Helena Bonham-Carter: 'Just because we are shutting up shop on the baby making front doesn’t mean we stop being women'

Helena Bonham Carter in a long pink and red scarf
Helena Bonham Carter wears black cashmere lace knit ballet wrap, £475 and Phenomenal Woman scarf, £225, all Brora x Save the Children

Helena Bonham Carter, Erin O'Connor and Laura Bailey have teamed up with Brora to create a delectable charity knitwear collection, says Bethan Holt

We live in the age of inspirational-slogan clothing: T-shirts declaring that ‘We Are All Wonder Women’ and sweaters proclaiming that we are ‘Winging It’ will surely go down in fashion history as the epitome of the 2010s. Trust Helena Bonham Carter to take the concept and give it her idiosyncratic kooky-chic twist. She’s designed a huge shawl/ scarf hybrid for cashmere label Brora bearing the words ‘Phenomenal Woman’, the title of a Maya Angelou poem. It’s inspired by the sashes worn by the suffragettes (last year was the centenary of votes for women) but it’s also a little bit school uniform, a bit football scarf. Bonham-Carter has designed it, she says, for women of all ages. 

“I wanted to make a scarf for my soon-to-be-teenage daughter, and to furnish her with a confidence that will keep the social media terrors and ‘dislikes’ at bay. It’s not what you look like but how you feel that counts,” she says. But Bonham-Carter’s emboldening knit applies to other generations aside from 11-year-old Nell’s. “I’d also give it to my menopausal fifty-something peers,” she adds, “who remain sexy while our hysterical inner critics detect a new sag and with it, doom. Just because we are shutting up shop on the baby making front doesn’t mean we stop being women! My beautiful friend Kristin Scott Thomas said she feels we become invisible suddenly. I hope the scarf might help say ‘Hello! I am still here!’”

Erin O'Connor

Cashmere Aran Jumper; £495; Cashmere Neck Tie, £85, all Brora x Save the Children

Bonham Carter’s observations will strike a chord with many, but if there’s anyone to prove that menopausal women are most definitely still here, it’s Bonham Carter herself. Not only has she turned designer alongside modelling legends Erin O’Connor and Laura Bailey for Brora’s collaboration with Save the Children (10% of sales go to the charity, and of that, 88p of every pound donated goes directly to helping children) but she’s hit headlines thanks to her relationship with 32-year-old Norwegian writer Rye Dag Holmboe, she’s soon to grace our screens as Princess Margaret in the new series of The Crown (coming to Netflix on November 17 - excellent casting, I’m sure you’ll agree) and she covers this month’s Harper’s Bazaar wearing a series of gorgeously grand gowns, a regal spin on the unique aesthetic which makes her a properly British style leader - her fashion muses, after all, are anybody “who is not afraid to wear a hat.”  

Helena Bonham Carter on the cover of Harper's Bazaar UK December 2019

“Erratic? Experimental? Not beige? No idea really, but others seem to enjoy trying to [describe my style],” she says. “I love clothes and dressing each day is an opportunity to dress up. My cupboard is a dressing up box and I dress according to not only what I want to look like on the outside but whatever I feel like on the inside.” Perhaps her next scarf could read: ‘Be More Helena’.  

More Helena Bonham Carter style guidelines include “absolutely not jeans,” she loves “silky camisoles, small cashmere cardigans for warmth” and  “shoes that give me height with comfort, which basically equates to a chunky platform. I can’t survive or walk in high heels.”

Helena Bonham Carter playing Princess Margaret in The Crown season three Credit: Netflix

She has been a Brora fan ‘since forever’ and a Save the Children ambassador for seven years. The charity is “an amazingly efficient and dynamic organisation. It makes your compassion into a superpower,” she says. “Give some money and you’ll help a child and relieve some pain somewhere in the world – that may be on your doorstep or in a far, far away corner.”

As well as the scarf, which comes in two colourways, Bonham Carter has created a wrap cardigan which “was an attempt to resurrect my favourite old vintage wrap from Brora. I added the velvet ribbon because I’ve always loved velvet trim and also wanted one to feel like a present.” She’s also a fan of a wrap because “you feel snug but you can get fat or thin and it still fits.”

O’Connor and Bailey have created their own dream cashmere pieces for the collection which they all worked on with Brora founder and creative director Victoria Stapleton. Bailey’s co-ordinating striped gloves and Breton tank are the perfect warmers to layer over anything from pretty dresses to jeans and white shirts or polo necks, in line with what the model describes as her ‘tomboy princess’ style, while her ‘Bardot’ neckline slouchy sweaters are a lovely collision of cosy and sensual. 

Left to right: Erin O'Connor, Helena Bonham Carter and Laura Bailey

Erin wears cashmere aran jumper, £495 and cashmere neck tie, £85; Helena Bonham Carter wears black cashmere lace knit ballet wrap, £475 and cashmere Phenomenal Woman scarf, £225; Laura Bailey wears cashmere textured bardot, £495, all from Brora x Save the Children

O’Connor’s creations riff on the Aran knits which her Irish relatives would send her as a child - she remembers “the feel, the intoxicating smell and the brown paper it came wrapped in” and now scours vintage and charity shops for jumpers which recreate that hand-me-down or homespun feel. Her cashmere knits come in raspberry or royal blue, which are perfect for the festive season, or classic can’t-go-wrong navy.  

Then there’s the fabulous striped knit she added for children, which you might find yourself wishing she’d made in adult sizes. “I am also completely obsessed with stripes and clashing colours. It felt very natural for me to want to design a kids jumper as my own children are a huge part of my daily inspiration. I always want to borrow their clothes”. O’Connor, famed for her swannish look, also loves a neck detail so has created sweet cashmere polka dot ties for a final flourish. 

She is gracious in choosing her favourite piece from the collection, though: “Helena Bonham Carter’s Phenomenal Woman scarf - feminism at its finest, literally.”  

Brora x Save the Children is available now at Brora.co.uk, from £85

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