Interview with Catherine & Jean’s founder and director Jane Smedley

What is ‘style’? For some, it could be a perfectly put together, elaborate outfit or the simplicity of a classic red lip. For others, style may relate to the dream house interior they’ve been virtually designing on Pinterest. It could relate to a cooking method you’re trying for Friday’s dinner party, your music taste or even the physical manner in which you run, ski or paint.

One thing’s for sure, style is about embracing your individuality. It’s about being unique and not afraid to do what’s right for you, in whatever area of your life that may be.

As Orson Wells famously said: “Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn”. His words were echoed by Jane Smedley, 26, founder and director of luxury lifestyle brand Catherine & Jean. We recently sat down to chat about her style influences, future plans and Guernsey roots.

 

We quickly got chatting about the concept of ‘style’. Jane told me that although fashion is “fun and interesting, style is something different”.

“Fashion is about reflecting trends and wearing something to ‘fit in’ with others; style is about finding confidence in your own personal expression.”

It isn’t easy, she said, to get your voice heard in “such a saturated world”.

“There are thousands, if not millions of lifestyle brands, and you really have to keep pushing in order to stand out from the rest.”

Jane, who moved to Guernsey when she was seven years old, now runs her business from London where she lives with her long term boyfriend. The brand – which “celebrates English eccentricity and Italian quality” – was inspired by her two grandmothers, Catherine Howard and Jean Smedley.

Whilst Catherine’s obsession with sartorial detail and perfection inspired a commitment to exceptional materials and Italian craftsmanship, Jean’s vivacity and glamorous lifestyle inspired the expressive English design.

Catherine with Jane as a young girl

The two women influenced Jane from a young age, initially sparking her love and appreciation for fabric. At just five years old, she started her own collection. As she grew older, her wardrobe quickly became full of beautiful vintage pieces that had once belonged to her grandmother Jean.

“I have always been obsessed with fabric and prints. When I was younger I would spend a large segment of my pocket money every week at Creasey’s haberdashery buying cuts of glittery fabric that I would drape around my room.

“Throughout school, I was fixated by the idea of studying art and design at university, but was eventually dissuaded at the last minute by teachers who felt that I should push myself to study an ‘academic’ subject.”

Indeed, the path to success hasn’t been a straightforward one for Jane. She worked with a jewellery business for five years before going on to study literature at King’s College London and further study at the University of Cambridge. A few years and a different career later, the lure of fabric and design became too strong to resist.  After attending courses at London College of Fashion and Central Saint Martins, she created Catherine & Jean.

Through her work, she’s had the opportunity to visit Milan and Paris several times to showcase the collection and has even had her products featured in American Vogue and Grazia. She even learnt how to code in order to build the Catherine & Jean website from scratch – something she calls “an invaluable skill in this day and age”.

Starting your own business is largely about taking the bad with the good and sticking to your guns, she explained.

“To run a successful business, it takes a lot of business acumen and technical know-how, rather than sitting around making creative decisions all day. You have to be totally committed and ready to ride out the more difficult months. Even though we have only been launched for 18 months, I have already seen so many other people who started at the same time as me give up.”

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An average day for Jane isn’t always as glamorous as people may think.

“As with most professions, a huge chunk of my day seems to be taken over by emails. I’m in constant contact with my PR, my factory in Wiltshire where I have my lifestyle products made and my wholesale clients, but I generally try to round it all up by the early afternoon. The rest of the day is largely spent either getting orders together or researching new products. However, during busy periods, such as Christmas or Valentine’s day, I just spend every spare minute getting orders together.”

In such a “saturated” market, their unique selling point is their prints she said.

“The large majority of our products have one of our prints incorporated into it in some way in order to give it that sense of vitality and spirit.”

And you can see where that sense of vitality and spirit derives. Jane, who seems to have her feet firmly in the ground, is clearly a savvy businesswoman in tune with the future needs of her customers.

“I have visions of the new products that I’d like to introduce, but I try not to think too far ahead. I want us to keep growing and expanding, but whilst a few years ago I was sure that I wanted us to have a bricks and mortar shop, with the growth of online shopping in the past few years, that has become much less significant as a priority.”

The brand will soon be expanding into nightwear – with the launch of a range of stylish kimono-style dressing gowns in the next few months.

Read next: REDEFINING SUCCESS IN TODAY’S SOCIETY

Although Jane has been living permanently in London for the past eight years, Guernsey will always hold a special place in her heart and she would like to move back in the near future.

“I still think very much think of Guernsey at home and am planning to return in the next five years or so. I love it there; my partner and I try to visit as much as we can and even he (who’s from the mainland) is starting to see it as home. An ideal day would involve a walk on Cobo, seafood linguine and ice cream at The Beach Cafe and then dinner at Petit Bistro.”

Get to know Jane a little better…

Favourite…

Quotes?

“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” – Bernard Shaw

“Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.” – Nora Ephron

Song?

I’m loving Sundara Karma’s new album at the moment – especially ‘Flame’.

Place you’ve travelled?

I try to travel as much as possible – I find that having a total change of scene has got to be one of the best things that you can do to gain inspiration. I went around Central America a couple of years ago and fell head over heels for Belize and Guatemala.

Things to do when you’re not working?

I’m a member or friend of just about every art gallery in London so try to see as many exhibitions as possible. I also love painting and going to the theatre.

Colour?

This changes almost daily, but I’m in a rose-quartz pink at the moment.

Meal?

Seafood linguine and an Aperol Spritz followed by anything chocolate. I’m a pudding obsessive.

TV show?

I’m a sucker for easy-watching such as Call the Midwife – I’m constantly on my computer so can never concentrate long enough with anything more complex!

Movie?

All the oldies and goodies – anything by Baz Luhrmann or Richard Curtis.

Book?

Literature is my other passion and I’m constantly reading. I love a good Victorian novel and have just finished ‘Jude the Obscure’, but adore George Eliot. I also enjoy Zadie Smith and recently read ‘Swing Time’ which I’d recommend.

How do you think the fabric/design industry has changed over the years?

The entire fabric/design industry has been obsessed with Scandi minimalism with the past few years. However, fashion invariably reacts to itself so now we seem to be entering into a maximalist era for a time.

What are the big Spring/Summer trends this year?

My key predictions are oriental and jungle prints as well as some maximalist detailing such as hot pinks, wide stripes and ruffles.

Who are your style icons?

I love the slightly offbeat style of Alicia Vikander and the elegance of Naomi Harris.

FACT BOX: Catherine & Jean sells elegant and unique accessories for fashion, home and travel, including handbags, eye masks, wash bags, make up bags, hot water bottles and cushions. All of the handbags are handmade in Milan with Tuscan calf leather, whilst all other pieces are made in England.

This article appeared in the May edition of GSY Life Magazine. [PDF]

 

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