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LONDON — When it comes to first impressions, Petra Ecclestone certainly fits the mold of a 22-year-old heiress. The youngest daughter of Bernie Ecclestone — the billionaire chief executive of Formula 1 racing — is possessed of tanned, Bambi-like limbs, tumbling blonde locks and doe eyes that she’s accentuated with sooty mascara. When she arrives at the sleek Knightsbridge showroom where her new accessories line, Stark, is on display, she’s wearing a form-fitting, printed Mary Katrantzou mini-dress and totters on peep-toe ankle boots.
If any further proof were needed of her “It” girl status, Ecclestone made a major splash in the U.S. earlier this summer when she bought the late Aaron Spelling’s 100-room mansion for a reported $85 million. The move somewhat scuppered Ecclestone’s mission to remain low key when she launches Stark during New York Fashion Week this month.
“I wasn’t [well known in the U.S.] before the house but, yeah, my plan’s kind of gone down the drain,” says Ecclestone, who chuckles gamely at the new-found interest in her for buying one of America’s most expensive properties. Before the deal, she was best known in Europe for popping up at London events with her 27-year-old sister, Tamara.
Despite having all the trappings of what she acknowledges is a “very fortunate and privileged background,” Ecclestone is adamant that she’s taking her foray into accessories as seriously as if she were a complete unknown. “[My background] doesn’t change that I’m trying to be a successful designer,” says Ecclestone, her tones hinting at her education at the Francis Holland School, a posh London girls school. “Obviously people are going to have preconceived ideas that it’s not me working, that I don’t come to the office, like I do — I don’t think you can ever change that. Hopefully we’ll have a good reaction and [the collection] will speak for itself.”
The collection in question is a line of evening handbags made from ultraluxurious materials such as python skin, alligator skin and nappa leather, many adorned with gold studs or Swarovski crystals and designed to appeal to the jet-setting types of Ecclestone’s ilk. “They’re just really kind of fun, glitzy pieces,” she says, adding that the collection is aimed at women “my age and a bit older, obviously because of the price points.”
Stark starts at $495 and runs up to $4,795 for a boxy, alligator skin clutch with a metal clasp molded into a roaring panther motif. Ecclestone makes frequent trips to factories in Italy to source the materials, picking out the different skins and crystals. The bold pink, orange and green leathers and skins she’s used in the first collection are inspired by Tracey Emin’s works (the artist is a favorite of Ecclestone’s.) And a portion of the sales of the bags with the panther clasp will go toward Britain’s Meningitis Trust, which Ecclestone has worked with since she contracted viral meningitis as a teenager.
Before launching Stark, Ecclestone had a men’s wear collection, Form, which won major stockists including Harrods and Matches in London, before she shuttered it late last year. Ecclestone, who turned down a place at London’s Central Saint Martins to start Form, decided to wind down the collection because, she says, it was “the wrong timing” to launch a new men’s label at “the peak of the recession.”