Alice Kahrmann interviews Lady Natasha Rufus Isaacs, co-founder of Beulah London.

Beulah London is a quintessentially British brand; high-end, exclusive, its founders the decidedly aristocratic Lady Natasha Rufus Isaacs (on the right) and Lavinia Brennan. A fashion enterprise that appeals to ‘professional women or the wives of high net worth individuals’; an aspirational ethos married with elegance, modernity married with vintage, ‘timeless classical elegance’ brought bang up to date with rich bright colours, sharp tailoring and dare we say it edge, to counteract anything on the wrong side of floral. But at it’s core it’s more than that, because it’s a business with grit; Rufus Isaacs, tagged by the Daily Mail in 2011 as one of the most powerful posh people under thirty (‘How embarrassing… I think they referred to us as a snow label’) is really rather charming; bright, astute, witticisms aside, the pair are on a mission, and it’s one that involves far more than just clothes…
Trafficking, human trafficking is their bête noire, an issue brought to the fore by their faith. That’s the second thing that’s unexpected, how vocal the pair are on the Christian ethics to which they are allied, ‘I think definitely it was actually sparked by the Vicar’s daughter; she went out and volunteered in an aftercare home with women who were being trafficked in Delhi. It’s something very close to the church, it’s all about giving back to the community.’
The aforementioned church is Holy Trinity Brompton, a vast congregation nestled in the leafy enclave behind London’s Brompton Oratory (where for a time Brennan and Rufus Isaacs both worked), a centre of worship where spiritual experiences abound, priests lay their hands on you, tears promptly flow, it’s a training ground that inspires, educates and galvanizes. So it’s no surprise it’s also the mecca where it all started.
After leaving their jobs at HTB the pair volunteered in an after care home, working in the production unit during the afternoons where they had the idea to ‘set up a business whereby we could employ the women, and give them an alternative livelihood.’ This experience, cemented by a visit to an aftercare home located in Atulya, in The Delhi slums, resulted in The Beulah Trust, its ethos ‘the butterfly effect’, giving trafficked women work through the manufacturing of canvas bags that come with every purchase.
A love of clothes with a charitable enterprise at its core; ‘I’ve always loved dressing up in my mum’s vintage dresses,’ Rufus Isaacs reminisces, ‘and Lav used to make her own, so it was something that came very naturally to us, and looking back slightly crazy but often I think it’s the best way because if you know you get freaked out. We didn’t quite realise how to set up a business, from the financials through to the design, so we’ve kind of just learnt along the way and made mistakes as we’ve gone along.’
Mistakes or not the pair have barely put a foot wrong, with significantly rising sales particularly this year, ‘we’re very strong in America’ (a third of sales come from the US) and their own pop up shop amongst the well heeled boutiques of Elizabeth Street. ‘Lav and I designed the first few collections and knew that we loved a modern vintage feel; we used to have customers come into Lavinia’s mum’s basement and get feedback. They all loved the dresses with sleeves and the more elegant pieces so we slightly tailored them; it was the kind of style that naturally progressed and then we took on a designer for spring/summer 2014 who’s brilliant.’
Initially it was all about creating ‘a beautiful dress made of the finest silk… We didn’t really think about our audience, and then as we progressed we definitely did a customer survey and our customer is very much a professional woman, but also a real activist who wants social change, a real ambassador for our brand, someone who loves the story behind it, which is really key for us.’ Cate Blanchett would be an ideal customer, or Queen Rainier of Jordan, ‘everything looks amazing on her, she can’t put a foot wrong.’
The day-to-day running of the enterprise has seen the pair take on defined roles, with Rufus Isaacs looking after press and marketing, contacting editors and showing them our new autumn/winter collection, whilst Brennan looks after production, design and sampling as well as overseeing finances, ‘I think naturally, Lav was good with Excel and I was useless so she naturally wanted to take on the numbers and then the design and all the fabrics she’s naturally good at, the sourcing, she has a real eye for that, and then I would be contacting buyers and press, so it was a natural progression. At the beginning we started doing everything together so now having more defined roles is a lot easier.’
Visibility in the public eye naturally followed, ‘It doesn’t come naturally to us and we hate public speaking, we had to speak the other day in front of 70 lawyers at Slater and Lay which was absolutely terrifying.’ Help came primarily from friends and family, though the pair, ‘spent the first year or so getting as many people as possible’s advice and actually sometimes you just have to listen to your few key mentors.’
‘One of our biggest mistakes,’ early on Rufus Isaacs says, ‘was growing too quickly. We basically went into department stores in the second season of selling, which looking back was way too early, because we didn’t have our proper production and factory in place and we didn’t have a designer on board; looking back it was slightly crazy. A lot of people take five or six seasons at least. But in a way it was good brand exposure, now we really want to concentrate on direct selling to the customer; that works really well for us.’
Valentino is Rufus’s Isaacs favourite designer, ‘timelessly elegant’ that’s her tagline, ‘very romantic.’ And here we are coming full circle back at their faith; ‘we love talking about it, but we’d never force it upon anyone…’ An ethos which runs through to the aesthetic of the brand itself. ‘I suppose the reason that we feel so passionately about it is that we want to produce beautiful dresses that can empower women, the idea is that when you put them on there’s some kind of freedom but also there’s our work with the charity. We want to talk about it, tell people; it’s also something that’s going on on our doorstep; there are so many women who have been trafficked here in London.’
Which leads to Rufus Isaac’s standout moment, ‘It was when we went to Luxor in Egypt for a UN conference and we were nominated for Business and Dedication to Commerce and Human Trafficking. That was incredible, Demi and Ashton Kutcher (when they were together) were sitting on a table right next to us, that was probably the most surreal moment, really cool.’ Much like their motto, stitched into the inside of every dress ‘Dance as though no one is watching you, love as though you've never been hurt before, sing as though no one can hear you, live life as though heaven is on earth’ just another way of saying, ‘Stay true to your vision - and don't compromise.’
Alice Kahrmann, 2014