My first venture into retail was at fashion market HyperHyper (now sadly long gone. It was located in Kensington High Street opposite what was once Kensington Market). I shared a stand there with 3 other knitwear designers for a couple of years, selling handknits.
A few years later I took over the running of North Wing, a fashion shop in St John’s St, Islington, London, in the autumn of 1996.
The previous owner had bought knitwear from me (see Collections) to complement her tailored fabric pieces for several years, and now she was embarking on a new career.
Elaine still lived above the shop and had a workroom there, and continued to make bespoke garments as well as some pieces for the shop.
I also had a workroom upstairs where I designed and made machine-knitted pieces and organised the production of handknits. I also designed simple fabric pieces which I had made in a local factory.
As well as the clothing, I bought handbags, jewellery and other accessories from designers to sell in the shop.
The shop was on a main route into the West End, yet was a quiet, local shop in a row that included a deli, two coffee shops, an antiques shop and a pub with a theatre!
I loved meeting and chatting to the customers (I worked in the shop for 2 or 3 days a week and had a fabulous assistant – Sadie – who worked on the other days). I learned so much about what suited customers in terms of fit and colour.
On the right are images of some of the pieces I designed for the shop. Amongst the most popular were machine-knit pieces (made by me, on a domestic machine), especially a dress with a stretchy bodice (lycra knitted in with the yarn), and a swirly, sideways-knitted skirt. It was made in a viscose/linen mix yarn. Also very popular were hand-knitted, wool, fitted jackets and sexy halter tops and dresses hand-knitted in a ribbon yarn.
I also had pieces knitted in a small factory, and based a particularly cute cardi on a vintage cardigan I had found in Portobello Road market! I then hand-embroidered some of these.
Another favourite was the striped, kimono-style wrap cardi with long ties to wrap around.
Lastly, for several years – since my stand at HyperHyper – I made jackets for both men and women, hand-knitted using denim yarn, and embroidered to replicate a denim fabric jacket.
Sadly, the shop lease ran out after 4 years and I had to move. It was difficult to find somewhere that was in as good a position for the same price, and out of desperation I moved to a studio/shop in the Oxo Tower by the river Thames. The other makers there were great, but footfall was low and I left after a year. That was when I started working as a freelance designer for Rowan. Follow the link to find out more.