Monday, 2 December 2013


I found this article whilst researching the brand. It is an article that has been published on London Evening Standard's website today, the 2nd of December, showing how fast the brand is growing and developing worldwide. I also thought how big the brand is, and they are seeking conversational prints at their highest point of business.

"Ding dong! It’s nearly Christmas and the tills are ringing. And nowhere more so than at Cath Kidston’s new flagship store, the largest in the world, which opens on Thursday at 9.30am. For most retailers, launching a Piccadilly store bang opposite the Royal Academy, sandwiched between Fortnum's and The Ritz, would be a massive deal. But for Kidston’s company, which has rapidly evolved from yummy mummy favourite into global mega-brand, it’s a relative drop in the ocean, on paper at least. The figures are astonishing. Between now and Christmas, eight more stores are due to open in Asia.

In Japan, where there are already 33 stores, 54-year-old Kidston has such a cult following that she travels under the alias of Barbara Windsor. In the UK and Europe, the stores sell four £50 Day bags every five minutes, six mugs every two minutes and an ironing board cover every seven minutes.

The company’s annual turnover for 2013 tipped over £100 million for the first time, with UK sales up by 21 per cent and international sales by 53 per cent. That’s an awful lot of mugs and ironing board covers. And it makes Kidston, who remains a 20 per cent shareholder and the company’s creative director, worth perhaps as much as £60 million.

Even more astonishing are the company’s global expansion plans. In  China, where there are currently only four stores, the opportunity is “huge, huge, huge”, says Kidston’s CEO Kenny Wilson.

When we meet in the company’s west London office, Kidston, dressed in one of her own floral print dresses and a brown cardi, is much keener on showing me her latest designs than talking money.

“We’ve done a new night-time print for the flagship. Have you seen it, do you like it?“ she asks with nervous  girlish enthusiasm. “It’s supposed to evoke that feeling I have when I go into the West End, like I’ve really been out for a night and feel glamorous and alive. Look, there’s Boris on his bike [wearing hi-vis and helmet], and the black cabs and pigeons and traffic lights. It’s so London, I love it.”

This is the woman who admitted in her memoir (Coming Up Roses, published last April) that she got a bigger kick from getting her Blue Peter badge than her MBE, that she prefers pootling in Portobello Road to sitting in a board meeting, and that she loves going incognito as a shop girl in her own stores. She watches Newsnight or Strictly while embroidering blankets for friends and describes the money she’s made as “a phenomenon but a sideline”. Her car is a second-hand Mercedes estate, her house is by the river in Chiswick — and her biggest luxury has been splurging on a second house in Gloucestershire. She wears a mix of her own label, Prada and Isabel Marant — but dug out an old frock she’d had for ages for her wedding last year, when she married her long-term boyfriend, music producer Hugh Padgham. 

“We spent £187 on the wedding. It was great. I wore an old cotton dress with embroidery and a Cath Kidston bag for luck. It was all very simple. Even as a small child I never dreamed of a big white wedding. I don’t really like that kind of attention, which is one of the reasons why we’d never done it, because the idea of the dress defeated me.

“We went to the register office first thing in the morning, had breakfast, then Hugh went to the dentist and I went to work and we didn’t tell anyone. It was so satisfying to come into work on a Tuesday. I thought ‘done and dusted, back in my jeans, back to normal’. We were really pleased with ourselves.”

Kidston and Padgham got together after she decorated his home. In the early years of their relationship they discovered they were unable to have children together. This came immediately after Kidston’s treatment for breast cancer, which was diagnosed when she was 37. Her mother died from the disease at the age of 62, but today Kidston describes her own illness as “a distant memory, touch wood”. She has a 21-year-old stepdaughter, Jessica, from Hugh’s previous relationship, who is at university and of whom she says she is immensely proud.

There’s no doubt this double whammy of misfortune redirected Kidston’s considerable energies into building her business, which began 20 years ago as a one-off vintage shop in Clarendon Cross, Notting Hill. She credits her grandmother for passing down the high-energy gene: “My cousin Kirstie Allsopp is the same. Our grandmothers were sisters and we both definitely inherited it from them.”

Kidston grew up in Hampshire, one of four siblings. Her father, who was chairman of the Clyde Shipping Company, died suddenly from a brain tumour at the age of 50. Her mother, who’d never had to work before, was suddenly faced with having to support herself by taking in foreign students and cooking for her local market. Kidston has said she never wanted to be dependent in that way. 

She left school at 18 and worked as an interior decorator for Nicky Haslam before setting up on her own. These days, she works a comparatively sedate five-day week and the vibe in her predominantly female HQ (where, incidentally, I notice her office is smaller than the CEO’s) is definitely more casual than corporate. Floral wallpaper everywhere, brightly painted chairs, knitted animals, vintage clothing and photos on the walls of anything from pigeons to pinnies. You certainly couldn’t work here if you didn’t love the brand. Not surprisingly, women far outnumber men in a staff of just over 200 (although the board has just more men), and the company prides itself on its family-friendly flexi-hours culture.

Earlier this year, Kidston was attacked by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown in the Daily Mail for having double standards. Here was the woman whose “rose-print oven gloves and strawberry decorated ironing boards evoke a bygone age of traditional domesticity”, who herself “never aspired to being that housewife, getting supper ready in the evening”. Nor did she own any “fussy products”. For Alibhai-Brown this was an outrage. “Her comments do rather puncture the cosy image on which her brand relies and will, I hope, make women think about just what she is selling to them,” she fumed.

I put this to Kidston, who retorts: “I’m a career person but I’m also a homemaker. Why can’t you be both?” And she’s right: her pastel strawberry designs are just as likely to turn up on an iPhone 5 cover these days as on an ironing board, and it strikes me this is the key to her. Kidston moves with the times. She invented glamping, cosified Roberts radios and is all over the latest Apple products. Today she’s looking at shoes, bike accessories and portable coffee cups. Even her new Sealyham terrier, Billie, is about to become a bankable asset: “He’s only four months old but we’re already working on something for next year.”

And yet for all her creative flair and her millions, Kidston says she’s still scared she’s about to be rumbled.  “If you’re not trained, as I’m not, you have this feeling you might be found out. Every week I think I’ll just plough on and see what happens, but the time will come when someone says, ‘hello — you’re a bit out of your depth here, do you mind?’ But so far, so good.”
Just don’t tell the Chinese."

Cath Kidston opens her new store at 180 Piccadilly at 9.30am on Thursday. The first 180 people in the queue will receive a “surprise” gift card.