British fashion editor Sarah Clark sums up success perfectly: “Put very simply, success is something that you are proud of, whatever that ‘something’ might be – a work achievement, raising your children, overcoming an illness, helping a loved one. I do think people tend to automatically associate success with career, and this can be overly simplistic. Surely a success is simply something with a positive outcome?”...
The stylish Clark is the fashion editor-at-large of Stella magazine, a freelance stylist and art director and the founder of Little Spree, a website for stylish little people (and their mamas). She’s also the mother of adorable six-year-old twins – Tabitha and Marlow – or a “twins tamer” as she puts it.
Little Spree originally started because Clark wanted to share her stylish baby bargains. “I initially found it a bit of struggle to dress the twins beautifully on a budget (two of everything in one hit – first shoes, winter coats etc), but then once I tapped into the high street stores, it become my latest obsession. I was amazed what brilliant things you could find if you just knew where to look. So I started sharing them with all of my friends with babies, then they all started suggesting I share with more mums via a blog. So I did! I’m not sure how I thought I was going to find the time to do it, but I did. Initially I just posted one thing a day. Then it grew naturally from there,” says Clark.
She met Nicky Hornsby-Clifton (who had previously worked as a lawyer for the British Army for over ten years and is now the mother to six-year-old Bailey) at their children’s pre-school charity ball. “We had secretly been admiring each others Isabel Marant boots at drop off and it soon became clear that we had a lot more in common than our wardrobe. I was recovering from a serious illness when I started to help out with Little Spree and it all went from there,” recalls Hornsby-Clifton.
The duo now run the site together. It’s the ultimate insider’s guide to dressing yourself and your kids in a beautiful and stylish way without maxing out your credit card. We caught up with the dynamic duo at Hornsby-Clifton’s beautiful London home to find out more about the women behind one of our favourite sites…
What's the best advice you’ve been given about motherhood?
Sarah Clark: I’m not sure I’ve actually been given that much advice to be honest. But probably, to try not to be too hard on yourself (easier said than done I know). You can only do your best. And it sounds obvious, but just to make your children feel as loved as you possibly can (that’s my advice).
Can you tell us about your childhood?
Sarah Clark: I grew up and lived in Surrey until I was 13, then I moved to Paris to live with my dad. I think this was when my love of fashion really kicked in. I used to spend all my babysitting money on French VOGUE, Elle and Marie Claire, despite the fact that I couldn’t read a word. It was all about the beautiful images! I would literally pour over them! I was obsessed!
Nicky Hornsby-Clifton: I grew up in the North of England, which has a very different vibe to the South. Having now lived in both, I think the charms of the North are a journey of discovery; the charms of London being generally more obvious. I often think back to my teenage years and the burgeoning Northern music scene: an underground network where the details of the latest gig or club were spread by word of mouth. It felt organically creative and connected. I sometimes wonder how this era of selfies and smartphones will shape teenage years to come.
What has been one of your biggest career challenges as a working mother?
Sarah Clark: The amount of travelling that this job can involve. The guilt is always there. I remember one particular time when I was in Miami on a shoot few years ago and I got a call to say that Marlow was really poorly. He was born with chronic lung disease, and subsequently had many respiratory related issue afterwards, and had to be monitored carefully until a couple of years ago. He has since been given the all clear, and has grown out of it as predicted. I remember getting off the phone with Tom and I just couldn’t keep the tears in, and then I just couldn’t stop crying. I felt so awful that I wasn’t there for him (he had been absolutely fine when I left), but worse still, I knew that even if I had gone straight to the airport that minute (which I was all set to do), I still wouldn’t have been home until the following day. I felt like I had failed my son, and failed as a mother. Just a complete failure. As it turned out, he made an almost immediate recovery, and all was fine again. It’s often the way with children, they go down and up so quickly. But it’s still making me feel sick just thinking about it now.
When did your love of fashion begin?
Sarah Clark: I would say it first began when I used to love looking through my mother’s glossy magazines. I was probably around the same age as my daughter is now. She would always buy VOGUE and Harpers & Queen (as it was called then) and once she had finished with them I was allowed to cut them up! Such a treat! I used to literally spend hours and hours making collages with all the pictures. I absolutely loved it. Not a million miles away from when I make a mood board now for a fashion shoot. I still love doing a mood board. It’s the starting part of the whole shoot process.
Can you tell us about your career path?
Sarah Clark: I studied fashion journalism at The London College of Fashion. Initially I always wanted to be a writer. My first job was as a press assistant at the Joseph press office in London. Joseph was a really exciting place to work at the time, as he (Joseph) had just started stocking designers such as Galliano, Margiela, Ann Demeulemeester, Martine Sitbon and more for the iconic Brompton Cross store. It was also the time of the famous Joseph ‘smoking pants’ which anyone who was anyone was wearing. I remember the white ones were particularly cool. I then went on to become the press officer and consequently started getting to know all the fashion press.
So when a job came up at Marie Claire as a fashion assistant I immediately applied and got it. I was literally dizzy with excitement – this was my absolute dream job! I then went on to work at Marie Claire for seven and a half years – I worked my way up from shopping editor, to junior fashion editor, then finally to fashion editor. I then left to go to Glamour magazines as I loved the with the way they cleverly mixed designers with the high street in their fashion shoots, as no one else was doing that at that time which is hard to imagine now. I covered someone’s maternity leave. When the fashion editor I was covering returned, my editor Jo Elvin created a job for me and I stayed on. I worked at Glamour for a further five years. I left in 2011 when the twins were one. I went back to work following a year’s maternity leave, but I just found the intense travelling with two one-year-olds at home too tough. So I left to go freelance. Red magazine approached me and asked me to contribute, so I became their senior contributing fashion editor until last year, when the editor of Stella asked me to shoot for them. So I am currently their fashion editor-at-large and I shoot eight stories a season for them.
Nicky Hornsby-Clifton: I blame ‘LA Law’ – I mean, who didn’t want to be Grace Van Owen? I enjoyed practising law, but a year into my training contract I realised that I wasn’t ready to time record my whole day in six minute units. A friend of mine, who was a pilot in the RAF, told me that the military employed lawyers. Travel and jumping out of trees trumped time sheets, so towards the end of my training contract I applied to become an Army lawyer. A few months later I began officer training at Sandhurst. People thought I was joking when I told them I was going to swap my stilettos and suits for boots and Bosnia – until they saw photographs of me carrying a weapon in Sarajevo. Then I’m not sure what they thought. During the decade that I worked in the Army, I undertook various legal roles, but the highlight was training to work with specialist military units. I had to learn to fast-rope onto ships at sea and escape from a submerged helicopter – it was both exhilarating and terrifying.
You presented the work you did in Northern Ireland to the Queen – can you tell us about that experience?
Nicky Hornsby-Clifton: One of my roles while working in Northern Ireland was to be the ‘Flying Lawyer’. I used to think it sounds like a BBC drama about a lawyer/pilot who flies around fighting injustice wherever it exists. The reality wasn’t quite so glamorous, although it did involve being flown by helicopter to deal with incidents involving soldiers e.g. their use of force. I was asked to present this work to the Queen, but when I met her, all I could think of was how soft her skin looked. I was dressed in combats and boots, talking terrorism, but really, all I wanted to do was ask her which face cream she used.
What are your time management tips?
Sarah Clark: Gosh, I’m not sure I’m duly qualified to dish out the advice! I would appreciate any advice that anyone might be willing to share with me though! I always have a lot of plates spinning at any one time, and I am pretty much always tired. But I do try (as much as possible anyway) to be as present as I can when I am with the kids. To give them my full attention. But it’s not easy when you’re self employed and people expect you to be on-call 24 hours a day. So some of the plates do get dropped (and break) sometimes. But that’s just all part of it. You just do your best and keep going. I don’t know a another mum who doesn’t find the constant ‘juggle’ hard.
Do you think you’re born with style or it’s something you can learn?
Sarah Clark: Wow, that’s a hard one. I’m not sure I know the answer to that. I do think some people definitely just have that innate sense of style that just comes very naturally and effortlessly. But I do also think that is something you can learn to develop and hone. You can definitely teach people how to be stylish, but they just may find it a little more of an effort than someone with natural style. I’m not convinced it’s something you’re born with though.
Nicky Hornsby-Clifton: For me I think it was a combination of both. My mother was an amazing seamstress. I have a photograph on my dressing table of the two of us when I was a toddler, we are wearing outfits made from the same cloth. When I was older my mother and I would sit and design clothes together. I would be allowed to choose cloth from a local mill and then she would make a sewing pattern for my design (and be hand finishing it moments before I wanted to go out in it). My mother taught me to sew and although I no longer have the time to make pieces from scratch, I often tailor items that I buy. My mother died when I was 17 and when I’m sewing I feel close to her, especially when I know I have finished something quickly rather than properly. She would always undo any half-hearted efforts and make me do them again!
Where do you shop for your children?
Sarah Clark: Anywhere and everywhere! I do love a bargain though! Nothing comes close to the buzz you get when you find something amazing in the most unexpected of places. Like Sainsburys (yes really – one of my best ever finds was a navy wool fitted frilled duffle coat for Tabitha – I was constantly stopped by strangers to ask me where I’d bought it!). I always look, wherever I am. But I guess some of my favourites on the high street include Gap, H&M, Boden, Mango, M&S and Cos. I also love the French brands such as Louis Louise (a discovery on a long shoot in Paris last year), Bonton, plus independent brands such as Miller, April Showers, Bellerose, Morley, Louise Misha and Mabo Kids. Too many to mention! I like Elias & Grace for lots of lovely brands ‘under one roof’ too. In France, I love Monoprix. The first thing I do when I arrive in France is head to the nearest store – the Bout Chou baby collection is particularly gorgeous. I also love a trolley-dash around Target whenever I’m in America. I can scan a shop in seconds for treasure!
Nicky Hornsby-Clifton: I shop for Bailey’s clothes in the same way that I shop for myself: mixing high street buys with a few core luxury items. I almost always buy his skinny jeans from Gap or H&M, and this year he has a great pair of denim cut-offs from Boden. I’m most likely to splash out on knitwear (my current favourite jumper is from French brand Louis Louise) or shoes (I couldn’t resist buying him some mini Adidas Stan Smiths so that we could share mini-me moments).
What are your tips for dressing kids?
Sarah Clark: Well, the control definitely slips away as they get older, so if you have very little ones, enjoy it while it lasts! I would say that generally, you’ve got free reign until around three (maybe younger if you’re unlucky or have a particularly headstrong/style conscious child!), then it becomes more and more about compromise. My advice is to choose your battles. Does it really matter whether your daughter wears that hideous flammable princess dress to the park once in a while? I try to imagine myself in their shoes – how would I feel if someone flatly refused to let me wear my new Isabel Marant folk dress, but could give no real explanation as to why? And it’s not just girls that can be tricky either – in fact, I would say that my son is probably more tricky because he is so particular about the tiniest details (wonder where he gets that from?), particularly how things ‘feel’. Let them have a certain amount of choice – you might be surprised! When I give Tabitha free reign she has come up with some really great outfits! And she loves it when she knows I genuinely like them. It’s hard, but try to let them do their own thing occasionally. Alternatively, themed pyjamas are are are great option – they love them, and you love the fact that no one sees them in public!
What is your favourite social media platform and why?
Sarah Clark: Probably Instagram. To me it just feels like a more natural, less ‘try-hard’ way to communicate with our audience.
Nicky Hornsby-Clifton: Instagram. I love the idea sharing moments through photography.
What's your approach to health and wellbeing?
Sarah Clark: Well I’m probably one of the laziest people on the planet when it comes to actual physical exercise, but I do run around most of the day, and very rarely stop. So I guess that’s my cardio! I loathe the gym. I would much rather go on a long walk in Richmond park any day of the week. I do also enjoy pottering in my tiny courtyard garden (god, I never thought I would hear myself say that!). There’s something so peaceful and relaxing about it. I am not good at switching off, and I usually work every evening until quite late. But I feel happy and fortunate for what I have, and I am certainly not afraid of a bit of hard work.
Nicky Hornsby-Clifton: Having suffered from a serious illness, which I have had to fight hard to recover from, I appreciate that health and wellbeing are gifts which should never be taken for granted.
What are your daily beauty essentials and how long does it take you to get out the door in the morning?
Sarah Clark: I am very low-key when it comes to any beauty regime. I do the bare minimum as I loathe spending time primping and preening when I could be doing something else. I don’t own a hairdryer for starters, and I very rarely brush my hair. I just wash my hair and leave it to dry naturally (which is in messy waves). But I do like the occasional blow-dry to feel a bit more pulled-together if I need to look a bit more ‘polished’ for something (like these pictures). I do love a pedi when I have time (there’s a great little cheap place on Richmond Hill where Nicky and I always go – they always roll their eyes at me as I always, always have the same colour: Wicked). I just moisturise, then apply a little concealer and blusher (normally a bronzer).That’s it. Oh and I slap on as much moisturiser on my body as I possibly can each morning after my shower. I have very dry skin, so if I didn’t, my skin would literally look like a lizard’s!
Nicky Hornsby-Clifton: Cleanse, moisturise, apply sunscreen (I love SkinCeuticals Protect Brightening UV Defense SPF 30). Also, a skin specialist recently told me to apply Vaseline around my eyes at night. I’ve only been doing it for a few weeks and can already see a difference. Any delays in getting out of the door are usually down to a change of outfit choice rather than my beauty routine.
How do you treat yourself?
Sarah Clark: I’m not sure I do very often, but I do love peace and quiet and a pile of magazines. Who doesn’t? This usually only happens on a long-haul flight though, although I’ll take it where I can get it! A pedi (as above). For a real treat, anyone who knows me, knows how much I love a Cowshed massage, so I sometimes get a lovely gift voucher for birthdays etc. It’s always such an indulgent treat and I always fall asleep!
Coffee or tea?
Sarah Clark: Oh tea. Always. I don’t drink coffee.
Nicky Hornsby-Clifton: Green tea when I’m being healthy, chai tea latte when I’m not.
Who is your role model?
Sarah Clark: Anyone who is content. That is always inspiring to me.
Nicky Hornsby-Clifton: My maternal Grandmother: a lady who survived everything life threw at her with style, dignity and love.
What do you love most about raising children in London?
Sarah Clark: Well, living in Petersham in Richmond we’re right on the edge of London, so I feel we have the best of both worlds here. This was a big part of moving here when the twins were just two. We have all the beautiful green space – Richmond Park has always been one of my favourite London parks, and it’s minutes from our house. So the kids love climbing trees, making camps in the woods, and they love nature, animals, insects, and know all the flowers and plants names (they astound me with the knowledge of nature actually). But they also love all the galleries, museums, exhibitions what we go to in Central London. I love that mix.
Nicky Hornsby-Clifton: I was raised close to a large city, but my day-to-day surroundings were fields as far as the eye could see, so as a young adult, London seemed a little overwhelming. We chose to live in Richmond (which is part of Greater London). It’s a very green, pretty place, but with all that London has to offer only a tube ride away. My hope for Bailey is that as an adult, he will feel able to make an informed choice about whether he wants to live in a city or further afield, with neither feeling overwhelming.
What will we find in your handbag?
Sarah Clark: Probably a lot of rubbish that I should have chucked away months ago! No idea actually – I’m going to take a look now. Ok, so all the usual things – wallet, sunglasses, some Lego, a birthday card that I have been meaning to post for months (sorry Irene!), Bear Yoyos and a book that I keep meaning to start.
Nicky Hornsby-Clifton: I tend to travel light. When I’m on my own you will find my purse, iPhone and lip balm. When I’m with Bailey, I also take a small pack of wipes and a snack. I find that there’s very little that can’t be made better with one or the other.
Nicky Hornsby-Clifton wears Isabel Marant Étoile Risha loose-knit sweater, $340
What was your last investment purchase?
Sarah Clark: An Isabel Marant cream angora sweater. I’ve barely taken it off since. It’s the perfect summer sweater.
Nicky Hornsby-Clifton: The Isabel Marant Etoile Risha jumper (the one I’m wearing with vintage army trousers in the shoot). While a plain jumper might seem like a strange ‘investment’ purchase, as is often the case with Isabel Marant pieces, it’s all in the detail. The knit is just the right weight, the shade is just the right side of cream/taupe and while understated, I’m always asked where it’s from when I wear it.
What are your fashion essentials?
Sarah Clark: Slouchy cotton khaki trousers, cashmere sweaters, peasant/folky tops/blouses (usually in white or cream), hippie dresses, scruffy (but soft), band T-shirts, jeans (black, blue, cropped, flared, boyfriend…), Chanel ballet pumps, Golden Goose high tops and my trusty Vans.
Nicky Hornsby-Clifton: My (men’s) cashmere jumpers and cardigans from Uniqlo, a Vintage Army jacket (you can take the girl out of the Army…), my PRPS boyfriend jeans, Lulu Frost earrings, a navy Aries jumpsuit and my Golden Goose Hi-tops. Oh, and in this week of non-stop rain, my Zara transparent rainmac!
Your twins were born two months prematurely and spent the first two months of their lives in hospital – can you tell us about this experience?
Sarah Clark: It was, without doubt, the hardest time of my entire life. I was just existing day-to-day. I was like a robot, going to the hospital each day, all day, then coming home. I could barely speak to anyone. I just gave everything I had to them. There was nothing left. Marlow was very, very poorly, which was incredibly tough. I actually find it really difficult to talk about now. I am just so grateful that everything turned out ok in the end. But it was certainly very touch and go at times.
My advice would be to lean on your friends and loved ones as much as you can, even if you find that hard (as I did). Your baby/babies need you, so you need to preserve all your love and energy for them. And try to look after yourself as much as you can. I was expressing so that the twins could be fed through tubes – I was drinking gallons of milk (ok, chocolate milk) and eating tons of creamy yoghurts! Plus drinking gallons of fennel tea. It all helped with my much needed milk production.
Little list of loves:
Anything Gucci (more to shoot than to wear).
House of Cards.
Holidays in Italy.
The changing seasons.
Ballet pumps with ankle ties (so much more than just a ballet pump).
Isabel Marant (to wear and to shoot).
Watching Tabitha and Marlow reading to themselves.
Bailey age six. I love that he’s old enough that we can play chess with him but his little hands are still (just) baby chubby enough that his knuckles look like dimples.
Spring in Richmond. For me, Richmond is at its best when the leaves begin to fill out the trees and everywhere is scattered with blossom. I love the feeling of renewal, it fills me with hope.
Juice Baby. They make a three day cleanse which I do a couple of times a year and which involves eating your body weight in seasonal leafy greens. It’s a pleasure rather than a chore.
Growing flowers and vegetables with Bailey. His sense of awe at nature is intoxicating.
The whole Chloe collection: needs no explanation right?
Travel. I feel able to breath deeper and think clearer when I travel.
Re-reading A Force for Good: The Dalai Lama’s Vision For Humanity by Daniel Goreman. I took Bailey to see the Dalai Lama when he visited London last year. It was a moving experience to listen to his message of compassion in this increasingly intolerant world.
The little things in life.