Susie Cave: ‘My imagination can get a little bit scary’

Susie Cave’s darkly romantic creations have made her label, the Vampire’s Wife, a cult favourite – with Vogue naming one design ‘the dress of the decade’. Here, she talks about family tragedy, life with Nick Cave and why she is motivated by beauty

Susie Cave’s Brighton kitchen is painted a very specific bruised-peach pink and the reflected colour on her skin makes it look as though she’s carved from soap. Until she married musician Nick Cave, she was Susie Bick, the 90s model discovered by photographer Steven Meisel on a flight to New York at 14 years old. David Bailey took her under his wing and her very white skin and very black hair helped shape a career that saw her on the cover of two Roxy Music records, shot for ad campaigns, including Yves Saint Laurent and Christian Dior, and naked on the catwalk in Robert Altman’s Prêt-à-Porter. Hers was one of those fabled stories – she was a girl who felt out of place, so hitchhiked away from her Devonshire boarding school on a milk float to find glamour and fame. “I spent most of my life running away on milk floats,” she smiles today. As a teenager, “I was, umm, wilful. At 15 I caught a plane to Japan with 20p in my pocket. Made loads of money. Came back all grown up!” The people she met along the way, as if tin men and lions, helped shape the woman she became, and then, in 2014, the brand she launched. Now, at 54, there is only a fine line between the two; a concealed zip.

Susie’s friend Bella Freud introduced her to Nick in the shadow of a dinosaur skeleton at the V&A Museum after hours. The first time he saw her (Cave says, in the 2014 film 20,000 Days on Earth), he saw, “All the things I’d obsessed over for all the years”: Marilyn Monroe, Suzi Quatro, “Tinker Bell trapped in the drawer, Carolyn Jones dying in Elvis’s arms and Jackie O in mourning.” Viewed from here, their entwined careers read like love letters to each other, but ones so passionate they have broken their banks and spilled out into the world. They married in 1999. On their honeymoon she became pregnant with twins, and in 2014, when Earl and Arthur were teenagers, she launched the Vampire’s Wife, named after one of Cave’s unfinished novels. Today, Nick is responsible for naming the dresses, choosing fabrics and occasionally modelling alongside them.

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