Standing outside designer and street style star Natasha Zinko's grand regency home on one of Mayfair's most polished streets, it's easy to feel intimidated. Until you step inside, that is.
Zinko's vivacious personality is as welcoming as her capacious-yet-cosy entrance hall with its sweeping staircase and walls studded with works by the likes of Ukrainian-born French artist Sonia Delauney.
The 38-year-old lives a seemingly charmed life in a beautiful five-bedroom house, making and wearing beautiful clothes (her closet is filled with Dior, Chanel, Mary Katrantzou and Vetements to name just a few) and socialising with fellow beautiful people (hello, Miroslava Duma). But when you meet her, it's hard to begrudge her for it – she exudes a warm, approachable, happiness from every pore.
'Some people always want better but sometimes what you have is already a lot,' she says. 'I'm lucky that I have the love of my life [her husband, Vladimir, 46] and my son [Ivan, 8],' she says.
I read about CSM in a magazine and it described how they turn your way of thinking upside down. I thought, "That's what I need – something to push me".
She's lived in this palatial home with her family for three years but resisted undertaking any drastic redecoration, preferring instead to let its ornate moulding and elevated ceilings do the talking.
'It's very classical, but I've put in some funny pieces to make it more relaxed,' she says, pointing out the various cheery trinkets and toys picked up in Tokyo or during shopping trips with her son that are dotted around her home, hinting at her playful personality.
Born in Odessa, Ukraine, she moved to London in 2006 with dreams of studying at the prestigious Central Saint Martins (CSM), leaving behind a four-year career as a lawyer.
'I don't know why but I was so sure I had to try something else,' she says, describing a lightning-bolt moment while on a plane. 'I read about CSM in a magazine and it described how they turn your way of thinking upside down. I thought, "That's what I need – something to push me."'
She spent her first year in the city completing a foundation course at Chelsea College of Arts before enrolling at CSM to study jewellery design.
In 2011 she founded her eponymous brand, selling her delicate but unapologetically fun fine jewellery out of her nearby Maddox Street store before eventually expanding into womenswear.
Her first ready-to-wear collection was snapped up by hip Moscow store TsUM in 2012 and a pack of street style-savvy fans including blogger Leandra 'Man Repeller' Medine soon followed.
Medine and her ilk are exactly the type of women Zinko designs for. 'People who love experimenting, who love fashion,' she explains. 'She can wear the clothes with a smile. That is essential – I love those girls, Miroslava [Duma], Nasiba [Adilova], they're really inspiring women.'
Though all of Zinko's designs are handmade in west London, she's very much a leading light in Ukraine's fast-growing fashion scene, which has blossomed since the 2014 revolution, helped along by the visibility of vibrant Ukrainian street style stars like Daria Shapovalova and Zinko herself.
'I really love people who have their own style forever but I cannot put myself in that sort of cage because I need freedom,' she says. 'I'm a very moody person and my style changes with me. I will never say never to a trend but I cannot wear only black. One day I'm very feminine, one day I'm very boyish.'
I will never say never to a trend but I cannot wear only black. One day I'm very feminine, one day I'm very boyish.
Her everyday closet – a small, neat room attached to her bedroom – depicts this mindset perfectly, running the gamut from iridescent metallic leather trousers by Loewe to a pair of Gucci's sell-out shoes.
She adores clothes and shopping, a fact made abundantly clear by her wardrobe – or rather, wardrobes; a tour reveals a second, wonderland-like room stacked with her lesser-worn designer finds, everything from fringed Saint Laurent leather to a rainbow of Hermès bags.
She doesn't shop online – 'I love to touch with my hands. It's the same with fabrics, I select them all myself' – and you'll never catch her undertaking a Kondo-style clear out (the Japanese art of decluttering, currently popular in the fashion world).
I really love people who have their own style but I cannot put myself in that sort of cage, I need freedom.
'I cannot give my clothes to somebody. It's my treasure, and I know in five years I'll come back to this dress and want to wear it,' she says. 'It's already happened so many times.' And with a collection like hers, it's easy to see why.
Natasha's London Hot Spots
- Dover Street Market: 'The new store on Haymarket looks amazing. I love the people there, they know exactly what I like.'doverstreetmarket.com
- The Arts Club: 'It's nearby and always fun.'theartsclub.co.uk
- Browns Focus (brownsfashion.com): 'It was my favourite store when I first came to London. I could live there, I love everything. It was my dream to be selling there and the dream came true!'brownsfashion.com
- Sumosan: 'My friend owns it and my son loves the sushi.'sumosan.com
- Topshop: 'When I was in college I would go to the Oxford Circus store every Friday just to relax!'topshop.com