• Spoken with Style

How it all began

From working backstage at the first, one-night-only, Armani runway show, to my days in Vogue House, London. Read how my decade-long career in fashion began.

Sarah Hayley Owen
Trying to "sit still" aged 2 years!

I distinctively remember the feeling of frustration when my punishment for being a rebel, for not doing as I was told or for being stubborn, was to SIT STILL.  My desire and willfulness to want to accomplish everything and always be busy has continued throughout my life.  Over the past four years I have been taught by my (now) husband and then boyfriend how to enjoy one thing at a time, to relax. 

I grew up in a small hamlet in the Cotswold countryside.  My school was three miles down the smallest of country lanes, with only 28 students when I started.

My Grandma (Nanna) lived seven miles away in the nearest town, Stow on the Wold and to me this was an extension of home.  My Mum was born in the house which my Nanna lived in for all of her life. It was the most idyllic community.  Everyone said hello each morning, we all knew each other. It was the happiest of places to call home. Every Sunday we would spend the day with her. Church together in the morning and then we would have scones, with jam and cream, while Nanna began cooking a traditional roast dinner. Roast Turkey, Roasted Potatoes, Yorkshire Puddings and Stuffing.  It took sometime for Nanna to prepare lunch so this was my time to perform to my Mum and Dad.  Standing on this small children's size wooden chair I would sing, tell a joke, read from a pile of vintage books, or dance. 

At eight years old I joined the local Church choir, after my small solo performance in a nativity play was received well by the Choir Master and Vicar's wife.  I can't say I remember loving singing at that age...instead it seemed more innate than that. I just sang, all of the time. I don't even think my Parents realized I was any good until Mr Lewis, the Choir Master and later someone who became like a Grandfather to me, took them aside and said I should learn a musical instrument to help with my musical education.  I started learning the Piano, taught by Mr Lewis and at each lesson I would have the opportunity to sing and dance. 

​"Everyone said hello each morning, we all knew each other. It was the happiest of places to call home."

I had started ballet lessons a year previously and I loved it. Learning the Piano helped me to understand tempo and rhythm. Mr Lewis was a genius, in the very sense of the word. He recognized my love for singing and performance, years before I did. 

My favorite "look" a black velvet and satin dress

I started singing lessons at 14 years old and it was then that I decided I wanted to be on the stage, singing and dancing!  What I overlooked at this time was my love of art, literature and creativity.

I would come home from school and I would sit drawing 'fashion designs', write stories or make something with the paper from toilet rolls and old yogurt pots!  With thanks to my parents for taking me to interesting places and giving me such excitement everyday I had a well established imagination.

"I would come home from school and I would sit drawing fashion designs, write stories or make something..."

I loved being creative and I felt an enormous happiness when I was able to express this, although it wasn't until I was advised by my intended Music College, to defer my place, in order to protect my voice, and to come back when  I was at least 30 years old. I was stunned, singing was on my life plan and suddenly I didn't know what to do, although I knew I needed a back up. 

The next day I was at my school, finishing my class in the Art Department, I was working on a hand-painted silk scarf. My next class was music,  I walked inside and everyone began to ask me about my work.  The silk print was painted like rippled water, I was hand embroidering, adding glass bugle beads and sequins on to it to resemble waves. "Sarah, you should make these to sell" said one class friend. "Wow, Sarah...can I look inside your sketchbook?" asked another.  Over the next twenty minutes, the music lesson was abandoned and instead everyone was discussing my work, including my Music teacher. 

​After the lesson I thought about how I would go about working in the art world. I ran back to the art department to ask my teacher her thoughts and I met the same encouragement. "You're a natural designer" she said.

"I decided that I wanted to work in magazines, although I wanted to learn how to make garments, in order to be able to understand how to critical analyze them. I didn't at the time realize how rare this point of view was!"

That summer I decided I needed experience in the fashion world.  In what became, my typical attitude, I aimed for the best and wrote to the British Fashion Council to allow me to visit London Fashion Week. Unprecedented back then, this wasn't the same fashion week we know today, I was given access to what was called 'The Exhibition'.  I spent five days working with Jenny Packham at her stand and gained more experience than I ever thought would be possible.

Next on my list of work experience was the fashion department of the Times Newspaper and by the time I left school I had placements at The Guardian and The Gloucestershire Echo. 

At this point I decided that I wanted to work in magazines, although I wanted to learn how to make garments, in order to be able to understand how to critical analyze them. I didn't at the time realize how rare this point of view was.  I began my year at the wonderful Art School, City and Guild's of London Art School, where I met Jo, my Professor who was a Stylist.  I admired the school's philosophy for all Professor's to be part time and working in the field they taught, during this time.  Jo invited me and my friend, Polly, who was the only other student specializing in fashion, to dress backstage at London Fashion Week.  We worked for a total of 10 shows and I loved the buzz and the chaos.

Anna Wintour was backstage at Aquascutum and wanted to see the clothes before the show began.  I held up the next look my model Sophie, was going to wear, it was a wool blend coat, with digital print flowers.  I was paying attention so much I didn't get time to be dazed or stunned with my encounter with Ms Wintour. Within a few moments we were running around, ensuring all the models were in their correct looks. 

Sophie, my Aquascutum model.

"Giorgio Armani had arrived secretly in London for a music and fashion show extravaganza, to take place at Earls Court.  Our role was to cast models, organize all of the collections."

After my foundation I was offered a place at London College of Fashion to study Womenswear, Surface Pattern Textiles, and before I started my degree, my career began. Jo, offered me the opportunity to work backstage as Assistant Head.  At the time I didn't know which designer I was working with because it was top secret.