The reinvention of Cath Kidston – and former designer McQueen reshaping the brand

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“People love it … or want to stab us,” Cath Kidston herself said of the divisive vintage floral aesthetic that she pioneered and popularized in the 1990s. It was a phrase echoed in press in April 2020, as the 28-year-old British brand fell under administration. Conclusion? The daggers had won in the end.

Cath Kidston’s death may have been declared too soon, however. All 60 UK stores were closed permanently and 902 employees were made redundant, as he became one of the first victims of the pandemic. But Hong Kong private equity owner Baring has bought out the company’s online, franchise and wholesale businesses.

Rubble, reconstruction; there are now 122 employees in the UK. Melinda Paraie, CEO since 2018, has put together a new leadership team, hiring a new business director, Suzanne Egleton, from AllSaints, and former Liberty design director Holly Marler as creative director. Marler’s first collection comes out this week; online, in the 146 selected international stores and in the brand’s new flagship store in London, Piccadilly.

“I love this kind of challenge, because I knew I had to change course,” says Marler, who started his role in October of last year. “The brand had a huge cult following and a great history. Print design is an integral part of everything I do, I knew I was the woman for this job.

Formerly of Alexander McQueen, Temperley and Liberty London, original and exquisite printed patterns are indeed Marler’s specialty. During her week off between the end of Liberty and the start of Cath Kidston, she painted, filling out a sketchbook with patterns that she said could contribute to her new ‘printing language’ for the brand. The resulting debut album, her “Rose Revival” collection, contains new interpretations of classic floral designs, messages and symbols hidden in small prints and the most appealing color combinations to release the retailer in at least five. years.

“It was about taking our heritage but making it relevant,” she says. “You can reinvent a vintage print in contemporary colors or by changing the scale. Tongue-in-cheek humor is really important to me and Cath Kidston can do it so well; print needed to speak to people and have a personality, as they haven’t in a while.

Finding the right balance between what Marler calls ‘camp nods’ in designs and creating innovative graphics is something the brand has strayed with in recent years. In attempting to appeal to the weirdness and the Britishness to international markets (40 of those 146 global stores are in Japan), the regular use of double-decker bus cartoons and sausage dogs had inadvertently discouraged the audience at home.

“It’s been tough and it’s a work in progress,” Marler admits of his task of finding writing that everyone likes. “[Application of] color was really the key to changing this kitchen. This year with roses for example, instead of using navy as the base for a pink rose, we made khaki green with bright orange roses. The style of drawing is also important; make things a bit rougher around the edges and not as perfect.

Kidston herself stepped down as Creative Director in 2016, but was involved in the process of hiring Marler and met her. She founded the brand from her kitchen table in 1993 (after noticing that her dismal ironing board would need a more exciting patterned cover) and developed it to a point where turnover has grown. topped £ 100million in 2013. Now 63, Kidston still owns a minority stake.


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