Inspirational story of how Kate's stunning dress helped Indian sex trafficking victims
07:10 GMT, 15 October 2012
Duchess's favourite dress designer on how the clothes she makes for A-list clients support women sold into sex and slavery
High fashion: The Duchess of Cambridge is a big fan of Beulah London
When the Duchess of Cambridge wore a chic chiffon off-white dress and matching headscarf to visit the Assyakirin Mosque in Kuala Lumpur last month, she sparked the usual stampede by fashionistas desperate to copy her look. However, this time the dress wasn’t by Alexander McQueen or Alice Temperley but a less well-known name – Beulah London.
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Fashionista fans: Model Tolula Adeyemi (pictured left) and singer Natasha Bedingfield (right) are two celebrity names on Beulah London's client list. The idea for the label was conceived on a volunteering trip to India
Some items in the collection are made via a project in Delhi called Open Hand, by women who have escaped trafficking and the sex trade, including some who are HIV-positive and widowed.
‘It is very hard trying to juggle starting a business and involving women in the production of the clothing, but we are making progress,’ Natasha says.
‘Some people thought I was crazy to give up the security of a job but it didn’t really excite me. My family were ridiculously supportive of my idea to set up a social enterprise.’
Three years later, Beulah London’s client list includes models Kate Moss and Tolula Adeyemi, singer Natasha Bedingfield, presenters Tess Daly and Natalie Pinkham, and Hollywood stars Sienna Miller and Demi Moore. But their most famous patron is undoubtedly the Duchess of Cambridge, who dazzled in a floor-length red Beulah London dress at a charity gala last year and wore a flower-patterned creation to a wedding in July.
‘I think she just really likes the collection and the ethical values behind it,’ says Natasha.
At first, Natasha and Lavinia worked on their designs in a spare bedroom in Fulham, and also moonlighted at Chelsea nightclubs to boost their income. Lavinia looked after VIP guests at Guy Pelly’s club Public, welcoming Chelsy Davy and Pippa Middleton.
Meanwhile, Natasha performed the same role at Dorsia, a favourite haunt of Made In Chelsea cast. ‘It was quite demeaning,’ she admits. ‘People would ask, “How’s business” I’d have to say, “Clearly not that good!” ’
Impressive clientele: TV presenters Natalie Pinkham (left) and Tess Daly (pictured right) also have worn items from the label set up by Lady Natasha Rufus Isaacs which helps victims of sex trafficking in India
But slowly things took off. Now, Natasha is sitting in her studio in Belgravia. Behind rails of reds and purples, interns are hard at work. The floor is strewn with sketches for the next collection, which department store Fenwick has ordered.
Natasha is part of the new breed of socialite-philanthropists creating brands with a conscience. She sees herself as fighting oppression using fashion as a weapon.
‘You think William Wilberforce abolished slavery’ she asks, rhetorically. ‘Wrong. There are more than 27 million slaves in the world today and 120,000 women and children trafficked into Western Europe every year.’
Thursday is Anti-Slavery Day, and Beulah London’s mission, as well as providing a secure future for Indian girls saved from the sex industry, is to raise awareness of the problem.
‘Human trafficking is the fastest growing crime in the world,’ Natasha stresses. ‘Drugs can only be sold once, but people can be sold again and again. The sex trade is relatively obvious, but domestic slavery is very hard to find out about because people could just be locked into a basement for years.
Well-connected: Lady Natasha Rufus Isaacs (right) with Chelsy Davy
‘It’s chilling to think that it is going on all around us. It happens everywhere, especially where I live. Of the 300 brothels in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, only 25 per cent of the girls are there of their own free will.’
Beulah London is available at Harvey Nichols and via Yoox.com, with dresses ranging in price from around 350 to 800.
Natasha and Lavinia launch their next collection at another Royal hangout, The Brompton Club in South Kensington, on Thursday, to co-incide with Anti-Slavery Day. But despite being worn by the most photographed woman in the world, their designs are yet to be tapped by Vogue.
‘Our customer is on-trend but not trendy,’ Natasha explains. ‘This is not fast fashion. This is a staple she can have in her wardrobe for years. She’s a lady of leisure who has events to go to – Ascot, weddings.’
It’s a neat description of the signature style of the Duchess of Cambridge – simple lines, flattering, pretty without being too revealing.
‘My granny asked me, “But are the dresses sexy”, Natasha reveals. ‘I said, “I hope so!” ’
Her next step is to help girls in the UK. ‘I want to put girls who have been released from sex slavery through an apprenticeship scheme and start them embroidering on to every piece of ours.’
Last year, Natasha and Lavinia received a UN commendation for Beulah London’s work, and Natasha returns to India every six months to see the women she is helping.
‘Lavinia and I both love going back to see the work and meet the ladies because it brings to life what we do.
‘It’s very different from sitting in an office every day doing admin or the accounts. Going out there keeps us motivated.’