‘If I’m honest I still find it slightly odd to say ‘vagina’,’ says Chloe Delevingne, ‘and it really shouldn’t be like that.
‘I do think it’s really good that women of all ages are getting rid of the stigma of being able to talk about [their] vaginas – and not wincing or freaking out about it.’
It’s not every day you find yourself having a telephone conversation about vaginas with a total stranger. But in the context of our discussion it feels quite natural. In fact, I don’t give it a moment’s thought… until I write it down: Women, time to talk about your VAGINAS. Doesn’t that seem a bit crude?
This is the issue The Lady Garden Campaign (LGC) hopes to address.
Set up by Mika Simmons, founder of the Gynaecological Cancer Fund, who tragically lost her mother to ovarian cancer in the year 2000, LGC’s aim is to get women talking about their nether regions to dispel the myth that it’s a taboo subject. With research uncovering that a third of women are too embarrassed to go to the doctors for gynaecological concerns, it’s the not talking about vaginas that’s the problem. Early detection of gynaecological cancers – cervical, ovarian, vagina, vulva and womb – is the key to successful treatment. Not getting checked out puts women at great risk.
‘I want to change the way that people think, and women think, and talk about their bodies. And get them to know the symptoms are very complicated,’ explains Mika. ‘[My mother] was diagnosed and died within 9 months. I knew there wasn’t enough awareness [about it]. I saw over and over again through friends, family, friend’s mums – women were not being diagnosed early enough. I had this urge to do something about it.’
Mika was approached by her neighbour, Dr. Susana Banerjee – who had been taken on by the Royal Marsden Hospital as the Head of Oncology for Gynaecological Cancers – to fundraise for research into treatment. ‘I said, “Yes, I will definitely help you fundraise – but only if I can also do a campaign”,’ says Mika. ‘Which is how Lady Garden Campaign was born.’
The Lady Garden Campaign Committee
She pulled together a committee of ‘powerful women’ – ‘women who worked hard and wanted to make change’ – and who also had had experience of gynaecological cancers. Chloe Delevingne was one such woman.
‘When I was 21 I had a scare,’ Chloe explains. ‘I had pre-cancerous cells on my cervix and I had to have half of it removed. At that point, there wasn’t much information about things like that. I was [before] the age of even being allowed to have a smear test, and if I hadn’t recognised the symptoms from my studies I wouldn’t have gone and got checked.’
At the time, Chloe was studying Biomedical Science and Tumour Biology at University College London. She happened to be writing her dissertation on HPV and cervical cancer and noticed some unnerving parallels. With symptoms including pain after sex, abdominal pains and irregular bleeding, she knew something wasn’t right. ‘So I went and had a smear test. They came back saying that I had pre-cancerous cells, and I had to go and have the procedure.’
‘For me a big part of the campaign is to do with awarenesss. Making women aware of the symptoms of the different types of cancers and being able to be confident enough to go to a doctor if you think you’ve got something wrong.’
With the committee assembled – including Little Black Gallery Co-Founder Tamara Beckwith Veroni and CEO of Grace Belgravia, Kate Percival – they set about brainstorming ideas. ‘I think our original idea was ‘Flash Your Pants’,’ says Mika. ‘But we were told by lots of people that a) people might not want to do that and b) in America, they might think people want to flash their trousers – and also it might be a bit isolating. We wanted to make sure we reached women of all backgrounds and ages. So we got in touch with a branding agency who helped us refine our idea into ‘Lady Garden’.’
A ‘Lady Garden’, in case you’re wondering, is an informal phrase for women’s genitalia, and so with that – shall I say ‘delicate’ – name and the campaign in place, it was time to make headlines. Chloe called in the big guns: her model sisters Cara and Poppy, and VIP friends, including Alexa Chung and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. Together, they modelled Lady Garden Campaign sweatshirts and created great fanfare around ‘that’ part of the female body: the vagina.
For Chloe, the eldest Delevingne sister, known for preferring life outside the media spotlight, this was a brave move.
‘I found it quite nerve-racking,’ she admits. ‘But do you know what? The support and the response we’ve had from everybody has been so positive and so brilliant it kind of makes it a lot easier. When I first got involved and started telling people about it, it was remarkable, the amount of girls who have actually gone through the same thing as me and I had no idea, close friends of mine. It just drives you even further.
‘I think a lot of people are scared of the idea of a smear test – it really isn’t that bad,’ she continues.
‘It’s also about trusting yourself, knowing [when] you don’t feel right. It’s about awareness and building confidence about feeling free in ourselves to discuss what’s going on.
‘I grew up in a household full of girls and my father really struggled with the idea of talking about periods and stuff like that. But it really shouldn’t be a bad, unspoken thing. I mean, adverts of a sanitary towel come on the TV and my father goes: ‘Oh my god, oh my god!’…
‘It’s about educating everyone,’ she says.
So what better time to raise awareness about these important feminine issues, than this weekend, on Mother’s Day? LGC were approached for a Mother’s Day collaboration with the luxury motherhood accessories brand, Marloe London. Founded by Marina Sevier and Chloe Riddell, Marloe London create luxury cotton and bamboo hand-dyed muslins that are a whole lot more than mere swaddles, acting as blankets, scarves, sarongs, whatever the modern day mother requires. They contacted LGC with the idea of designing a one-off coral and aqua muslin to be launched on Mother’s Day, sold exclusively at Selfridges – with 100% of profits for the month going to Mika’s Gynaecological Cancer Fund.
Marloe London x LGC Coral and Aqua Muslin
‘I had a very minor scare,’ explains Marloe London’s co-founder, Marina, ‘and I had two weeks of not really knowing what was going on and really worrying about it. I was aware of The Lady Garden Campaign and I just thought, my goodness, it’s so important for everyone to be checked regularly and we can all be very shy and embarrassed… It really stuck a chord with my experience. And I thought a campaign that’s out there trying to, in quite a tongue-in-cheek way, get women to talk openly about it – that’s really important.’
LGC jumped at the chance. ‘I loved the collaboration around Mother’s Day,’ says Mika. ‘Obviously I don’t have a mum anymore and I thought it was really lovely to do something on that day. And the quality of their products… Often we get a lot of brands approaching us, but these two young women, in their own right, are doing something quite similar to us: being very brave in trying to create something new in the world, which is very enabling for mums… I was inspired by what they were doing.’
Chloe with her daughter, Juno, and the coral and aqua Marloe London muslin
Chloe felt the same and even agreed to front the collaboration. ‘I actually had one [of their scarves] – I got given one when I had my daughter (Juno) with her name on it. If I’m honest, I used it more for other things, like as an actual scarf.
‘[LGC and Marloe London] are a match made in heaven,’ she says. ‘Because it talks to young mothers. 100% of the money goes straight to the charity, which is insanely generous.’
‘Marloe London is a brand that is really attempting to get to the yummy mummy crowd,’ says Mika. ‘And it’s not that I don’t think what we’ve done so far won’t have reached them, but I thought it was a really lovely opportunity to specifically target them.’
If you’re looking for a gift for your yummy mummy, or someone else’s, or a gift for any yummy woman – you! – this is a strong, and worthy, contender. Just make sure the recipient is aware of the gynaecological link. If my conversations with these inspiring women have revealed anything, it’s this: the importance of keeping such conversations going.
And if that means talking about vaginas morning, noon and night, then I am all for it.
Marloe London x LGC Limited edition coral and aqua muslin is available from Selfridges for £75. All profits go to the Gynaecological Cancer Fund until 31st April