Mini Fashionista meets The Cambridge Satchel Company’s Julie Deane

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Capturing the festive footfall through London’s Covent Garden, The Cambridge Satchel Company set up a pop-up shop throughout December and January, offering a tantalising preview of the real thing which is set to launch officially next week. The Shorts Gardens address of the first ever bricks and mortar store of founder, Julie Deane’s highly coveted brand, is a warm and inviting refuge among the cobbled streets where the full range of satchel styles awaits.

Asked why 2013 heralded the opportune moment to extend the company’s presence, Deane explained the practicality behind the store’s launch as a solid premise for furthering her business. “We’re finding that we’re getting requests to carry the brand from some of the best shops in the world,” she said. “They send buyers over to the fashion weeks and then we have nowhere to meet them.” So faced with the rather unappealing prospect of carting over her treasured satchels to a hotel lobby, Deane decided it was time to lay some roots in London town. “I had loads of people emailing in asking where can I buy this kind of bag and I was asking whether they’d tried Selfridges, or Harrods, but these places only buy a limited range. So,” she says. “Hopefully in this shop, people will be able to view the full collection and be able to get just about anything.”

Meeting Deane at the store, Mummy and I browsed the selection of fluoro, sparkling metallic and classic coloured satchels perched on glossy trunks and rustic wood tables. The store is already operational, though workmen continue to scurry in and out preparing it for its grand unveiling on 13th February ahead of London Fashion Week AW13. In particular, the intended bloggers lounge which will be situated on the lower level of the store is yet to be completed. Speaking to Deane about her relationship with the blogging community, she said: “I really enjoy meeting the bloggers, because they’re doing what they really believe in, it’s not just a job, it’s something that means enough to them that they will take their own time to do it.” Motioning to the stairs opposite the till, which lead down to the lounge, she continued: “It’s a very tangible way of saying thank you to the community that supported us and got us noticed.”

Acknowledged not only by the blogosphere but by the fashion industry at large, Deane’s store is not the only new development for the Cambridge Satchel brand. The company’s debut range for men was launched at Pitti in Florence last month and Deane attributes its success at the trade show to her non-fashion background. “I was unaware of the really great shows that there are and how picky some of these are,” she said. “We’ve been accepted at some amazing shows and people have said how well we’ve done to get in there. It was quite nice not knowing beforehand what a huge challenge it is to be seen as good enough to get in.”

The Mum of two was not alone in presenting the next phase of her brand in Italy, joined by her own mother who has been so instrumental in building the business. “She’s so brilliant,” Deane says. “And it’s given her the chance to feel like even though she didn’t have the opportunity for a career herself – my Dad would have never like that when he was alive – she’s now got this opportunity to meet such amazing people [case in point first lady Samantha Cameron] and go to such fun things. So instead of the retirement years being really dull and boring and looking back on what she did do in her life, these years have been the most exciting that she’s ever had, so that’s amazing.” And what of their mother-daughter visit to 10 Downing Street, which came about as part of a feature for Red magazine. “To be able to do things like that with your Mum is fantastic,” she says. “She so deserves it as well because she has stood by me and helped every step of the way. When I needed extra packing done at 2am I know my Mum’s going to be there.”

With three generations all contributing to make The Cambridge Satchel Company a reality, it was in fact Deane’s children who sparked the satchel inspiration requesting the bags carried by their favourite magical characters in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. “The lovely thing is that it’s given them this belief that if you’re determined about something and you’ve got a really clear goal then you can accomplish anything,” said Deane. “They’ve seen that from £600, starting from the kitchen table, our bags are now in Harrods, they’re in Vogue, and they’re being sold in Len Crawford in Hong Kong.”

Expanding her inspirational reach beyond her own kitchen table, Deane spends some time going round schools to talk to children about starting their own business. “I want to give them this belief that they don’t need all the money in the world and a family company that’s been going for 50 years already, that they can start something if they really, really want to.” What of her own business, was there ever a moment of doubt in its success? Deane says no, “I just always believed in it and so I thought any failing was on my part and I needed to be reaching out more, sending more emails and contacting stores to see if they liked the photos of the bags. It just drives you to try harder or try something different.” Certainly, trying something different has propelled Deane to great heights and as she recognises herself that is what has stood apart from the crowd and helped her to catch the attention of not only consumers but the industry.

Choosing to launch her debut store just in time for London Fashion Week, I want to know which designers Deane will be paying attention to. “I think there are always some that are fun to look at, they aren’t things that we’d slavishly follow but people like Vivienne Westwood who just always does something original rather than something commercial,” says Deane. “And Erdem always does such beautiful things. The people who will do something crazy because they think that it’s brilliant are always the ones worth watching.”

Inspired by everything from The Chelsea Flower Show to The Great British Bake Off, Deane has crafted her unique take on the classic school bag. I had to ask her what we would have found in her school bag, aside from the obligatory textbooks and rulers. “Well actually I have always been a bit of a stationary freak,” she confesses, laughing. “I really love notebooks that have something different about them, and pens, oh my gosh, the Bics, the multi-coloured ones that have the blue on the bottom and the white on top, they’re such classics.” She continues excitedly, “Oh and highlighters and mini staples, I absolutely love mini stationary, how good is that. But the thing I’m really into is coloured ink, I love buying the cartridges in purple, or teal blue or something like that and then every time you write with it you think, oh look at that.” I have to agree, anything Mini is pretty fantastic!

From writing to reading, as World Book Week follows Fashion Week at the start of March, I want to know which novels Deane was burying her nose in as child, at which point she confesses her love for Enid Blyton. “I know I should pick something obscure but, Enid Blyton was popular for a reason,” she says. “I had two favourites, The Faraway Tree and The Wishing Chair. There is just something so magical about looking at a tree and thinking, at the top of that tree could be another land where everything is different. It captures you so completely.” A notion that echoes Deane’s own path to success as she dared to climb to the top of that tree and uncovered something that as we have all seen has proven to be truly wonderful. Her own children have invested their literary pursuits into classics like The Hungry Caterpillar, The Gruffalo and the Flat Stanley books.

As a lover of all things literary, even dressing today in kids clothing brand More Stories, to meet Deane I’m interested to learn whether fictional figures would ever make their way into her designs. She did of course collaborate with Disney, for whom she designed a collection based on Vintage Mickey Mouse, and she says: “I tend to like the real classic characters rather than the ones I didn’t grow up with, which I don’t really relate to as much.” Before she sets off for Hammersmith where the team at Disney await her for discussions of perhaps yet another collaboration (one can only hope), I throw out one last question – one that is pertinent to Mini Fashionistas and their Mummies. Would Deane consider putting the Cambridge Satchel twist on a line of changing bags? “Yes, I definitely would,” she nods enthusiastically. “I really had the ugliest changing bag in the world, you know the one with the PVC that cracks and the lack of any kind of organisation on the inside so everything is falling around. There’s a definite need for some style in that department.”

The Cambridge Satchel Company store is located at 15 Shorts Gardens, Seven Dials, Covent Garden, London WC2H 9AT.

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