Interview with Susan Bender Whitfield

i’ll be excited when the industry manages to navigate a way to recycle and reuse every piece of clothing – whatever fibres they’re made from

Craft | Mindful Living | Sustainability

As well as being a contributing editor at Vogue, Susan Bender Whitfield is creative director, stylist, Prince’s Trust ambassador – and a brilliant, inspiring friend of mine. I love her sense of style and we share a passion for promoting sustainability within the fashion industry, so it was a joy to discuss this in more detail – and extract some of West London’s best vintage shopping haunts at the same time.

Tell me about the career path that led you into the world of fashion.

My fascination with costumes and style started from an early age watching old black and white movies with my father and collecting copies of Vogue magazine. After studying to become a fashion buyer – which I thought was the coolest way into fashion – I realised the role was that of a glorified accountant and subsequently sent myself off to drama school to train as an actor.

A few years later, a friend asked me to assist a stylist in Paris during half term to shoot a couture story. I spoke French and knew my way around Paris, so it seemed like a great idea and gave me a chance to go back to my favourite city. It was only then that I realised I could work in the fashion industry as a stylist.

How would you describe your personal style?

The first thing that comes to mind is ‘schizophrenic’. My mood changes from day to day.  You could say I create characters. I wake up every morning thinking ‘Who am I today?’, then embody my idea of what that personality looks like through clothing. My personal style doesn’t change, I just create different versions of myself every day.

When I start thinking about a new collection, I often look back to the seventies for inspiration; the music, silhouettes and colours all resonate with me. Is there an era that influences your aesthetic? 

The elegance of the forties and fifties. Although I do love the bohemian, unconventional freedom of seventies too.

you could say I create characters, I wake up every morning thinking ‘Who am I today?’, then embody my idea of what that personality looks like through clothing

I’m passionate about creating timeless clothes that are made to last. What three classic pieces should every woman have in her wardrobe?

A tailored blazer – invaluable. I’ve designed one for Huntsman of Saville Row which can be worn in six different ways. I take it everywhere. A lightweight cashmere jumper in black, grey or navy – a versatile piece you can wear in multiple ways; around the neck as a scarf, on the head as a head scarf, or even as a pillow for added luxury and comfort whilst travelling. A classic white or striped masculine shirt – you can’t go wrong with this simple and elegant piece. Can I please have four? A pair of sunglasses with light lenses – for me the ultimate mood-booster and a shield from the world. I wear mine winter, rain or shine.

Who are your style icons?

I’ve been asked this question a few times and can honestly say I don’t have style icons – I admire anyone who has style. Style is a personal state of mind and very subjective. Mine is never the same. 

We share a love for vintage shopping. Where is your favourite place to find interesting pieces?

It depends on what I’m looking for. I’m always on the hunt for vintage whenever I travel. You can find it in the most unexpected places. I once found a long 1970s long black jersey dress with a handkerchief neck detail at a vintage sale in the beer garden of a pub in Hanwell W13. I’m gate-keeping my special haunts, but here are a few favourites from West London where I live: Portobello Road Market (Friday is the best day), Rellik Golborne Road, One of A Kind, Found & Vision and Reluxe in Residence at 40 Golbourne Road which is open until 30th October.

Which exhibitions are you looking forward to visiting this spring?

Yinka Shonibare’s ‘Suspended States‘ at the Serpentine until 1st September, Georg Baselitz’s ‘A Confession of My Sins’ at White Cube Bermondsey until 16th June, Venice Biennale 2024 until 24th November, Jack Kabangu’s Smiling Through the Pain’ at BEERS London until 1st June and, as always, the Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition 2024 which opens on 12th June. 

Bamford was founded on the belief that we need to live consciously and respect nature’s resources. What sustainability markers do you look for when discovering new clothing brands?

Fabrics are very important to me. They need to be durable and made from sustainable, natural/recycled fibres using practices that reduce the impact on the environment. I also look for where the brand is based, their production carbon footprint, supply chain, plus Fairtrade for production workers. It’s also important to check if the brand has the right certifications to ensure they meet the right social and environmental criteria i.e. B Corp, GOTS or Oeko-Tex Standard 100.

I love the way you’ve styled our SS24 collection – do you have a favourite piece from the collection?

I’m obsessed with The Matlock Pants. They’re my new go-to trousers and I love the style so much I have them in both colours.

You’re an ambassador for The Prince’s Trust’s Women Supporting Women initiative. Tell me more about what this involves.

Supporting the great work of The Princes Trust in helping women develop the skills and confidence to find a job or to start a business. I organise fundraising, events, dinners and talks, plus advise some of the businesses helped by the Trust. I lend my support to their events and activations throughout the year.

Which innovations within the fashion industry make you feel excited about the future?

Off the top of my head, I’ll be excited when the industry manages to navigate a way to recycle and reuse every piece of clothing – whatever fibres they’re made from – eventually eliminating the use of landfill and the need to produce new fabrics.

Follow Susan on Instagram for more inspiration

Photographed wearing Bamford’s linen waistcoat with matching trousers and handkerchief cotton dress under our unbuttoned sleeveless linen dress by Dan Hall