Lady Kinvara Balfour: Telling Tales with Clothes

Behind the Seams


A producer, playwright and fashion commentator who has worked for Vivienne Westwood, Kinvara Balfour,  daughter of the 5th Earl of Balfour and niece of the Duke of Norfolk, is a lady of many talents. Currently hosting a series of fashion talks in London (she interviewed Sandy Powell just last month) and New York City (where she'll be speaking with Anna Wintour and Manolo Blahnik), Balfour leads a busy life. Thankfully, we had the chance to ask her a couple of questions before she jetted off to the States for the latest installment in her Fashion In Conversation series...

You seem to have your fingers in many pies at the minute - what came first in terms of your many vocations and which do you enjoy the most?

I think my passion for telling stories – either my own, or those of others  - began at an early age. If I wasn’t mimicking my parents and their friends, I was writing stories and devising endless mini-plays with my sisters - complete with costumes from a wonderful fancy dress box we had. From swanning around the house in fancy dress, I moved on to ‘borrowing’ clothes from my mother’s wardrobe, and that of my aunt Carina (Frost) who was a model for the likes of Ossie Clarke and Biba: they always had something awesome to wear. That passion for fashion was exercised at school when, at 16, I entered the Lloyd’s Fashion Challenge, a national competition in fashion design. I ended up winning the whole thing, as selected by the competition’s judge, Vivienne Westwood. That was a great day. I went on to work for Vivienne for a while - a theatrical experience in itself - and strived to combine my love of fashion, drama and storytelling from then on.

What are you working on at the minute?

I am currently developing a fashion-based TV docu-series in the USA called Fashion Week; if it is successful, I plan to bring the format to countries all over the world. I am also hosting Fashion In Conversation, a series of live and exclusive interviews with global fashion superstars for Apple, which are filmed and screened globally on iTunes.

How is that going? 

The response has been huge, and has reminded me what an appetite there is out there for fashion, costume and creativity in general. In addition, I am an advocate for London’s Royal Court Theatre – a place I deem to be something of a second home in London, I love it so much. If time permits, I would like to complete the new play I am currently trying to write; it’s a dark, modern comedy of manners which calls for several colourful ball gowns and cocktail dresses – I am finding it easier to picture these in my mind than I am the actual words for the script so I have some work to do...

Drama and fashion - you seem to have married the two?

Everything I do seems to combine my love of costume and fashion with my desire to tell stories, be it the plays I have written, my TV show, or my Apple talks.

You recently interviewed Sandy Powell at the Apple Store - it's nice to see costume designers like Sandy being fore grounded by the media - why do you think this has started happening?

Sandy has won 3 BAFTAs, 2 Oscars and has been nominated for 10 of those each, which is more than any British director or actor can claim. She is incredibly talented and very hard-working, and consequently, her work is so prevalent that I think people have taken notice of that. I think the passion for vintage clothing that sprung up in popular culture about 15 years ago has also helped with the fact that costume designers, and the costumes they create, are deemed more precious, beautiful and valuable than before. And popular costume dramas on TV such as Downton Abbey have only served to enhance that sense of interest and respect from the public. We forget that these costume designers aren’t just designers; they are couturiers as well. Like some of the great couturiers in fashion, I think it’s time we put these talented costume designers on the pedestal upon which they belong.

Sandy Powell and Kinvara Balfour in conversation at the Apple store, London

What was the most interesting topic/point/revelation that came from your talk with Sandy?

One of the main things that stood out for me was the fact that as a costume designer, she and her team are making costumes for almost every single character in some films – in Gangs of New York that numbered at around 1,000 – and in addition, there is a team dedicated to making these clothes look worn, old or dirty where needed using special painting methods etc. The amount of work that goes into each costume, as well as each character, is astounding. 

Well said! What do you think of costume designers turning their hand to fashion and vice versa?

From my perspective, the two are one. If you look at the complex and intricate work of any top fashion designer like Alexander McQueen, John Galliano or Valentino, for example, and you compare it with something created by the likes of Sandy Powell in The Other Boleyn Girl or The Young Victoria, they are one and the same. I think we will see more of this overlap in the future; where pret-a-porter fashion designers work on costumes for film and vice versa. For example, most recently, Net-a-Porter launched Capitol Couture by Trish Summerville, a ready-to-wear line from the costume designer of The Hunger Games. This was deemed somewhat radical when it launched this season but I sense it is the start of a huge new trend.

Watch Kinvara's conversation with Sandy Powell here

Attend Kinvara's New York In Conversation series...

Main image by Alex Bramall
Interview by Anastasia Miari