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13 Questions: Louisa Somerfield

by Ouch Team

24th July 2008

Louisa Somerfield is a disabled single mum living in Surrey. She has been a bit of a fashionista since her days working as a business lawyer in the city, and many varied careers later, she is now the brains behind WheelieChix-Chic, a high end clothing line designed with wheelchair users in mind. Louisa is a self confessed workaholic, but found a window in her schedule for 13 Questions.

Uppermost in my mind today is ...

Louisa Somerfield
What I’m going to wear. Every day when I get out of bed it’s the thing I spend most time on. I have a whole heap of clothes. Too many.

People think I'm ...

Superficially quite stylish in looks, brutal in business, a workaholic. I’m a single mum with two children as well, one with special needs.

Not a lot of people know that I ...

Used to be a sex chat operator. And it wasn’t that long ago. I did it for extra money to get my business together. I didn’t tell the men I was a wheelchair user, I even had to put high heals on and clunk across the tiles as if I was walking. The novelty wore off after a while.

I struggle with ...

Travelling. I’m beginning to hate airports and airlines because they always seem to break my wheelchair. I had to buy a 6,000 pound manual chair with a small powerpack you can clip off and put in a rucksack to stop the damage. When you have a power chair they take it away at check in and break open the battery. You get it back in wires. I learned very early on that being disabled is expensive.

I excel at...

Dealing with chaos. When everything is busy and on the go that’s when I come into my own. I used to live in Egypt. I like that sort of buzz.

My ideal dinner guest is ...

Vivienne Westwood. She has brought a lot of unusual concepts to fashion and I’d hoped she would be the first designer to put someone in a wheelchair on her catwalk. She is attention seeking and wild. I’m sure she has some great stories from her punk days.

I couldn't live without ...

My children and my designer handbags. I have an obsession with collecting bags with a name. Even if I go to Tesco I’ve still got one with me. My favourites would be a blue Prada and a big silver one from Longchamps. I can keep all the kids stuff in that bag, plus the filofax etc.

If I didn't live in the UK, I'd live in ...

Sweden. It’s very modern, the architecture is absolute heaven for my wheels. Every shop, public facility, even tube is wheelchair friendly. I love the way they are so organised, everything runs to order. And Sweden is very clean. I go to Stockholm quite a lot and have fallen in love with it.

Where do you spend most of your time?

At home. I’ve got everything in the house, children, work, clothes. It’s all been adapted.

My first job was ...

Louisa Somerfield
As a solicitor. I mainly worked on business contracts. It was very hard to keep up with the physical conditions of working as a lawyer in the city. I had fatigue and pain in my hands from arthritis. We often had to work until 9 at night and there was so much filing and writing. Eventually I did more consultancy work where I had my own clients.

When I come home in the evenings, I ...

Take a few hours to cook, relax with the children, watch TV with a glass of red wine maybe. Then I go back to work.

The most important thing about designing clothes for a wheelchair user is

Shape. When you are sitting down, people tend to focus on your upper body, neck, cleavage, face, waist, so the clothes need to be tailored really nicely to these areas, but still provide extra room at the shoulders for wheeling. Trousers need to be higher at the back so you don’t get builders bum. Lots of people in wheelchairs like to hide their legs. I tend to be the opposite, but for my next collection we’ve made things longer because of demand. To the naked eye they appear to be regular clothes, I didn’t want them to look like disability clothing.

Britain’s Missing Top Model ...

Won’t change the industry. The winner will have the best year ever and it has made people talk more about disability, beauty and sexuality. But I can’t see designers getting off the normal trend of skinny models which they are calling perfection. That’s foolish. I wanted catwalk space at London Fashion week but the fasion council said no. I heard on the grapevine however, that they couldn’t physically have accommodated my show. If the programme does bring about discussion, it has got to be good for the industry.
• WheelieChix-Chic will be part of the fashion show at Beyond Boundaries Live, a free event taking place on the 25th and 26th of July at the Kent Showground.

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