She's famously prickly, acid-tongued and will not suffer fools gladly. But should anyone think that an upcoming wedding, village life and a turn to fashion design have mellowed Lily Allen, the answer is: not one bit.
At Dubai fashion store Boutique 1 on Tuesday evening, the British singer-turned-boutique-owner-turned-cake-baker (she's catering her fiance's cricket teas) found herself surrounded by some of the city's most stylish figures, all of whom hoped for a chance to chat and have a picture taken with Allen during an event to launch her new fashion collection. Allen obliged them with a few minutes as soon as she walked into the JBR store, before heading to the ladies room, with her sister and business partner Sarah Owen hot on her heels.
I wouldn't normally mention a celebrity going to the bathroom, as it's plumbing some rather low depths, had it not been so strikingly soon after she arrived at her own event. "Poor thing," the whispers went around the room. "Is it Spanish cucumbers?"
That, we don't know. Perhaps the hand shaking was all a little too much for her, as her smiles faded quickly after the camera shutters had snapped. She then sat down to talk to the event's VVIPs, obliging other fans with only a few minutes of photography.
What we do know is that Allen was wearing one of her own designs, from her Lucy In Disguise range, inspired by her love of vintage clothing. She started the Covent Garden, London, boutique with Owen, her half sister (they share a mother; Allen's father is cult British actor Keith Allen, currently starring as the Sheriff of Nottingham in the TV series Robin Hood), last year, stocking vintage pieces from across the decades. The duo recently decided to supplement the collection with their own designs, inspired by the vintage pieces that didn't quite cut it for sale.
"We came across so much stuff that wasn't quite there in terms of being [able] to sell it on the shop floor, but we were attracted to it for some reason," she told tabloid! later that evening. "We'd accumulated so many that we thought, what are we going to do with them? So we used them as inspiration really, to create our own line. We've got an archive of things to be inspired by."
Allen, to be sure, is talented when she puts pen to paper to write a song (her hits include Smile and The Fear), but is quick to insist she's not actually a designer in the practical sense. "Well, I don't sketch. I can't! I would if I could. Sarah and myself and another lady, called Nadia, are the design team, and we have weekly meetings and decide what we want to do. I'll articulate what I want."
The star was wearing one of those designs, which are now stocked in the JBR store — the '60s-style Altamont, priced Dh1,585. All the dresses in the collection are inspired by a certain decade, from the flapper-esque 1920s green beaded dress Speakeasy (as worn by Owen, Dh2,280), to the 1970s style Roxy, a red jumpsuit. The relatively low prices are part of the plan, said Allen. "My fanbase hasn't necessarily got huge bank accounts, so it was important not to isolate them."
Turn the conversation to other topics — say, her June 11 wedding to Sam Cooper — and Allen's lips clamp shut, literally and figuratively. I ask her if, as a musician, the music is an important element. "I haven't really thought about it," she says. Will there be a DJ? "Of course." Will you play British wedding classic Come On Eileen? "Doubt it."
And woe betide anyone who ventures a question about the latest fallen-from-grace Brit, Cheryl Cole, with whom Allen was once embroiled in a spat. Allen's been dragged into the issue, this time by vitriolic newspaper columnist Julie Burchill, who negatively compared Allen's privileged upbringing with the council-estate childhood of Cole. "I Adore Cheryl Cole," wrote Burchill in The Sun on Monday. "I adore the way she spat back at that over-privileged cry-baby Lily Allen when the public-school tool took a poke at her way back in the day."
Allen wasted no time in tweeting a reply. "Julie Birchill, you are an ignorant and bitter old troll, but I guess you know that already. [sic]"
"I was angry with Julie Burchill, it's nothing to do with Cheryl Cole," said Allen on Tuesday. "It's to do with [Burchill] being rude about where I come from and my upbringing. That's not really acceptable. You can't help who your parents are."