A few months ago I showed you how I decorated my first show flat and today I want to show you my first shop – although actually it’s less about the decor and more about the brand behind it. Earlier this summer I was approached by a PR company and asked if I would like to design a shop in west London (Notting Hill). Hell yes, I believe the saying goes and I fired back a reply at once without leaving that casual pause that means you are (pretending to be) busy or considering.
“Great,” came the reply. “We should tell you that it’s a charity shop though. So there’s no fee for you and no budget for the things you will need.”
I’ve worked with charities before (many years ago I worked in a regional Oxfam office and organised fashion shows wearing clothes throughout the decades since the organisation was founded in 1942) so I knew the drill. And I was immediately drawn to the work of Dress For Success.
DfS (not that one) was founded 18 years ago and works with underprivileged and vulnerable women all round the world to provide them with the skills, confidence, on-going support and – crucially – the clothes to help them rejoin the workplace. The charity is present in 28 countries and over 145 cities and in the US it has been featured on Keeping Up With The Kardashians, Real Housewives of Beverley Hills and has supporters such as Vanessa Williams, Iman, Eva Longoria and Bobbi Brown. This was to be the first ever shop in the UK.
The email arrived on 25 July. The launch was planned for the end of September ( I managed to push it back a week to 4 October) and there were summer holidays in between. I don’t want to resort to clichés like there was no time to lose but, erm, there was no time to lose.
I had an immediate idea that this shop for women must be decorated and furnished by women. And so I started contacting women I knew who run businesses, make furniture and who might be able to help me. Of course they all said yes – because they are all amazing.
And so we had paint from Cassandra Ellis of Atelier Ellis, a sofa and changing room curtains from made.com (which was founded by a woman, its design director is a woman and 50 per cent of the board is women), Jane Rockett and Lucy St George designed tote bags, donated coffee tables and a huge neon sign, Lucy Tiffney gave wallpaper, Anna Hayman cushions. There was a mirror from Graham & Green (founded by Antonia Graham) as well as a fabulous gold mannequin light and hand hooks from Zoe Pocock of MucknBrass. Finally I asked Emily Mathieson, of Aerende (whose store has featured on these pages before) if she could help. Emily sells products made in the UK by people facing social challenges and I knew she gives employment to a lot of refugee women who sew cushions. It felt like the right thing to include women who have been helped themselves by a woman, giving help to other women who might need it.
Everything arrived promptly, but there was a lot of work to do on the shop itself. A former wig store it had a terrible pale laminate floor, ceiling tiles, poor lighting, no changing rooms and was incredibly dilapidated. But the UK director Fionnuala Shannon worked tirelessly persuading people to help out with painting and decorating and even finally called in a golfing friend of her husband’s to finish off the last few details while her husband played golf without him.
And you see the results here. The store opened on 4 October and to say it was like Changing Rooms at the end is no understatement. Peter Cuthbertson, who organised the party and press, and I turned up at lunch time in our glad rags to style a few clothes and arrange some flowers.
Or so we thought. In the end he had to roll up his (very smart) sleeves and I had to roll up my trousers (which were long and floaty and partyish) and start mopping and scrubbing. Fionnuala painted her nails five times as each time she finished there was another job to do and she wrecked them before they were dry. But we got it done. And the launch was a great success.
And so I hope you will visit – there are some great clothes – or donate or perhaps you may have skills you can offer. The shop is at 192 Kensington High Street and you can visit the website here.
It’s not quite finished yet. We’d like a rug to go in the back by the sofa and a coffee table would also be great. As you can see from the pictures we put everyone’s story on the wall in the hope that these women who have set up their own businesses will give confidence and courage to other women who are just starting their journey back to the world of work.
I’m incredibly proud to have been involved in this project and thank you to the wonderful women who helped as well. You were all crucial to creating a space where women can feel welcomed and calmed when they visit either to shop or to get advice. May this be the first of a nationwide chain of stores celebrating the important work of Dress for Success.
BEFORE YOU GO: As you know I do sponsored posts from time to time (this isn’t one) and while I always flag them up, I am also conscious that many people don’t like them on principle. So, from now on I have decided that Wednesday – when I traditionally don’t post – will be the mid-week ad break as it were. The content posted on that day will be sponsored. Some of you will regard it as a bonus post and some of you will choose to ignore it. I shall continue to work only with brands that I like, and think you will, but as the blog grows and it is, of course, how I earn my living, this gives me the opportunity to give you four posts a week that are non-sponsored but means the blog can earn its keep to pay for those without you feeling like you are losing out on content. Tomorrow you will see a post about the Roberts Radio – a design classic – did you know it was designed to resemble a handbag? So I hope you will still feel it all fits but you will also be able to decide if you want to read or not. Some of them will interest you and some will not but that way it’s clear and I can afford shoes. It will still be flagged as sponsored as usual and according to the rules but I wanted to flag up why there might be an extra post from time to time.