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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
“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