“Let me just take my grill out,” says fashion designer Rhiannon Jones through a mouthful of gold. Using two-inch scarlet nails, she plucks it deftly from her teeth and smiles as she pops it back in its box. “That’s the thing about grills… they look good, but they make you sound ridiculous.”
I meet Jones at her label Bol$hie’s flagship store on the Kingsland Road, a one room ode to all things Rhiannon. One white, monogrammed wall is home to a giant fish tank, the floor is covered in 100 dollar bills, the ceiling mirrored. A gold strip pole on a pink glittery podium cements the feeling that you’ve just walked into a rapper’s bedroom.
Not even Jones’ shop can prepare you for what she is like in person; part Barbie doll, part gangster’s moll, she arrives at our interview in a diamante encrusted tracksuit and patent Dior snowboots, a white and gold Bol$hie baseball cap balanced backwards on her head. Beautiful golden eyebrows crown her huge blue eyes, and her Rapunzel-style platinum blonde hair passes her waist. As she perches on a pink plastic throne (“they have the same ones in Disneyland,” she tells me) I realise that Jones has accomplished something extremely rare in east London today: she’s one of a kind.
At just twenty years old, the Hull-born designer is something of an East End enigma. She left school at fourteen and saved her waitressing wages, moving to London one week after her sixteenth birthday. I wonder if her family were worried about her. “To be honest, I didn’t really live with them,” she replies shortly, the unblinking blue eyes honest and clear.
She shrugs: “I had quite a bad record from school and I couldn’t get into any colleges to do anything. The only one that would take me was Hackney College, so I went and did pattern cutting there.
“I always made my own clothes, because I didn’t like anything I saw in the shops. I didn’t ever want to be a fashion designer though.
“I was given a ticket to fashion week, so I went, and everyone was taking my picture; they thought I’d made an effort but, y’know, it was just what I wore. And somehow, this guy at Machine A [a now defunct Soho clothes shop] saw a photo of me, and asked me to come for a meeting.”
“I took some clothes to show him, and he bought them off me, every last thing – but they were my clothes, innit, so then I had no more clothes, and I had to make more, and…”
I begin to realise just how clever Jones is as the interview goes on. In situations where others might spiral into panic, she retains total control. She recalls the first time she was asked for an invoice: “And I thought, what the f*** is an invoice? And I Googled it, taught myself the business side of things, and I’ve been doing my own accounts ever since.”
She runs the business alone. “Money, press, deliveries, pick-ups, design, make; I don’t have anyone who helps me,” she explains, pausing to admire one of my rings. “I know what people think, but I was born with this brain. No one supports me – I work hard, I work on my own. I haven’t got some million pound investor, or even a ten pound investor.”
In spite of the lack of investment, Jones plans to open a store in New York this year, and after that, thanks to Bol$hie’s international popularity, Japan and LA: “But I’ll always have an office here, and this shop will always be here.”
The fact that she is so often underestimated and overlooked visibly and understandably frustrates her. She gestures behind her at a range of garments bearing a repeat pattern of the Virgin Mary: “I designed this collection in 2010, but people have only started picking up on it now. It’s frustrating, but I’ve got used to it.”
Press attention is sporadic, but when pushed, Jones does admit that she has some famous clients. Who are they? She shrugs awkwardly: “Just… some popstars.” “Some popstars” include Jessie J and Lady Gaga.
Towards the end of the interview, Jones is relaxed, telling stories about her youth. She seems to have come out of the womb ‘hustling’, as she puts it, recounting childhood moneymaking schemes. Her warm, funny, unassuming demeanour is completely at odds with the thug princess look that she wears so well. She says she can’t divulge too much about the next collection, only that “it’s going to be incredible,” and that her close friend Chloe Mafia, an escort who shot to temporary fame on the X Factor, might be involved. Talk eventually turns to what she might name her new pet snake (options range from Dollar to Jesus to Strawberry Ribena): “And the fish, we’ve still got to name all the fish…”
You’re on Hackney Council’s website, I tell her before I go, in a section about important people who live here. Her lovely mouth opens slightly, and she crows excitedly: “AM I?!” she beams, and then calms down a bit, sniffing, “Well, I mean, I should be, the amount of council tax I’m paying…”