Sunday Sit-Down With… Madeleine Bowden
The ‘stylist to the stars’ talks career highlights, creating a capsule wardrobe and nailing tricky maternity style
By Jenny Brownlees
After living in the North East and attending university here, stylist Madeleine Bowden began her career assisting Fashion Editors at world-renowned publications such as ELLE, The Telegraph and InStyle.
Later transitioning into the world of commercial and celebrity styling, she established herself by working in television and as assistant stylist to Nicole Scherzinger. Her work going from strength to strength, she went on to style singer Jessie J’s Arena Tour, which led to Madeleine becoming Jessie’s personal stylist for red carpet appearances, television, music videos, press events and tours.
Now, the freelance creative regularly styles a whole host of celebrities, as well as fashion editorials and advertising campaigns for commercial giants such as John Frieda, Newlook, L’Oreal, and The Outnet, to name just a few.
We caught up with Madeleine to chat about how she’s forged a successful career in the fashion industry.
What do you love most about the North East?
I absolutely love the natural beauty of the North East. I’m from Northumberland and there are just so many incredibly beautiful places around there. I love visiting Alnwick and Durham, and will always make sure I visit Aidan’s Kitchen in Newcastle whenever I’m up – they do the best brunch!
You studied Fashion Journalism at Sunderland University. How did this help prepare you for your career?
Sunderland Uni was great – they have amazing facilities and a lot of creative courses and resources on campus at your disposal. They also have established connections with world-renowned publications and a host of successful alumni, so are happy to put students in touch with industry insiders, as well as holding talks and seminars where you have the chance to meet influential members of the fashion industry.
So you didn’t feel the need to study in London?
I honestly don’t think you need to study in London to have a successful career in fashion. If you have the drive and work ethic, there’s absolutely no reason why studying anywhere else should hinder your chances. Living, staying or working in London after studying is advantageous though, because there are a lot of opportunities there. But depending on your particular chosen path, there’s no reason why you can’t gain those skills then come back to the North East to continue your career.
Your career is one many would like to emulate. What advice would you give to anyone looking to work in fashion styling?
At the beginning of your career, always say yes to everything (obviously, within reason) and try to see everything as an opportunity – no matter how small or insignificant the job may seem, you never know who you’re going to meet, who they may know or what it will lead to. Also: assist, assist, assist! Assisting established fashion stylists is invaluable when starting out. It’s an ideal way to hone your skills.
I’d also encourage people to connect with fellow creatives – photographers, hair and makeup artists – the North East is full of incredibly talented people, so get creative and plan your own test photoshoots.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
In terms of succeeding? ‘It has to be someone, so why not you?’ When it comes to work ethic: ‘Always be the hardest working person in the room, but make the least fuss’. That’s still something I always look for in assistants.
Do you have a favourite moment in your career so far?
There are so many! I’ve been fortunate enough to do three world tours with Jessie, so have seen some incredible places.
One moment that particularly stands out is when I styled Jessie for Rockin’ Rio in Brazil a couple of years ago. There were 80,000 people in the crowd and we decided a couple of hours before the show that we wanted to do a quick change into another outfit halfway through the set. I had an incredible Swarovski crystal dress with me, but it needed to be completely lined, a mic pack and band added and underwear sewn in – I was literally sewing it together up until 10 minutes before Jessie went on stage! After the quick change, I was at the side of the stage with my heart in my mouth and a dressing gown in my hand in case it all fell apart! Thankfully it didn’t – she looked incredible and I will remember that gig forever.
Can you share any fashion insider tips with us?
I live by the mantra: ‘buy better, not more’. I will only buy something if I think I’m going to wear it for years to come, and if it will work in at least three outfits in my existing wardrobe. I’ve spent years curating my wardrobe and have a capsule of staples that I wear every season. I then add a few pieces seasonally to update it, or nod to a trend.
My top five must-haves are:
A great black blazer
Jeans that make you feel great
A really well-made cotton t-shirt
A beautiful cashmere jumper
A crisp white shirt
Tell us about your perfect Sunday…
My ideal Sunday involves a lazy morning in bed with my husband and dog, fresh croissants and an oat milk cappuccino, followed by a long dog walk in the country (I’m lucky enough to live near incredible countryside). Then home for a roast and a bath, followed by relaxing on the sofa watching whatever I’m obsessed with on Netflix (currently it’s OZARK). Leggings, chunky socks and an oversized cashmere jumper is my outfit of choice.
Congratulations on your pregnancy! What have you found helpful when dressing a growing bump?
Thank you! I’ve found dressing while pregnant really challenging, especially as someone who is style-conscious – I’m convinced people who make maternity wear have never actually been pregnant! I found trying to stay as close to how I dress was the easiest thing for me, as I refuse to spend hundreds of pounds on cheap clothes that I’ll likely not wear again. I’m wearing oversized shirts, jumpers, cardigans, leggings and stretchy knit dresses or tops (layering has been key), so I haven’t had to buy much maternity wear. I would wear all those items postnatally, too.