Walking down a north London street, phone firmly to one ear, I am late to meet Lucy Harvey. Outside the vast Waterside offices, I’m not sure which door will lead me to our meeting place, Backgrounds Prop Hire. Lucy’s friendly voice is on the end of the phone trying in vain to explain which entrance to use, but eventually she gives up and comes outside to meet me.
Her head of blonde hair pops out of one of the doorways, she yells ‘Hello!’ and begins gushing compliments. Without a hint of any annoyance at my failure to understand her description of the appropriate door, it is immediately clear that one of the country’s most notable visual stylists is quite possible also one of the country’s friendliest people.
As a visual stylist, Lucy works for top media names, styling interiors, props and costumes. When I meet her she is browsing the tableware on the shelves at Backgrounds for a ‘365 Days of Soup’ cookbook that she is currently styling. She has collected a pile of intricately patterned fabrics, ones with a ‘folksy’ feel which she claims to be ‘really into at the minute.’ She has been told to work mostly with whites, but the colours creeping in to her ideas seem inevitable when you consider the woman behind the styling.
In a full-length rainbow striped dress and gold shoes, colour is not something Lucy shies away from.
This is the third book that the 31-year-old has worked on, after making a name for herself in top publications such as Sunday Times Style, Harpers Bazaar and Elle Decoration. Set styling for books is something she is keen to do more of as she is given more time and budget, and is allowed space to indulge her creativity and develop her ideas. ‘I’m really pushing to see how much of my personality I can get into it this time,’ she says.
With every burst of colour or ‘folksy’ pattern that makes it into the book, an imprint of Lucy’s personality is left behind.
So was Lucy Harvey born to style? She believes it’s more nurture than nature. ‘I’ve always felt I’m more of a creative person than anything else, but I think I’ve become good at styling…over the years you develop an eye and you stop questioning your judgement as much,’ she says. ‘I’ve been exposed to all the fashions and trends that have happened over the last eight years. Being in central London, you’re on the cutting edge of when fashions change, so I kind of understand trend really well, and trends are a big part of recognising what styles work together.’
As we talk, Lucy is sipping peppermint tea out of a mug that declares ‘Stylist’. As she tries to work it into the photos, she sheepishly confesses its importance. ‘The first time I came [To Backgrounds] and someone gave me this mug, I felt this enormous sense of pride!' Now eight years into her career, Lucy is finally taking control. ‘I’ve stopped saying yes to jobs that are taking me in the wrong direction. I never thought there was a wrong or a right, I would just do anything,’ she states.
She certainly isn’t short of projects; whether it is book styling, fashion styling, running a café or teaching as a visiting lecturer. Lucy says she has a lot of strings to her bow, and she’s not wrong. There’s even talks of setting up craft workshops with her sister, to do something calm and still, to stop her ‘running around like a blue arsed fly.’
Since she began styling in 2002, Lucy has worked on a range of projects. She nonchalantly name drops the country’s latest heart-throb, whom she styled whilst working on an independent film about young Brits finding their way in the world. ‘The film didn’t do particularly well’, she reflects, ‘but the lead did well. It was Robert Pattinson, but when we met him he was just starting out.’
Regardless of whether or not she knew she was working with a future-fanged star, the film was one of her most loved experiences. What is it about dressing young men that she enjoyed so much? ‘Doing costume for independent films involves a lot of thinking about what you’re doing. It’s far more creative because you have to think artistically about the character rather than thinking commercially or in terms of a brand. As a costume designer you really read the script and understand the characters, which is a wonderful thing.’ Sure, that must be it.
Lucy is now getting ready to leave Backgrounds. She finishes packing her Marilyn Monroe trolley, something that she takes everywhere with her, to accommodate her constant shopping.
'If I see something in a charity shop I just have to have it because I think it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity', she explains, 'I must have at least eight pairs of curtains in my room [in a shared house]. I buy them just in case I move into a house one day.’ This reasoning somehow seems applicable to her attitude towards life. Impulsive. Forward thinking. A dreamer.
Spending time with Lucy, it is clear she feels that the commercial world isn’t ready for her all-encompassing style. Style to her is bright and unique, and that is not something that everybody can appreciate. So I ask her, does she feel her work reflects her personality? ‘No, not really. The way I express myself isn’t shown through my work because I’m not particularly commercial. If I dressed in linen and nice tonal clothes, I probably would reflect the styling that I do because that’s what people want.’
It might be worth noting, that this rainbow and gold style is a matured look for Harvey. She has passed the age where clashing colours and ‘wearing things that don’t look quite right’ is the status quo and she is now mellowing in her view of what constitutes good style.
She is learning the rules of style, slowly but surely, that other people value, even if she in her personal life doesn’t. ‘My styling doesn’t reflect my personality because my personality isn’t that world. It isn’t the Sunday Times. It isn’t tasteful.’
If Harvey’s contagiously sunny personality can’t be seen as tasteful, then maybe taste has got its priorities wrong. Regardless, Lucy will keep working her sense of style into her work, with the hope that one-day ‘people can see that there’s something about my particular style that has a character that they want.’
Until that day, styling may have to take a back seat for Lucy’s newest passion – The 12 Bar Café in London’s Tin Pan Alley. It’s clear that the café has been in the forefront of her mind all day – she mentions it every other sentence.
She has been running it for two months now, with her husband Tickle. (She tells me she met him after she saw a documentary about clowns, on which he was ‘the only funny one’ – I hardly dare ask, but I presume the nickname is a throwback to those times).
Despite having met her just four hours ago, I get the impression that here at the cafe, she is at her happiest. She tells me that she has always wanted to be at the centre of something, to have something to gravitate towards, and the café seems to be it.
The atmosphere is boisterous and unique, as might be expected for a cafe under the management of an extrovert stylist and a former clown. The ‘Today’s Special’ board is adapted by a note from Lucy asserting ‘Yes, it is!’, and a photo of Tickle from his entertaining days rests on the jukebox which is playing Bowie’s greatest hits.
The 12 Bar Club is a well known bar at night but Lucy and Tickle convinced their friends, the owners, to open it up in the day as well, and it seems to be a success. As one customer turns to leave, he stops to say: ‘That’s one of the best toasted sandwiches I’ve had in a long time…I’ll certainly come again!’
He may just be being coy; it is most probably the staff that has convinced him to return. Lucy Harvey’s talent lies, aside from having an eye for style, in engaging with people. You can’t help but be drawn in by her.
She gets talking to one man at the counter who is waiting to pay, a deliveryman who ‘can get any package anywhere at any time’ (think Jason Statham in The Transporter), and has built up his entire business through word of mouth. She whole-heartedly congratulates him then takes down his number, just in case.
Lucy states that her styling work doesn’t reflect where she’s at, and that much is obvious because, as she buzzes around the counter chatting to customers, tonal shades and minimalism just wouldn’t suffice. A spectrum of colours, a bit of glitter and an abundance of hypnotising patterns might be nearer the mark.