The rise (and fall) of the Princess of Wales’s ‘go-to’ designer The Vampire’s Wife

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It was born of a grieving mother’s need to throw herself into work following a horrendous tragedy before quickly becoming the must have dress for models, It Girls and society beauties alike.

Rock star Florence Welch, Kate Moss and Alexa Chung became the unofficial faces of the emerging brand, often being spotted in The Vampire’s Wife dresses made out of iridescent fabrics, billowing skirts and ruffled sleeves.

But after becoming the go-to label for royals like Princess Beatrice and Kate Middleton – with a host of copycat gowns also being churned out – it seems the designer’s rise in popularity may have caused its downfall. 

The British fashion brand was founded by rocker Nick Cave’s model wife Susie, has been issued with a winding-down petition by HMRC, meaning the future of the label is uncertain.

Its success was born out of a personal tragedy when the couple’s 15-year-old son Arthur died in July 2015. He was found with fatal injuries at the bottom of the Ovingdean Gap – a 60ft cliff near their family home in Brighton.  

British rock star Florence Welch (pictured in one of the dresses in 2016) was one of the leading faces behind The Vampire's Wife when it first emerged

British rock star Florence Welch (pictured in one of the dresses in 2016) was one of the leading faces behind The Vampire’s Wife when it first emerged  

Supermodel Kate Moss (pictured in The Vampire's Wife dress in 2016) was also an early fan of the brand often seen wearing Susie Cave's designs before it soared in popularity

Supermodel Kate Moss (pictured in The Vampire’s Wife dress in 2016) was also an early fan of the brand often seen wearing Susie Cave’s designs before it soared in popularity 

Designer Susie Cave pictured with her rock star husband Nick Cave and her son Arthur (pictured in 2012) - who died in 2015, just 15-years-old

Designer Susie Cave pictured with her rock star husband Nick Cave and her son Arthur (pictured in 2012) – who died in 2015, just 15-years-old 

But the brand quickly became popular among Royals and other A-list circles. The Princess of Wales opted for a gown from The Vampire's Wife during a visit to Belize on her royal tour of the Caribbean in 2022

But the brand quickly became popular among Royals and other A-list circles. The Princess of Wales opted for a gown from The Vampire’s Wife during a visit to Belize on her royal tour of the Caribbean in 2022

Princess Beatrice, 34, stepped out in Mayfair just last week with her husband, Edo Mapelli Mozzi, while wearing The Vampire's Wife

Princess Beatrice, 34, stepped out in Mayfair just last week with her husband, Edo Mapelli Mozzi, while wearing The Vampire’s Wife

After years of success seeing huge names such as Hilary Duff, Rachel Weisz and Sandra Oh dazzling in the designer gowns,  the fashion brand was handed a fresh blow today. 

According to Drapers, its petition relates to debt built up by the brand during the pandemic and follows a delayed tax payment earlier this year.

In 2023 sakes are expected to reach £6.6 million, which is up 38 per cent from 2021, when it made a loss of £2.1 million. The brand confirmed its court hearing has been set for 12 July. 

The designer claimed HMRC has rejected its request for a Time to Pay Arrangement, to slowly pay back tax debt in monthly instalments. A statement from the brand confirmed it was looking for a solution ‘agreeable for all parties’ and will continue to trade for the time being.

The Vampire’s Wife was set up by Susie and her friend Alex Adamson in 2014 – a year before Arthur’s death – who spent the first year busily building up a clientele.

After the horrendous tragedy Susie told her husband ‘everything is over’, believing she was unable to carry on with her brand after becoming bedridden with grief.  

Arthur had taken the hallucinogenic drug LSD with a friend for the first time that day, an inquest later heard, with the pair becoming separated.

The teenager then became  ‘completely disorientated’,  unable to tell what was real and what wasn’t. He sent messages to friends asking, ‘Where am I? Where am I?’

The Vampire's Wife was founded by Susie Cave in 2014, and takes its name from an unfinished novel by Susie's husband Nick Cave (the couple pictured in 2023)

The Vampire’s Wife was founded by Susie Cave in 2014, and takes its name from an unfinished novel by Susie’s husband Nick Cave (the couple pictured in 2023)

Nick and Susie pictured with their twin sons - Arthur and Earl - back in 2007. The success of The Vampire's Wife was born out of the family's personal tragedy following Arthur's death in 2015

Nick and Susie pictured with their twin sons – Arthur and Earl – back in 2007. The success of The Vampire’s Wife was born out of the family’s personal tragedy following Arthur’s death in 2015

Following Arthur's death orders started flooded in from high-profile clients: model Alexa Chung; actress Elisabeth Moss ; singer Florence Welch

Following Arthur’s death orders started flooded in from high-profile clients: model Alexa Chung; actress Elisabeth Moss ; singer Florence Welch

As more and more A-listers have stepped out in the luxury brand including Hilary Duff (pictured) it has developed a cult following

As more and more A-listers have stepped out in the luxury brand including Hilary Duff (pictured) it has developed a cult following

Terrified motorists had watched aghast as he staggered along the edge of the cliff minutes before his death before climbing over a safety fence and toppling over.   

He was rushed to a nearby hospital but doctors could not save him after he suffered brain haemorrhages and catastrophic fractures to his skull.

Losing her son left Susie utterly bereft. In 2018, she told the Mail: ‘I struggle with certain things that have happened in my life and sometimes can be in quite a dark place.

‘I get lost when I’m designing. Time just flies by. It’s actually an absolute gift, because the worst thing happened to me. I channel any positive energy I can into creating clothes.’

The family found themselves wading through a ‘treacle of grief’ (to use Nick’s eloquent expression), unable to comprehend the enormity of the loss. ‘He was a bright, shiny, funny, complex boy and we loved him deeply,’ they said at the time.

Pictured: Rachel Weisz wearing a black metallic gown to the 71st BAFTA Awards in 2018

Pictured: Rachel Weisz wearing a black metallic gown to the 71st BAFTA Awards in 2018

Sandra Oh wearing an outfit designed by The Vampire's Wife during the 19th Annual Unforgettable Gala Asian American Awards held at The Beverly Hilton Hotel in 2021

Sandra Oh wearing an outfit designed by The Vampire’s Wife during the 19th Annual Unforgettable Gala Asian American Awards held at The Beverly Hilton Hotel in 2021

Susie had launched The Vampire’s Wife 12 months previously, with friend Alex Adamson, and was busy building up a clientele. 

Understandably, it fell by the wayside in the aftermath of her son’s death. ‘The week after Arthur died, I was in bed,’ she explains. ‘I said: “Nick, I can’t do this. The Vampire’s Wife is over. Everything is over.” ’

Unable to work, leave the house or face seeing anyone, Susie retreated. Photographs from Arthur’s inquest show her hiding her face behind a curtain of raven-black hair, shoulders shuddering as she clung to Nick for support.

And then, three months later, came a phone call. ‘I got a call from Daisy Lowe — the model daughter of Pearl Lowe and a family friend — saying she needed a dress for an awards ceremony and would I make one for her?

‘So I dragged myself into the office to find the red fabric. And she wore it. And I saw it photographed. That was kind of a breakthrough. From then on I went to work every day.

‘Having something to do which was physically demanding enabled me temporarily not to think of anything else.’

It was then orders started flooded in from high-profile clients: model Alexa Chung; actress Elisabeth Moss ; singer Florence Welch.

Styles — ranging from £970 velvet dresses to £1,595 glittery party frocks — started selling out. Little by little, Susie stitched herself back together.

‘When Arthur died, I didn’t think I could carry on,’ she said. ‘When you lose a child, nothing will take away the pain, not ever. But I did realise if I could focus on something outside of what had happened, that if I could separate myself somehow from it all, even for a few seconds, and start creating things in those moments of escapism, then that might be an important thing.’

Born Susie Hardie-Bick, the daughter of an academic, she was brought up between Africa and Cheshire.

Her grandmother taught her how to use a sewing machine, a skill she put to good use at boarding school in the Seventies, when she used to transform her friends’ jeans from flares to drainpipes.

Age 14, she ran away from school and jetted off to New York, where she caught the eye of fashion photographer Steven Meisel.

By 16, she was modelling full-time and, on her return to England the next year, became muse to celebrity photographer David Bailey.

She was introduced to Nick, the Australian-born frontman of rock band Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, by Bella Freud, a mutual friend, who ensured their paths crossed at a party at the Natural History Museum, in London.

‘He found me under the T-Rex,’ Susie recalled.

Singer Katie Melua wearing a gold The Vampire's Wife dress at the Golden Camera Awards in Berlin in 2019

Singer Katie Melua wearing a gold The Vampire’s Wife dress at the Golden Camera Awards in Berlin in 2019

Actress Caitriona Balfe wearing The Vampire's Wife at the 22nd British Independent Film Awards in Old Billingsgate, central London, in 2019

Actress Caitriona Balfe wearing The Vampire’s Wife at the 22nd British Independent Film Awards in Old Billingsgate, central London, in 2019

Socialite Tamara Beckwith sports the same £1595 dress from The Vampire's Wife that the Princess of Wales wore for the above reception at the Guinness Factory in Ireland

Socialite Tamara Beckwith sports the same £1595 dress from The Vampire’s Wife that the Princess of Wales wore for the above reception at the Guinness Factory in Ireland

They married in a register office in Richmond, South-West London, followed by a blessing at a chapel in Surrey, in 1999.

As her husband’s career flourished, Susie found herself being invited to A-list parties — ‘I started designing clothes for myself because I couldn’t find anything I wanted to wear.’

The Vampire’s Wife — named after an unfinished novel of Nick’s — was the result, set up in 2014 in a small atelier in Brighton, with clothes manufactured in Poland.

‘Grief is all consuming,’ she said recently. ‘But you have to learn to live again, and try not to be a victim. Alongside my family, my work has saved me.’ 

Kylie Minogue wore a glitzy dress from the fashion designer when performing on stage at Glastonbury Festival in 2019

Kylie Minogue wore a glitzy dress from the fashion designer when performing on stage at Glastonbury Festival in 2019 

Naomi watts at the 8th Annual Australians Film Awards wearing The Vampire's Wife in 2019

Naomi watts at the 8th Annual Australians Film Awards wearing The Vampire’s Wife in 2019

Robbie Williams' wife Adya Williams wears a design byuCave in 2019

Robbie Williams’ wife Adya Williams wears a design byuCave in 2019 

The collection, called Vampire’s House, ranges from a £135 silk pouch to the £595 jewellery box.

Three guests wore Vampire’s Wife garments at Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s 2018 wedding, and the label is often spotted at red carpet events.

The Princess of Wales first stepped out in The Vampire’s Wife in 2021, when she donned a £1,595 emerald gown as she joined Prince William for an evening reception at the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin.

The ensemble closely resembled the green dress by the same designer that Princess Beatrice wore to Ellie Goulding’s wedding the previous autumn.

Mother-of-one Beatrice wore a £1,695 ‘The Veneration’ tiered silk-blend lamé dress by The Vampire’s Wife to the singer’s nuptials at York Minster Cathedral.

Princess Kate, 41, also opted for a metallic gown from the brand in pink during her royal tour of the Caribbean in 2021 with the Prince of Wales, during a reception held by the governor of Belize.

As more and more celebrities began stepping out in the brand’s gowns, including Rachel Weisz, Hilary Duff and Meena Harris, niece of US Vice President Kamala Harris, it developed a cult following among A-Listers.

The Vampire's Wife expects sales in 2023 to reach £6.6 million, which is up 38 per cent from 2021, when it made a loss of £2.1 million. Pictured: Terri Seymour from America's Got Talent in 2020 wearing The Vampire's Wife

The Vampire’s Wife expects sales in 2023 to reach £6.6 million, which is up 38 per cent from 2021, when it made a loss of £2.1 million. Pictured: Terri Seymour from America’s Got Talent in 2020 wearing The Vampire’s Wife

Courtney Love wearing The Vampire's Wife at the 2020 BAFTAs Dinner

Courtney Love wearing The Vampire’s Wife at the 2020 BAFTAs Dinner

Celebrity stylist Rochelle White previously told FEMAIL the emerald gown is what kicked off the popularity of The Vampire’s Wife.

She explained: ‘I think that the dress has been a go-to for celebs because it is easy to wear, but has maximum impact. 

‘It has a disruptive look and quality to the design of it.’

She continued to say that many were adopting the dress because of its versatility, saying: ‘It is suitable for many events and everyday wear and can be worn for different seasons.’

Meanwhile the stylist explained that the styling could alter the formality of the dress, revealing: ‘Depending on the style, colour and texture, it could be seen as demure, outrageous, seductive and heading turning, with each dress being a unique statement.

‘Because of it’s design it has such universal appeal which is classic, trendy and chic.’

In a statement, The Vampire’s Wife said: ‘Whilst a court hearing has been set for the 12th July 2023, we are working with the company’s secured lender to find a solution agreeable to all parties.

‘The Vampire’s Wife will continue to trade and remain open at this time and we thank our friends and clients for their support.’

The firm said the petition came ‘without prior warning’ and that HMRC had rejected requests to arrange a payment plan to repay the outstanding debt.

An HMRC spokesman said: ‘We take a supportive approach to dealing with customers who have tax debts and only file winding-up petitions once we’ve exhausted all other options, in order to protect taxpayers’ money.’

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