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.

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.”

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