When OVERDUE searched for a mature mod­el who was inter­est­ing, charis­mat­ic and still will­ing to ded­i­cate a day to our pho­to­shoot, we didn’t have to look very far, but our very own’s fash­ion direc­tor David James Cochrane’s glam­orous grand­moth­er Bela, who owns a fash­ion bou­tique in Kent. Kate Sut­ton had a chat with Bela about her life and career. 

Open­ing image: tur­ban and kaf­tan Julia Clancey all jew­ellery Gio­van­ni Raspi­ni

Tur­ban Julia Clancey  orange dress by Malan Bre­ton
neck­lace by Gio­van­ni Raspi­ni watch by Guc­ci

Tell us a lit­tle bit about your mod­el­ing career, how did you start and what do you think has changed since?

I first start­ed mod­el­ing in the 60s. It was an amaz­ing era for fash­ion; bound­aries were being pushed in the sense of what design­ers were look­ing for. Right through the 1950s the hour­glass fig­ure was the go to for pho­tog­ra­phers and design­ers alike, but things were chang­ing even then. Fash­ion in the ear­ly 60s favoured a slen­der fig­ure, which suit­ed my look at the time.

Mod­els had a big part to play in a designer’s line, we were their walk­ing cam­paigns on and off cat­walk, so there was a lot more pres­sure to do a good job. In the 60’s, it was pre­dom­i­nant­ly down to the mod­el if the col­lec­tion was a suc­cess or not.

It wasn’t like what it’s like now with social media and peo­ple being exposed to con­stant imagery. Cam­paigns took longer to dis­tin­guish and pro­duce and your job as a mod­el was high­ly respect­ed and sought after.

I mean, I mod­elled for Wal­lis back then and then I went onto becom­ing their head buy­er. Mod­els’ views and opin­ions mat­tered more to adver­tis­ers, as after all, you were their walk­ing mar­ket­ing cam­paign. No edit­ing, retouch­ing or “fun­ny fil­ters”, every­thing was much more real then and as a mod­el you had a lot to live up to!

It’s fun­ny to look back on the com­par­i­son of what it was like then to what it’s like now. It’s a lot more diverse, you see more mod­els of dif­fer­ent shapes and looks. Back in the 60s it was a cer­tain type of look that pro­pelled you into being suc­cess­ful in the mod­el­ing indus­try.

Design­ers looked for an icon­ic appeal that real­ly rep­re­sent­ed the cul­tur­al cli­mate at the time. If you look back at all the famous mod­els of 60s they all had a sim­i­lar look. Design­ers looked for ultra-fem­i­nine, “baby doll type” faces that had a height­ened sex appeal.

After all, the mini skirt had just been invent­ed and design­ers want­ed sophis­ti­cat­ed and glam­orous look­ing mod­els. The indus­try now has so many dif­fer­ent types of mod­els, it’s hard to keep up!

Also, I think it’s heav­i­ly influ­enced by there being so many design­ers with dif­fer­ent styles and aes­thet­ics. The indus­try pro­fes­sion­als now look for inter­est­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics when cast­ing mod­els and it’s all about how you car­ry your­self. If you know how to move your body in front of the cam­era and exude con­fi­dence, that’s what makes you a good mod­el! 

tur­ban by Julia Clancey fur shawl mod­el’s own bracelet by Carti­er enam­el ring by Gio­van­ni Raspi­ni crest ring mod­el’s own

Is that how you meet your hus­band, while you were work­ing as a mod­el?

A mutu­al friend intro­duced us whilst I was work­ing as a host­ess in a pri­vate mem­bers club in May­fair. I remem­ber the day I met him quite vivid­ly! I was nev­er the kind of girl to fall at a man’s feet, I was always strong mind­ed and inde­pen­dent, but he real­ly took me by sur­prise, he was tall and charis­mat­ic with a strong jaw­line.

My moth­er always said a good jaw­line speaks vol­umes about a man’s char­ac­ter and psy­che. She used to say nev­er trust a man with a weak jaw­line and if you look at a lot of polit­i­cal lead­ers they have weak chins!! My mother’s obser­va­tions were usu­al­ly ones to live by.

Any­way, I instant­ly fell head over heels in love with him and back then rela­tion­ships were much eas­i­er. If you liked some­one and they liked you, you would nat­u­ral­ly just fall into a part­ner­ship.

I feel sor­ry for the youth of today, it seems so com­pli­cat­ed… falling in love that is. Men are no longer chival­rous and romance seems to be dying a slow death which is real­ly sad.

My hus­band was a fan­tas­tic and noble man who had a suave demeanor about him. He used to bring me flow­ers every Wednes­day and always told me how beau­ti­ful I was. We fit togeth­er so well and com­pli­ment­ed each oth­er per­fect­ly, he was the King to my Queen and I miss him dear­ly.

My mar­riage wasn’t all ros­es and but­ter­flies but we lived in a gen­er­a­tion where if some­thing was bro­ken, you would fix it, not throw it away. Peo­ple these days give up on love so easy.

hat Mis­a­hara­da Lon­don shirt Naya Rea neck­lace bracelet & enam­el ring Gio­van­ni Raspi­ni shoes Gina Lon­don trousers mod­el’s own

What made you decide to open your bou­tique?

I first start­ed the store in 1976, it had always been a dream of mine since I was a lit­tle girl. I loved clothes and fash­ion and always had a good style that peo­ple would aspire to. From the minute I start­ed dress­ing myself, I used to get com­pli­ments on my fash­ion choic­es.

I loved fab­rics and tex­tures and always acces­sorized well. Acces­sories make an out­fit and I loved being play­ful with my clothes.

So it just seemed nat­ur­al that I would open up my own bou­tique one day. I remem­ber when I first saw the shop up for sale on Chisle­hurst High Street, I then per­suad­ed my hus­band to sell the fam­i­ly home to be able to pay for it, I knew I was onto a lit­tle gold­mine as there wasn’t any­thing like that in the area at that time.

There were no shop­ping malls or big out­lets near­by, main­ly all the good clothes shops were in cen­tral Lon­don, so I want­ed to make it more accom­mo­dat­ing for the local com­mu­ni­ty. The bou­tique is com­ing up to its 44th year of trad­ing so I must be doing some­thing right! 

glass­es Pra­da shawl & shirt Naya Rea neck­lace bracelet & enam­el ring Gio­van­ni Raspi­ni

You must have seen many fash­ion trends come and go, how did you decide what to sell at the store?

I could write a scrip­ture on how many dif­fer­ent trends I have seen and worn over the years. Fash­ion is for­ev­er chang­ing like the sea­sons, it’s a nat­ur­al pro­gres­sion how trends adapt and take form from one sea­son to the next.

When I first start­ed trad­ing in the 1970s there was a mas­sive boho move­ment hap­pen­ing.  Fash­ion at the time was heav­i­ly influ­enced by the music scene with knit­ted suits, flo­ral chif­fons and more relaxed cuts — your music taste was a mas­sive insti­ga­tor of how you dressed and pre­sent­ed your­self in the 70s.

Who­ev­er was big in the music scene influ­enced design­ers’ col­lec­tions. Dif­fer­ent gen­res of music influ­enced dif­fer­ent styles — it was as sim­ple as that.  I was very much ahead of things and was always show­cas­ing the newest trends in the bou­tique — it’s so impor­tant when run­ning a suc­cess­ful fash­ion busi­ness to be able to pre­dict new trends.

dress by Simon Mo coat mod­el’s own bracelet by Gio­van­ni Raspi­ni

Did you enjoy going back into mod­el­ing for our shoot?

I loved every minute of it! The shoot gave me a lot of nos­tal­gia of what it felt like mod­el­ing all them years ago. I love dress­ing up and feel­ing glam­orous, I’m at my hap­pi­est when I’m draped in sequins and marabou.

It doesn’t mat­ter what age you are, every­one loves to dress up and have fun.

What makes it even more of a spe­cial shoot is that my grand­son styled this edi­to­r­i­al. He gets his flair for fash­ion from me and it’s been great that I was his main source of inspi­ra­tion over the years and I got to be a part of this project. Such an amaz­ing team to work along­side. Thank you for hav­ing me.

Kaf­tan Julia Clancey neck­lace bracelet & enam­el ring Gio­van­ni Raspi­ni
crown styl­ist’s own watch Guc­ci 

“The key to a long, healthy life is to nev­er take your­self too seri­ous­ly! If you don’t laugh you sure as hell will cry, so laugh as much as you can.” 

A selec­tion of images show­ing the jour­ney through Bela’s incred­i­ble past.

Inter­view Kate Sut­ton

Mod­el Bela Cochrane
Pho­tog­ra­phy Andrew Kim­ber
Art Direc­tion Tess Sav­ina
Styling David James Cochrane
Hair Kieron Lavine at NYLON Artists
Make­up Natasha Lakic
Post Pro­duc­tion Stu­dio Kim­ber
Pho­tog­ra­phy Assis­tant Andrzej Grusz­ka