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INTERVIEW: How style guru Trinny Woodall inspired a new generation of fashion followers

Trinny Woodall
Trinny Woodall

Trinny Woodall looks me straight in the eye with the knee-quivering stare of a military commander and says: “You know, only 25% of people can actually wear black.”

Stealing from her gaze, I allow my eyes to drift down to the outfit I picked out that morning, pre-dawn and very much pre-coffee, and realise I’m wearing every shade of black imaginable. I could almost pass for a Ringwraith.

Thankfully, her next sentence lifts me out of the pit of despair almost as quickly as I sank: “But you can, funnily enough. Even though you are a red head, you have a very clear eye with a darker ring around the iris. That’s how I know someone can pull off black.”

And then I’m back again: “But, my gosh, you do need some blusher.”

This exchange is Trinny in a nutshell – equally terrifying and lovable, often within the same breath – and sums up exactly why she’s forged such a successful career as the average woman’s best-friend-cum-fashion-guru since she first appeared on our screens in 2001.

Rising to fame alongside co-presenter Susannah Constantine on BBC 2’s reality series What Not To Wear, Trinny is known for her direct, no-nonsense advice, which I always assumed was simply a Simon Cowell-esque “bad cop” character developed to make good TV.

However, it’s clear after sitting down to chat over fresh green juice smoothies, that I couldn’t have been more wrong.

© Richard McLaren/ITV
Trinny and Susannah

As we go from discussing fashion faux pas (yes, even Trinny regrets some of her sartorial choices) to body confidence, I realise Trinny’s straightforward, unsolicited approach is no act. She cares deeply about the women she helps.

Being able to “diagnose” someone’s hang-ups has become second nature for the stylist, and helping women feel better in their skin is something she says has always been at the heart of her career.

“We knew we wanted to talk about real women’s bodies, what we liked, what we loved, and what we didn’t like – and we had quite strong views,” explained the 56-year-old with a wry smile.

“But what’s interesting is historically how What Not To Wear is perceived now. I read an article recently that said we were ‘ruthless’ with our advice. I never in one single show felt we were ruthless.

“The emotional state of the woman is what guides how she dresses, what make-up she puts on, everything. With all women, whether they’re in Israel, India or England, there’s a very big similarity around our perception of our face or body, how we feel comfortable in ourselves or not, and those factors help us to be honest.

“To me, the series was all about the relationship we had with each woman. I loved that show, and I think when we went on to do more that journey became even more personal.”

After starting out as a weekly newspaper column, the series was broadcast in countries around the world, including America, and later inspired four fashion advice books, before the duo left the BBC to launch ITV series, Trinny & Susannah Undress in 2006.

But in recent years, it hasn’t been television work that has kept Trinny busy – although regular appearances on This Morning ensure she’s never too far from a studio camera.

Instead, over the last five years, Trinny has built an online social media community of more than 500,000 fashion-lovers, who watch as she videos everything from her morning beauty routine to outfit of the day tutorials.

She even pops up, unannounced, in high street shops, such as Zara, to film live for her audience as she riffles through new season collections. This quirky practice has, on occasion, left her being asked to leave by perplexed staff who clearly aren’t part of the “Trinny Tribe”.

But it’s this down-to-earth, easy, fun and spontaneous charm that has won her a new generation of fans, who want their celebrities to feel “just like them”.

Unlike many of her contemporaries, who face trolls, backlash and cruel comments, Trinny admits her foray into social media has been a positive choice, helping her stay connected with followers, and her confidence has grown alongside her subscribers.

She explained: “When you’re in a partnership with somebody you sort of, unintentionally, suppress half of your personality.

“With Susanna and I, she was cosy and cuddly and, I was sort of more straightforward, the ‘let me give you information’ type.

“I never thought I was funny. I’m not intentionally humorous but because I don’t care and I’ll do whatever I want when I’m chatting to people, they’re engaged and entertained. It makes me incredibly happy that I can engage them on my channels. It’s been incredibly freeing.

She added: “I think social media is the most exciting thing. I’ve never done photographs on social, it’s always been about having an immediate connection with video, and that’s the joy of social compared to, say, a TV show. Nobody is telling me what to do or editing me, so I feel like I can really blossom as myself.

“Online, we can make our own TV. We don’t have to have somebody else ‘cut’ us.

“I recently did a Facebook Live video and there were people commenting from 32 countries in 80 different locations around the world. How unbelievable and fantastic is that?”

And does her age have something to do with this new-found confidence?

“Absolutely. 100%. When I was about 28, I started my career again at a time when all my friends had been working away.

“I had terrible imposter syndrome as I had done so many jobs in such a short period of time that I felt very under-qualified in anything I did.

“So, by the time I was 35 and I was doing the column and I started in telly, that was probably the time I started to really feel that I fit in my own skin. And even more so 20 years later.”

“I don’t care, I do whatever I want… it’s so incredibly freeing”

Over years of working with women of all shapes and sizes, Trinny says the best advice she can give is to dress for your body, rather than trying to fit into a style that’s on trend.

She said: “Style and dressing well starts with appreciating your body shape. For example, so many women who are 40 plus and heading towards perimenopause are dealing with, say, their waist changing.

“There’s a tendency to just wear a shirt untucked from trousers or get a jacket in a size bigger, instead of actually thinking about what you do still like and highlighting that. It’s like somebody having bad skin and wearing a blanket of thick foundation.

“It’s really important to understand what’s great, what you still want to show off, and what you want to cover while still revealing your shape.

“Once you’ve done that, it’s looking at your basic, classic essentials that aren’t boring.”

As well as her social media career, Trinny launched her cosmetics brand, Trinny London, in 2017, and has made it her mission to tackle the beauty industry with the same no-nonsense approach as she did with fashion.

From hatred for “unrealistic” models (“The beauty industry has been so Photoshop-led that even cool, brilliant women like Helen Mirren and Jane Fonda have been altered!”) to ensuring her stackable foundations, lipsticks and eyeshadows are inclusive for all, it’s clear Trinny is still hell-bent on shaking up the status quo in her own unique style.

As our interview comes to an end, I’m resolute in the knowledge I’ve had the full and unbridled Trinny Treatment, especially after she insists on rubbing off my “cakey” make-up to film a make-over video for Instagram.

But there’s one topic still niggling away at me – just what is so wrong with wearing all back?

“Black is a way of camouflaging the character of women, I believe that quite strongly,” she explained. “Dressing and make-up should always bring you joy.”

And I suspect a world without Trinny’s infectious enthusiasm would be quite joyless, too.


Trinny’s cosmetic carry on​

When it came to her make-up range, Trinny was inspired by years spent lugging heavy handbags filled with a variety of lotions, potions and creams.

Aiming to make her cosmetics more portable, she created a versatile collection of BB creams, shimmers, blushes and shadows, as well as a Match2Me quiz that helps women choose the right colour and shade for their skin tone.

She explained: “I would always carry around so much as, my whole life, I’ve travelled a lot.

“I might have been staying at boyfriends but living at home, or going to work and then straight out again.

“I always want to have everything with me all the time, so I would have this big make-up bag.

“I used to always take maybe a bit of a Bobby Brown stick and mix it with Vitalumière Aqua from Chanel or I’d mix lipsticks with bronzer to make a blusher colour. So that became the cornerstone of the brand.

“When women wear my make-up I want someone to come up to them and say, ‘Oh have you changed your skincare routine?’

“Inclusiveness is not just about skin tone – it’s about age, body size, about so many other things.

“We’ve formulated the range so it works across all age groups, from 18 to 80.”