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Frankly Speaking: 'Ab Fab' Inspiration Lynne Franks

With new episodes of the cult comedy on the way, WWD checks in with the real life Edina Monsoon.

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There’s an aura of peace and quiet industry at B.Hive, the cozy, women-only business club in Covent Garden founded by London’s former p.r. queen Lynne Franks. There’s a whiff of fresh coffee in the air as young entrepreneurs tap on computer keyboards or hold quiet tête-à-têtes in the sunny, whitewashed sitting rooms.

Franks, her long dark hair spilling over shoulders clad in orange Nepalese cashmere, is playing distractedly with Noodle, her jet black Jack Russell-Labrador hybrid, and talking about creating “something of value” for future generations.

Is this really the same woman who passed out in a bowl of onion soup at 5 a.m. after a night out with Katharine Hamnett in Paris? The same one who, eight months pregnant, swept into Studio 54 decked in a dirndl, ankle socks, and purple and orange hair? Is this the inspiration for Edina Monsoon in “Absolutely Fabulous”?

Yes it is.

“I like to think that my taste in clothing was marginally better than Christian Lacroix,” says Franks, referring to crazy Eddie, who was often stuffed like a pork sausage into the designer’s bright duds. “But the show was pretty spot on, actually.”

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And while Franks, 63, has evolved in a variety of ways since she left the business in the early Nineties, so has Eddie. The show’s creator and star, Jennifer Saunders, has penned three new episodes to mark the 20th anniversary of the award-winning TV series that ran from 1992 to 2003. The first of three episodes premieres on Sunday, Jan. 8 on BBC AMERICA and LOGO. The original cast — including Saunders and Joanna Lumley, who plays Eddie’s sidekick Patsy — will return and there will be guest appearances by Stella McCartney, Elly Jackson of La Roux and Emma Bunton.

Franks says she regrets never having taken Saunders — an old friend of hers — up on the offer of appearing in the original series. “By the time it came out in 1992, I had sold my company and was going through a huge life change,” says Franks, who founded Lynne Franks PR when she was 21 and sold it two decades later. “Jennifer had been a friend, and I was being oversensitive and silly. I loved watching the show and I really regret not taking part.”

In the U.K., Franks is widely acknowledged as the mother of fashion, lifestyle, and brand p.r.: She helped to launch the British Fashion Awards, the catwalk shows at London Fashion Week — she and fellow Buddhist p.r.’s would regularly chant for its success each season — and over the years promoted brands ranging from Fiorucci, Donna Karan and Calvin Klein to Coca-Cola, Swatch and Absolut Vodka.

She was one of the first p.r.’s to marry music with fashion, and promoted major fund-raising events including Live Aid, Fashion Aid and Reebok’s Human Rights music tour. Her heyday was Eighties London — a wild mix of go-go Thatcherite capitalism, left-wing radicalism, a thundering music scene and a fashion aesthetic that embraced all things big, brash, neon or New Romantic. Designers seemed to launch overnight, the club scene boomed and the frenetic, fast-talking, neurotic Franks seemed to be in the center of it all.

“No one before Lynne had put fashion and music — or fashion and art — together, no one had made those connections to move brands forward,” says Anna Morel, director and partner at Bryan Morel PR, who worked for Franks in the early Eighties. “We were working in a high-octane, creative environment — and you had to make a difference. Expectations were high. For some people it was too intense — but pretty much everybody who worked for her went on to found their own businesses.”

Hamnett recalls her first meeting with Franks, in the early Seventies: “We were at a trade show, and she came on our stand — it was like an avalanche hitting you. I wanted to hire her immediately. She’s magic — she has the most extraordinary energy, and she was a p.r. genius.” Hamnett also fondly recalls the fashion show that Franks organized on boats on the Seine in Paris. “It was the most genius party — very aristo-posh English — with transvestites.”

In those years, Franks’ lifestyle was not unlike Eddie’s. In her 1997 memoir “Absolutely Now!” Franks talks about her nutty days racing around London to client meetings, jamming wads of cash into her driver’s hands so he could buy the props and refreshments for impromptu parties at the agency; her drug use, and neglecting her young children, Joshua and Jessica.

But as the work, late nights and partying began to take their toll, she began to chart a path out of her old life, turning to Buddhism. It was her fellow p.r., the late Kezia Keeble, founder and president of what is now KCD, who turned her onto it. After much soul-searching — and Native American spiritual rituals — she and her husband, the designer Paul Howie, sold the business. She eventually got divorced and began shifting her career away from fashion and brands to focus on promoting socially and environmentally responsible businesses, women’s empowerment projects and trend-spotting.

RELATED STORY: An Ab Fab Grab Bag >>

In addition to the memoir, she’s written “The Seed Handbook: The Feminine Way to Create Business,” and “Grow: The Modern Woman’s Handbook.” She also holds business and life-coaching seminars at her home in Majorca. Her B.Hive business club network across the U.K., in partnership with the workspace provider Regus, is one of her biggest projects, and she has plans to expand in the U.S., Europe and the Far East.

And while she’s no longer directly involved in the fashion world, she is keeping a watchful eye on it.

“It is so much more safe today!” she says. “Look at the British Fashion Awards last month — 90 percent of the people were wearing safe black outfits. There they were at the event of the fashion industry, and that’s what they choose.”

She also believes the fashion runways aren’t nearly as influential as they used to be.

“What informs the high street is no longer the designers,” she says. “The influences are coming from musicians, and there is a different mood happening. I wonder how much the traditional fashion weeks compare with one tour by Rihanna, Beyoncé or Lady Gaga? Who’s wagging the dog?”

With regard to her own future, Franks says she’s mulling the idea of writing some fiction “based on my early years — the AbFab years and then finding myself. It would be a piss take on the world I’ve known — but a lot more colorful outrageous and fun.” She said she also wants to do a “50 Years of Style and Sound” event, and a big women’s conference, possibly in Majorca.

“I’m in the process of redesigning the rest of my life,” she says. “I have four grandchildren now, and change is afoot. I’m thinking about how we, as a society, can create something of value for our children.”

And while she and Eddie may have evolved in different direction — she is no longer a Buddhist, although she does still meditate — they still have a few things in common.

“Oh, I’m tweeting now @Lynne_Franks,” she says, “and I think Eddie’s doing it, too.”