A love letter to 90s IT-girls and how they shaped my teenage years

Jo Hoare

The sad news of socialite and model Anabelle Neilson’s untimely death at the age of 49 has rightly rocked the fashion world and as those that knew her mourn the tragedy I’d like to offer my own personal tribute as a 90’s teenager obsessed with It-girls.

Celebrity and fame in the early 90’s was vastly different to today;  no social media, four tv channels (even Channel 5 didn’t come along ’til 1997 and there was no chance of my parents allowing a ‘monstrosity of a Sky dish’ on the house) –  the only way to see films that weren’t on the big screen was a trip to Blockbuster.

Famous people lived in a land far, far away and they largely fell into four categories: Oscar-winning actors, stadium-filling popstars, impossibly perfect supermodels or Princess Diana. So far, so unrelatable for a nearly-teen in the middle of rural Oxfordshire, brought up on a diet of my grannies Jilly Coopers and Jackie Collins read under the covers when my mum wasn’t watching.

I wanted my celebs to be a cocktail of scandal, sex, money and a no fucks attitude. Ladette culture hit and I was sorely disappointed. I didn’t want to be a scruffy blonde drinking a pint of lager in a crop top, I wanted to be the heiress to a Greek shipping fortune sipping champagne in a jade pantsuit.

Then as the mid 90’s arrived a new breed of female celebrity started to creep in. Glamorous, rich, posh, tanned and carrying bags that cost as much as a small car, they popped up at every fashionable party and event. No one was exactly sure what they did – and remember this is way before fame was as disposable as a teeth whitening Insta post – but they looked so brilliant doing it that no one really cared. The term It-girl was quickly coined and I was hooked.

Annabelle Neilson was one of the biggest and the best. Perfectly summing up the spirit of the It-girl she was posh but not prissy, beautiful but not perfect and had scandal and sex appeal in equal measure. She had all the It-girl credentials – she’d married and divorced a banking heir, was best friends with Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell and a muse for Alexander McQueen. I obsessed over her cheekbones, ill-advisedly attempted her peekaboo fringe (disastrous in a pre-ghd world) and all but divorced my mum for not letting me leave the house in a transparent lace top sans underwear just like she’d worn to a fashion show.

Together with fellow It-girls like the late Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, Tamara Beckwith, Normandie Keith and Lady Victoria Hervey they created their own breed of style which shaped late 90’s fashion. Brightly dyed thermal vest and cardigan combos (much better than they sound, promise), diamanté heels, feet eclipsing flares, teeny-weeny lace trimmed camis and corsets, and those barely-there slip dresses. I wore them all. An It-bag was the ultimate dream but until then knock-off versions of Gina bejewelled shoes and cubic zirconia tiaras (as crucial to a nightclub visit as our fake ID’s) sufficed.

A never to be repeated phenomenon, people might compare today’s influencers to It-girls but frankly they’d never be naughty enough to pass. They summed up a unique period of exterior fun and frivolity despite many of them nursing addictions and heartache, for me they will always be the ultimate symbol of glamour, excitement and possibility.

“Lee always said he liked me to wear his clothes because he knew when they were on me they would have an adventure”. 
– Annabelle Nielson 1969 – 2018

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