It was my birthday at the beginning of March and Chris, my darling hubby took me to Paris. Ooh la la! I love Paris and am lucky enough to have visited many times over the last few decades. This means that when we're there I feel no obligation to see the sights but can wallow in the luxury of our beautiful hotel and do some proper people watching.
Now my birthday always coincides with Paris Fashion Week. How lucky am I?! The hotel was filled with famous and fabulous fashionistas: Kate Moss, Anna Wintour (editor of American Vogue), Grace Coddington (she of the flaming red hair, 60s fashion icon & Vogue stalwart). Even Janet Jackson was there, complete with huge minder carrying tiny dog.
Oh the clothes, the shoes! I was in my element. I love fashion, I always have - making clothes on an old Singer sewing machine aged seven, designing collections for my dolls aged twelve, pouring over copies of French Marie Claire in my teens and reproducing the looks from my dad's old shirts and second hand jeans. Even as a student of sculpture I could be found, head to toe in clay and plaster, ingesting every scrap of my Vogue magazine.
Not surprising then that at the end of my studies I took my MA in fine art and went off to be a trainee buyer. There will be some of you out there who remember Jenners department store in Edinburgh's Princes Street. Sadly it's owned by House of Fraser now, but when I joined them in 1990 it was still family owned. Ah what a legendary emporium and eccentrically wonderful training ground it was. It was like a cross between The Paradise and Are You Being Served.
It took me two years to become a buyer - and that was fast tracking - normally vacancies only came up if someone retired or died. I started in ladies coats then moved to ladies separates - nice! But spending a whole year in the famous Jenners Foodhall was both torture and heaven: I put my back out four times; gorged myself on so many belgian chocolates that I had hypnotherapy to try to stop; set up Valentine, Easter, Tourist and Christmas shops; saw The Chippendales with the most outrageous bunch of (nearly pensionable) sales ladies and learnt more about the art of shopkeeping than I'd ever imagined there was to know.
I thought I'd proved myself - passed all of my retail buying exams, attended every training course from negotiation to team building. But oh no, out I was sent to Jenners Depository where I was to process (in June) the entire stock for that year's Christmas shop. Argh!! Three and a half months I spent up to my eyes in tinsel, sharing my breaks with (the very lovely but somewhat scary) Sun reading warehouse staff, and begging our HR manager to give me a chance and get me out of there.
You know what they say about the squeaky wheel getting the oil? Well my relentless pestering worked. I was allowed to apply for the job of buyer/manager for the newly created Mens Fashion department - at last I'd got my wish. Now to give you an idea of the environment this department opened in, not so long before this there had been a board meeting to discuss whether denim should be sold in Jenners...in 1990? Just a little behind the times then!
Mm, they also say be careful what you wish for. From the moment I was offered the job my learning curve became so steep I swear I spent the next six years in a back bend. But oh how I adored my job! Fashion is fashion, it didn't matter to me if it were men's or women's - the fabrics, the colours, the line of a perfectly tailored suit - heaven.
I bought Calvin Klein in New York, Ralph Lauren in Paris, DKNY in Milan, attended trade shows in Florence, had weeks of appointments in London. I spent six months of the year away from home and the rest of the time working twelve hour days. My marriage suffered, my son went without his mum. It was as glamorous as it sounds, and it was also at times tough, relentless, scary and lonely.
But I wasn't to be distracted from my passion for fashion. In 2000 I moved to London to work for Chris & his business partner in their wholesale fashion agency, selling menswear collections to the trade. After a year I was promoted to head of womenswear. It had been ten years since I'd worked with ladies fashions and I confess it was a huge shock to my system! Men are so easy to sell to and buy for: two arms, two legs, trousers or jeans, shirts or knits, a nice suit - job done. But not so us women!
I spent a year trying to persuade ladies fashion retailers to buy our collections, with the constant cries of "What do you have to co-ordinate with this? These trousers are not flattering. Where is my delivery? I can't sell this dress without a coat!"
Ah but it was this job that led me to our beloved Petworth. Ten years ago, out on a road trip on my way to a customer in Chichester, I stopped off in Petworth and fell in love with the town, with the glorious countryside, with the friendly people and the gentle pace of life.
And so here I am after a decade of Therapy - still in love with fashion, still a shopkeeper to the core, still blissfully happy to make Petworth my home, and every day giving thanks to you - my lovely customers - who make this all possible. So this beautiful birthday bouquet I share with you all.
Thank you! Laura x