Sue Tilley was immortalised by Lucian Freud in several of his large-scale oil paintings, including Benefits Supervisor Resting (1994) and Benefits Supervisor Sleeping (1995). The former set a world record for work by Freud when it sold for £35.8m at auction in 2015.
Sue was a close friend of performance artist Leigh Bowery and in 1997 wrote the biography Leigh Bowery: The Life and Times of an Icon. Over the last 10 years she has focused on her own painting and in 2018 Fendi used her artwork of tea cups and banana skins on prints for its spring/summer collection.
She currently works out of her home and studio in St Leonards-on-Sea and her favourite piece of jewellery is a Cath Kidston button necklace she bought from Selfridge’s ten years ago. “It was the only one there, and I knew immediately I had to have it,” she says. “I wear it several times a week as it goes with most of my outfits, and I’ve lost count of how many strangers have stopped me in the street and told me how much they love it. Some people ask me if it’s by Judy Blame because he was very fond of using buttons. There’s nothing I love more than the looks on their faces when I tell them that it’s from his polar opposite."
1. Bulgari B.Zero1 ring
The shape of the Colosseum was fashioned into a dynamite ring that embodies everything Roman about Bulgari. Over two million have sold since it launched in 1999, and it has spawned myriad spin-off designs.
2. Chanel pearl necklace
When Coco Chanel first layered strings of fake pearls over her restrained new look, she singlehandedly invented costume jewellery. The styles have changed and developed since the 1920s, but strings punctuated with the distinctive diamante CC emblem remain core products.
3. Elsa Peretti Bone cuff
The amorphous shape of Peretti’s cuff for Halston and Tiffany & Co. looks like a freeze-frame of pooling mercury. It is the essence of the 1970s Liza/Studio 54 era of New York, when Halston was the svengali of Manhattan fashion. Peretti took inspiration from skeletons in the crypt of the Capuchin church in Rome, but made it glam, silver and disco.
4. Hermès Collier de Chien
It looks like it was custom made for a Helmut Newton shoot, and sits in that perennial sweet spot between kink and luxe, but as the name suggests, the Hermès Collier de Chien started out as an actual dog collar in the 1920s. It was worked into a belt design a few years later, then as a leather and metal studded bracelet in the late 1940s.
5. Tiffany & Co. Tire Track Link bracelet
As Mid-Century Modern as anything by Charles and Ray Eames, Tiffany & Co. has played on chunky links ever since the Tire Track Link bracelet of the 1940s. Vintage pieces sell for around £10k. The industrial aesthetic has filtered down today to the 1837 and Tiffany & Co. City HardWear collections.
Top Portrait of Sue Tilley with Lucian Freud’s Benefits Supervisor Sleeping (1995) by WENN Rights Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo