates, cashmere jumpers and a smart, navy blue coat from Comme.  There are a few tailored jackets and some evening wear and that’s about it. The Senior Fashion Editor of British ELLE for five years, and now a freelance stylist, Natalie’s work is a mix of faff free fashion meets escapism, which I’m aware sounds oxymoronic.

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Her style may be clean and precise (I once sat in the passenger seat of her electric car and was told off for wearing a fluffy Stella McCartney coat, apparently particles ‘were touching her Comme’), but her home is as warm and eclectic as she is. She’s my mate, so of course I think she’s great, but I also think she’s been incredibly brave for talking about her Cleft lip that resulted in numerous surgical procedures as a child. From a very young age clothes made her feel special and beautiful, which, I reckon, is exactly what fashion is all about.

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I went to an all girls' boarding school between the age of eleven and eighteen...

I only went home once a month, so shared my deep (crazy) and very meaningful years with my school friends. They're still in my life 30 years later.  It's the kind of friendship nothing can break.

I travel a lot with work, but I'm also absorbed by motherhood...

I'm very aware the most precious thing I can give my two sons is my time and attention, but sometimes that's not always possible. I'm working towards being more connected; I know I need to put down my phone and be with them in the moment.

I was acutely ashamed of my cleft lip...

Around the age of nine I became intensely shy if another child asked me about my mouth. It's really weird when you discover at a young age that human beings are naturally drawn to beautiful things, and you realise things may be tougher for you if your aren’t the most pretty perfect thing. Sometimes children would assume I'd burnt myself and they'd laugh at my wonky mouth gesturing with their fingers, pressing their lips together to replicate the shape. I think the most painful time was when I stayed at a friends house - I must have been around thirteen – it was a huge lunch party, maybe 30 people or more and a young girl asked really loudly what had happened to "the ugly girl's mouth". Everyone stopped in stunned silence and her mother looked at her but said nothing, she didn’t tell her off for being rude or even give an explanation, so I sat with everyone staring feeling so embarrassed and feeling like I couldn't breathe. It was the first time I felt really let down by an adult.

After that I developed a little lie, I'd pretend I'd fallen off my pony in an awful accident. The story became more and more embellished depending on how much gore they needed. That protected me for a while. Then, through my rather eccentric granny Gubbins, a person who had always felt a bit sorry for me, I discovered fashion. Clothes made me feel beautiful and for the first time in my life I felt special.

There are plenty of children dealing with so much more, but I did have to have a lot of operations to make my mouth as right as possible (we're talking 30 years ago when medical procedures were still a little savage!) My mother once told me, during my first major operation at three months old, the doctors tied my hands to the side of the cot so they could sew up my lip. They remained tied to the cot so I couldn’t fiddle with the stitches and the metal plate fixed beneath my nose. She came to see me after the operation, apparently I was crying without making a sound, tears rolling down my cheeks from the pain.

It was tough growing up with a cleft lip, but I'm not pretending in any way to be a hero… 

The biggest operation was when they removed bone marrow from my hip to put in my gum - I was fed through a tube for ten days and I still remember the hunger. I was treated at Great Ormand Street hospital for two weeks, staying on the same ward as amazingly brave kids who were seriously ill, most of who would never leave that room

One of the first questions I asked at the 3 month scan was…

Whether either of my boys had a cleft lip. I would still choose to be born with a cleft lip, as it has come to define me and has molded so many aspects of who I am, however, saying that, I wouldn’t wish it upon my children.

I was obsessed with Barbie…

I loved creating outfits for my many Barbie dolls. I loved fashion and clothes from a really young age, but had no idea about being a stylist or what a stylist was. I fell into it when a friend suggested I help stylist Sarah Richardson, who she had been working for at the time. During my first day assisting Sarah, she took me to the costume hire house Angels Costumes where we rooted through boxes of old vests and petticoats for a music video she was working on. It was my idea of the most perfect day.

Styling is about creating a character and telling a story through clothes….

I'm all about the detail, as any of my fashion assistants will attest. I obsess about one particular style of shoe, a certain colour of sock or a piece of jewellery because they are the details that bring that woman – or character – I've created inside my head into being.

Fashion still makes me feel special; I haven’t been worried by my cleft lip in years…

In fact, I've almost forgotten I have it. My children have never asked me about it and I'm wondering now if they ever will.

I love the satisfaction of a new piece of brilliantly designed clothing; it makes me very, very happy. My first fashion argument was with my mother in American classics when we fell out over a pair of 501 second hand jeans that cost £30. They were ripped and she thought they were a waste of money, but to me they were the most perfect jean. I still wear 501’s and now have many much loved pairs, but I always buy more when I'm in LA at The General Store.

I buy a lot of Comme des Garcons because it's more than fashion and trend; it's a way of thinking. I will never stop loving Comme, it's a timeless investment.

I also love Celine, but its expensive so I save up for pieces as they are a most precious treat.

I found it really hard after both kids as my body was such a different shape…

When I had my second child I decided to get fit and lose weight fast, so I could get back to the personal style I'd been refining for the last thirty years. I'm not saying that is the right thing to do, I was much more relaxed after my first baby.

My advice to expectant mums is don't change what you know makes you feel and look good. I wear some really bizarre stuff sometimes, but never question or doubt myself - style is about confidence. I didn't buy any maternity wear because I honestly didn't find anything I liked. So as much as possible, I tried to adapt was in my wardrobe or buy things I loved in bigger sizes. The most genius label for pregnancy is Pleats Please by Issey Miyake, the design lends itself to any body shape and I still wear every piece I brought when I was pregnant.

My future plan is simple…

Nico & Nate is an exciting start to my year, we've both talked about it for over three years now and finally to see it live is pretty damn cool. I plan to keep working with talented people on projects I love. I also plan to be the most present mum I can be to the two heroes in my life.

Tell us a joke…

Whats green and smells of piglet? Kermit's finger?

My Favourite Things

My Kids Favourite Things

Instagram

@nicoandnate