Talking to Fashion Director Martha Ward

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A chat with Fashion Director Martha Ward

Martha Ward’s official day job is actually two day jobs as Fashion Director for Condé Nast Traveller UK. Parallel to this role, she’s also a sought-after freelance fashion stylist, dressing the likes of Gillian Anderson for public appearances, as well as working with brands including Mulberry, Dior and Bamford.

Martha’s career in fashion got underway at Tatler’s fashion department, from where she stepped into a successful freelance career that took in stints with Harper’s Bazaar, Town & Country and ES magazine. Landing as a contributing editor at Vogue.com, she found herself, rather unexpectedly, becoming the anchor for Vogue TV. Here, she interviewed many of the biggest names of the fashion world, including Karl Lagerfeld, Mario Testino, Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell and Valentino.

We caught up with Martha armed with a few questions.

Firstly, how have you navigated lockdown? What effect has it had on your shoots?

Initially it was a blanket ban on shoots as the new way to navigate them hadn’t quite been carved out, so it felt very odd not whizzing off to Camber Sands, Rajasthan, Northumberland, New York or wherever it may be. But eventually new and safe ways of working with teams in very close contact were established and we were able to get going again for shoots in the UK. For Condé Nast Traveller it was more challenging as travel and destination inevitably has to be at the heart of every shoot, so I had to get very creative with what we could do with a crew in a studio in London.

And on the non-work side, have you adjusted to a different rhythm and coping with lockdown?

I think that, like many in my industry, a bit of a break was truly needed, so I embraced the pause initially as I had become so used to living like a hamster on an ever-spinning wheel, relentlessly juggling too many things at any one time and compromising other (life) things. So it was a great time for reflection and breathing again. I have missed the travel and trips, but I really think the last year has taught us all so many things and the vital one for me being that travelling like we used to is unsustainable. For the environment as well as for ourselves.

Was a career in fashion always on the cards for you?

Oddly, not at all! I knew I wanted to work in magazines in some form as it’s kind of the DNA of my family, so that was where my desire and interest lay. And, after a stint in the press office at Condé Nast, I happened upon a vacancy at Tatler as a fashion assistant. I was interviewed by Natalie Massenet who had seen a clairvoyant the day before who had mentioned a ‘Martha’ coming into her life and I’m almost certain that’s why she gave me the job! Subsequently that then opened up everything for me career-wise. 

How would you describe yourself and what you do?

I would say, of course, that I was a fashion stylist and editor, but really what I do is create imagery and art together with a team. We all have our own input, but each ingredient is critical in the melting pot and it’s the teamwork that creates the wondrous final results. I couldn’t do it on my own. 

And when it comes to dressing actors, I think I work with them to make them look – and feel – their best. And helping them find their best too. It’s a very rewarding job in that sense. 

How would you define your own sense of fashion?

I have never been a slave to fashion or trends, ever. I just gravitate to things and very often those things are feminine and pretty, possibly frilly and embellished, very possibly white and very often vintage too. And I’m a magpie for a collar and a bow. Having said that, I’m also partial to dungarees and cardigans. So my style is either granny-like or child-like. 

Where do you go for inspiration?

I kind of find it in all places – old films, vintage shops, sifting through old shoot imagery (historically magazines, but now on Pinterest or google). The unending sea of inspiration online when you search for Cecil Beaton, Clifford Coffin, Lee Radziwill, Audrey Hepburn, 60s fashion (some of my recurring searches) is quite overwhelming. One search thread leads to about a dozen others. I do a scary amount of ‘screengrabbing’ when I’m down these rabbit holes.

Do you have favourite, always-reliable designers?

It depends on what – and for whom – I’m on the hunt for. If it’s a red carpet dress then it could be Dior, ERDEM, Oscar de la Renta, Valentino – always winners. But if it’s day-to-day it might be Chanel, Gabriela Hearst, Emilia Wickstead or Joseph. If it’s for me personally then I might gravitate to vintage or meander between high street and designer.

Do you have any advice on how to dress well?

I think you just need to be true to yourself.  Wearing things that feel right and comfortable really shows. You don’t need to adhere to the current trends and nor do you need to spend lots of money to look good. High and low is critical and demonstrates creativity. You might find a fantastic dress in Mango and you can team it with a vintage belt and a Chanel pump. Some of my most sensational finds have been in charity shops and from car boot sales.

Did you enjoy your time with Vogue TV? Do you see a future for yourself in television?

Vogue TV was one of the most exciting and fun eras of my career. Back in the day there were endless events, awards ceremonies and openings and streams of interesting and brilliant people would attend and I’d grab them with my Vogue mike (sic) and catch them off guard to get some good chat and stories.

Has a year of Covid lockdowns changed the way you dress?

It certainly has. I haven’t worn a heel or carried a handbag for over a year. My Bensimon pumps are my everyday shoes which I’ve now (quite literally) worn through. Sadly, my Dior slingbacks and Chanel little crossbody bags have been gathering dust at home.  I hope they see the light of day soon as I’ve missed them a bit. And my vintage dresses are looking forward to an outing too.

Where’s the first place you want to travel to once restrictions are eased?

I long to peruse a French brocante. Or any foreign markets. They are literally my livelihood and I’ve missed traipsing round them abroad and picking up treasures and ephemera. I’ve also got a yearning to return to Rajasthan to soak up the life, the culture, the colours and the sights and sounds. It’s a very magical place.

What are you most looking forward to when things ease?

The only thing I have a booking for is the Hockney exhibition at the RA. And a plan to go back to Charleston farmhouse in Sussex which I’ve been to with my mother about a hundred times. I love it deeply and will forevermore find the arts and crafts of the Bloomsbury group a source of inspiration in my life and also work.