Liberty Ross is bringing skate culture to White City House

Liberty Ross is the supermodel bringing skate culture to White City House | Soho House

The model-turned-skate entrepreneur recently opened Flipper’s Roller Boogie Palace in west London, and she’s here to provide exclusive access to Soho House members

Tuesday 22 November 2022   By Johnny Davis   Photography by Rosaline Shahnavaz   Styling by Karen Clarkson   Creative direction by Andrew Diprose   Entertainment direction by James Williams

About halfway through my interview with Liberty Ross, I make the error of referring to Flipper’s, her fairly incredible new roller-skating rink in west London, as a roller disco. Big mistake.
‘Just so you know, we would never call it a roller disco,’ she says. ‘We have deliberately never called Flipper’s a roller disco.’ What should we call it? ‘Flipper’s Roller Boogie Palace is what we’re calling it.’ What’s the difference? ‘Big difference,’ she says. ‘“Disco” is disco music. It’s from a period of time that is no longer relevant. You will see no disco balls here.’
On the one hand, she’s not wrong. Part of an £8bn regeneration of White City, the area that also includes White City House, the Soho House-owned part of the former BBC Television Centre, Flipper’s is a 1,800-capacity all-day venue that spans two floors and more than 34,000 sq ft of flexible event space, with removable staging infrastructure. The sound system is state-of-the-art, which is ideal given that the London skate community is arguably more hip-hop than disco. The video screens are mind-boggling. The roller rink is the only one of its kind built from black maple wood. 
There’s also a vast bar, a restaurant named Flipper’s Hot Dogs and Caviar, for which Ross – the English model who came to define the early 2000s so conclusively that the Evening Standard awarded her ‘The Face of the Millennium’ – flew her chef out to LA three times to better to understand how to recreate an authentic smash burger. Plus, there’s a boutique selling everything from pink Flipper’s skate laces (£12) and gold T-shirts for toddlers (around £20) to black satin bomber jackets (£200) and blue suede Riedell 120 roller skates (£500).
‘No one has ever designed clothing for roller skaters,’ Ross says. ‘It’s never, ever happened in the history of the world. Which blows my mind.’
So, to call Flipper’s a roller disco doesn’t really cut it.
On the other hand, it’s hard not to have your brain reset to peak disco era when the walls are covered with blown-up photos of high-living celebrities in their late-1970s pomp, including Elton John, Nile Rodgers, Robin Williams, Jane Fonda and Herbie Hancock, there’s neon everywhere and the soft furnishings come with monochromatic Keith Haring-style graphics.
That’s because there was an original Flipper’s Roller Boogie Palace, on the corner of La Cienega and Santa Monica Boulevards in LA, that ran from 1979 to 1981. It attracted all the celebs photographed on the walls, and plenty more besides. The actor Jaclyn Smith, of Charlie’s Angels fame, called it ‘Studio 54 on wheels’.
‘Still, honestly, to this day, people are, like, “I saw Cher there”, “I lost my virginity there”, “I had the greatest time of my life there”,’ Ross says. (Last year she published a deluxe book chronicling these photos and memories.) 
It was also a venue for bands. Prince played there on his Dirty Mind tour. So did The Clash, Toots and the Maytals, and Joy Division. Though the image of carefree Californians executing dips and pivot spins to the strains of ‘Atrocity Exhibition’ and ‘She’s Lost Control’ must have made for a fairly peculiar evening for everyone concerned. 

Liberty Ross is the supermodel bringing skate culture to White City House | Soho House

 Top and trousers, both Ralph Lauren; jewellery and skates, both Flipper's

Liberty Ross is the supermodel bringing skate culture to White City House | Soho House

 Dress, Halpern; shoes, Saint Laurent; jewellery, Stephen Webster

‘Disco music is from a period of time that is no longer relevant. You will see no disco balls at Flipper’s’

Ross was at Flipper’s, too – as a baby. Her dad would carry her around the rink in his arms. And he is Flipper – Ian ‘Flipper’ Ross, the nickname coming from a car crash where he injured his foot, aged 17. The new Flipper’s Roller Boogie Palace, then, represents not just the rebirth of the family business, but a wormhole to a time when the world really knew how to throw a party, at precisely a moment in the 21st century when god knows we could all do with a bit more of that.
‘It was a place where all the misfits of Los Angeles would gather, connect and become family,’ says Ross. ‘And they’re all still family. People like Laura Dern, she was an only child, both her parents were actors, and she would come there a lot. The beauty of roller skating is that it you can be three or you can be 103. It was not about velvet ropes. You would have people from Compton brushing up with superstars from Hollywood.’
‘It was very wild,’ she recalls. ‘There was a resident orangutang who used to swing from the beams. It belonged to a resident scientist who would study the brain through her orangutang. It was a real melting pot for culture. That’s my dream for Flipper’s as well – to connect the dots between music, fashion and celebrity. So, we invite everybody. Everything we’ve ever done is from the heart. It’s all about giving back to the community.’
Ross’s mission, then, has been to transport the spirit of her dad’s original across time and space, to down the road from where she grew up.
‘I live opposite the house I was born in,’ she says – three doors down from where Ian and Liberty’s mum, Roxana ‘Bunty’ Lampson, who once sent shockwaves through the upper echelons of London society by turning up to her 1963 debutante ball in a pair of white Bermuda shorts (she became ‘the first mod debutante’) – still live.
Ross divides her time between London and Los Angeles, specifically Mapleton House, the French provincial-style mansion she shares with her husband, the music-industry rainmaker, who with Dr Dre founded the multibillion-dollar brand Beats Electronics, Jimmy Iovine. 
Their street has been described as ‘the most expensive and exclusive on Earth’, which is saying something in Santa Monica. Kylie Jenner recently bought a house down the road for $36.5m.
The pair were introduced by Atticus Ross, one of Ross’s five siblings and the Oscar-winning composer of soundtracks including The Social Network. Iovine remains one of the best-respected and best-connected men in showbiz, as pally with the late Steve Jobs as he is with Tom Hanks. And he and Ross are a fully-fledged LA power couple – Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga sang at their Valentine’s Day 2016 wedding on the beachfront at David Geffen’s house in Malibu.
As we settle into a roller skate-shaped booth to chat, Iovine wanders over. ‘Is this an interview? Just saying hello to my wife…’
Last week, Bruce Springsteen inducted the wildly successful mogul into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame – Iovine served as engineer and mixer on Springsteen’s Born To Run and Darkness On The Edge of Town albums, and persuaded him to give Patti Smith the unfinished song ‘Because The Night’, turning it into a monster hit – so it seems only polite to offer congratulations.

Liberty Ross is the supermodel bringing skate culture to White City House | Soho House

Top, Ashish; trousers, Ralph Lauren; skates, Flipper's; jewellery, as before. Shot in Pen Yen at White City House

‘The beauty of roller skating is that it you can be three or you can be 103. It’s not about velvet ropes’

‘Who’s the interview for?’ he asks. Soho House, I tell him. ‘Oh,’ he lights up. ‘I love their hamburgers.’
The pair chit-chat about their evening plans – Iovine will briefly be popping home; Ross is staying put. 
‘Moodymann is playing tonight, so I’m just going to dress the way I am. I’m in my pyjamas, from this morning.’ (Here, it helps to imagine a black pyjama-style silk shirt, rather than a pair of M&S flannels.) 
‘Bye, darling,’ she says. ‘Love to you!’
As anyone who watched the highly entertaining 2017 HBO miniseries The Defiant Ones, which focused on the parallel careers and partnerships between Dre and Iovine will attest, it’s hard to imagine the latter retiring from anything at all – he is something of a force of nature. Indeed, Iovine has had a small hand in his wife’s new venture.
‘We made a song together for Flipper’s,’ says Ross. ‘‘‘Power (Remember Who You Are)’ by Spinall, Summer Walker, DJ Snake and Äyanna, this incredible British singer. I really wanted to create a skate anthem, so Jimmy helped me put it all together. We play it every night. It’s become part of our… thing.’
If any further proof was needed that Flipper’s stands apart from any associations with disco balls and bell bottoms, it was signalled loud and clear by a pair of opening night parties last week. Mary J Blige, Julie Adenuga and Usher, a partner in the business, were on the guest list. Live performances came from Kaytranada, General Levy and local lad Central Cee.
‘This is a movement that is happening globally across the world right now,’ Ross says, of roller skating. ‘It’s futuristic, it’s fast and it’s sexy.’
Then there’s the six-minute ‘Flipper’s Skate Heist’ for Flipper’s. Though it eventually does arrive at a Flipper’s-style skate rink, the majority of the action involves a heist and a cat-and-mouse chase – on skates, naturally – through the streets of an American city. It culminates with the phone ringing in Dr Dre’s studio. The object of the robbery has been his skates. The Chronic Skate by Dr Dre, no less. Another big mistake.
‘F**k all y’all excuses,’ Dre hams it up, down the line. ‘Get those f**king skates back or something’s gonna happen. And I’m gonna make it look like a f**king accident.’ 
(At the time of writing the skates, an immaculate hybrid pair of white Air Force 1s, signed by Dre, are safely behind glass in the Flipper’s boutique. They are to be auctioned.) 
Celebrity pals aside, there’s no doubting who is responsible for the lion’s share of the work that’s gone into making Flipper’s 2022 a reality. 
‘I’m a details person,’ says Ross, in a tone of voice that suggests you wouldn’t want to take issue with any one of those details. ‘Every single board, every single glass, the branded napkins – these booths, I designed everything.’

Liberty Ross is the supermodel bringing skate culture to White City House | Soho House

Top and trousers, both Adidas x Gucci; skates and jewellery, both Flipper's

In April, she masterminded the opening of a Flipper’s Roller Boogie Palace at the rink at Rockefeller Center in New York, calling up the relevant authorities and asking if they could swap it in for the summer, in place of the existing ice rink. ‘I took a chance and called them, and I was, like, “Hey, how come you’ve never thought to turn your ice rink into a roller rink?” And they loved it. It was the most incredible thing, when people had really stopped going into Manhattan. We bought this amazing culture into the heart of the city. It was really powerful.’
The obvious question is whether this is the start of a whole skate empire. ‘In a dream world I’d love to have one in every city,’ says Ross. 
Liberty Ross’s modelling career started aged nine when she got married to Ozzy Osbourne. That’s her as his child bride on the cover of 1988’s No Rest For The Wicked. Sat on a plinth, goth eyeliner, crimped hair and a spooked look on her face. No acting required. 
‘I was so confused. He was very sweaty and shaky. Then they bought out these gigantic black sacks, and they had these enormous pythons…’
Her background is simultaneously meritocratic and aristocratic. Prior to Flipper’s, her dad co-founded the 1960s pirate station Radio Caroline, while her grandfather is Lord Killearn, the British diplomat whose posts included ambassador to Egypt and high commissioner for the Sudan. Other members of her eclectic family of bohemian blue bloods include an aunt who was Lucian Freud’s lover and muse, and a celebrated Italian pathologist who discovered how sleeping sickness was transmitted.
‘I was raised in a very bohemian way,’ says Ross. ‘My parents still say they haven’t grown up yet. We’re just a mad tribe, I guess. We were always off on adventures.’
Indeed, a pre-teen Ross presented a Japanese cable station called Okey Dokey before being talent-spotted by Corrine Day, the photographer who discovered Kate Moss, on Portobello Road, aged 13. Her career took off at 19 when she began working with Mario Testino. Campaigns for Jil Sander, Christian Dior and Burberry followed. She appeared on the 20th anniversary cover of The Face and again two years later astride Moss, naked save for a pair of denim micro shorts. 
She still has them, ‘and I still fit into them!’ Both covers are framed at home. Her status as one of the era’s cool London girl set was sealed when the stylist and editor Katie Grand put her on the cover of the first issue of Pop magazine, pole dancing with Stella McCartney and the designers Katie Hillier and Luella Bartley. (Inside, she modelled some John Galliano outfits made out of cardboard.)
‘Becoming a model was very unexpected,’ says Ross. ‘But it was amazing. I was very lucky to work with the most incredible image makers of our generation – between Mario Testino, Nick Knight, Katie Grand, John Galliano and Karl Lagerfeld. It was an extraordinary experience that I’m eternally grateful for. It was awesome.’
‘Then I had my children [Skyla, now 17, and Tennyson, now 14, with her ex-husband the director Rupert Sanders, the pair separating after his widely reported on-set affair with Kristen Stewart] and I wanted to be with them. Now my children are of an age that I can get back to being creative and doing my thing.’
Aside from a capsule denim collaboration years ago, Ross is one model whose CV is noticeably light on brand extensions. The make-up line, skincare range or organic wellness brand aren’t for her. ‘I don’t want to do another line of lingerie or clothes,’ she says. ‘And I don’t even wear perfume.’

Liberty Ross is the supermodel bringing skate culture to White City House | Soho House

Coat, Lanvin; jewellery, Flipper's

Liberty Ross is the supermodel bringing skate culture to White City House | Soho House

 Dress, Missoni; jewellery and skates, both Flipper's

‘I’m a details person. Every single board, every single glass, the branded napkins – these booths, I designed everything’

Still, I say, you represent the minority. You can’t have been short of offers. ‘But I wanted to do something that was incredibly unique,’ she smiles. ‘And I think I have.’
Her Instagram bio reads simply ‘Founder’.
A few days later, I reach Ian ‘Flipper’ Ross by phone. He’s 79, now – not that you’d guess it. Photos from the Flipper’s opening parties show him resplendent in a Gucci tracksuit, whistle and neon Flipper’s T-shirt, Bunty beaming by his side.
‘It’s incredible that Lil’s done it, because she’s worked so hard for so long,’ he says. ‘It’s much harder for her than it was for me. I admire her because I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be in Hollywood in 1979 than in London in the middle of an economic crisis and all the rest of it. We were living in an age of innocence then. The golden age of rock ‘n’ roll, it was before AIDS and all of the really bad sh*t came along. Ever since then it’s just got darker and darker. Reaganomics, the drugs got harder and nastier and the internet, which has changed everything, in many ways for the worst.’
Does he recognise something of the same spirit in the new Flipper’s? ‘Very much so,’ he says. ‘You still have that music, that very heavy thump, which is mainly hip-hop now, that just propels people, and you get that absolutely great vibe. A lot of people were on the rink, and the music was just cruising along. Everyone was having a great time, everyone was dressed up. I said to Lil, “This is it. This is the vibe” – and I think it’s needed now more than ever.’ 
How Ian came to start Flipper’s in the first place is quite the tale.
‘I’d read a tiny piece in the Evening Standard by [editor and granddaughter of Winston Churchill] Emma Soames that said, “Uptown girls are going downtown in New York to a place where people dance on roller skates at a place called The Empire”. My rag trade business had just gone completely bust [a brand called Mint Jeans], and Bunty and I had had to move house, and I was thinking, “What the f**k am I going to do?” And this sounded like an incredible idea: dancing, on roller skates.’
So, Ian headed out to The Empire in New York to check it out with his pal, the music producer Denny Cordell. 
‘We were blown away by the amazingness of it all. The thump was unbelievable, the whole city block was shaking. And these two white guys walk in – what the f**k are they doing? – we were summoned to this island in the middle of the rink, given a huge joint and inducted into the whole mystical thing of roller disco, which they invented.’
The next move, obviously, was to up sticks with Bunty and all the kids to LA, borrow $750,000 from Motown founder Berry Gordy, buy the largest Art Deco building in the city for $1m, and launch Flipper’s. 
By the 1980s the dancefloor debauchery was getting out of hand and the LAPD issued Ross Senior with an ultimatum. Shut up shop, go to jail or leave the country. The Flipper’s faithful took to the streets to take on the cops in an actual pitched street battle, but it was no use. Flipper’s V1 closed its doors on Halloween, 1981. The orangutang found a new home. It was good while it lasted.

Liberty Ross is the supermodel bringing skate culture to White City House | Soho House

‘I love Soho House hamburgers’ – Jimmy Iovine

Talking to Liberty I thought she’d said in passing that she was named for Liberty Street, near where she lives – but no such street exists in west London. Ian confirms the more obvious answer.
‘Well, you’ll have to ask Bunty – but I think she was called Liberty because we were going to America. Liberty Lettice Lark is her name – Lettice with an ‘i’.” What a name. ‘Well, the next one was called Leopold Lincoln Fitzgerald!’ Ian hoots. ‘Because he was born in America.’
Leopold’s now a musician and record producer living in LA. What a family. Ian and Bunty must have done something right. ‘I don’t know what the system was,’ Ian says. ‘I think we just let them get on with it. But I do agree with you. They are all pretty incredible. They’re amazing.’
Liberty Ross is sincere in her belief that roller skating can change the world. Or at least improve it for a short time. If it achieves nothing else, it makes you put your phone down. ‘Less scroll, more roll’ is an unofficial Flipper’s motto.
‘These spaces are really important, they’re incredibly healing,’ she says. ‘Providing a safe place for connection is really what the world needs.’ 
During lockdown, as a surprise for Iovine’s birthday, Ross put down a wooden floor, built a bar, a bathroom and a skate rack and converted their LA garage into a roller rink. So now they have a Flipper’s at home. How big is this garage? 
‘It’s, like, a 12-car garage,’ she says. She moved all the cars out? ‘Oh no, we’re not big on cars. Before it was a rink it just had lawnmowers and paint pots in it. I never really went in it, to be honest. It’s a lot more use now.’
Now people call her up and ask if they can have their birthday parties there. Other times she and Iovine, the kids and various friends and relations can be found doing laps of the rink to pounding Afrobeat – Spinall and Wizkid are current playlist favourites.
‘I love the generational thing of skating together. Grandmas, mums and daughters. Like, everyone’s together, it’s just so special.’
What’s the correct name for a Afrobeat-powered pan-generational family roller skating rink hidden inside a 12-car garage, on the most exclusive street on Earth? I don’t even ask. But I’m pretty sure the answer isn’t a roller disco. 
Flipper’s Roller Boogie Palace White City is offering all Soho House members 50% off skate sessions (adults and kids), 20% off food and drink, and free entry for spectators. For more information, visit the My Benefits section of the Soho House app.

Photo assistance by Jack Storer and Maria Montford Plana     
Styling assistance by Molly Ellison     
Hair by Ken O'Rourke     
Makeup by Polly Osmond                 
Nails by Cherrie Snow          
Production by Charlie Helm     
Social media management by George Serventi