The creative entrepreneur visited YCN and introduced some of the publications that have led her to where she is today.
Established in 1993, Cath Kidston has become a household name. Her iconic, vintage-inspired prints adorn everything from textiles to homewares to accessories, and her unique aesthetic has become synonymous with classic British style.
After starting out in a small shop in Notting Hill where she designed and sold her own printed textiles — including her now famous Rose Bouquet print — the Cath Kidston brand has grown into a retail empire with over 150 stores worldwide. So we were honoured to have her over to YCN on Wednesday evening to talk us through some of the books that have affected and influenced her over the years.
She began the evening by telling us how nostalgia and memory plays a huge part in her work, and that although she had loved selecting her six books to bring in, it had been a fairly sad process. “If anything matters to you, it has to have a lot of emotion attached to it, and these books really mean a lot to me.”
1. The Biba Experience, Alwyn W. Turner
After explaining that she still thinks of herself as a shopkeeper — and still introduces herself as one — Cath told us all about her fascination with famous shopkeepers, especially the ones who went on to build highly successful brands. An icon of 1960s retailing, Biba was a strong influence. “This was one of the best shops in the world. This is the benchmark. I love that pioneering attitude that Biba was founded on.”
2. Kenzo, Rizzoli
“The Kenzo shop was one of the most beautiful shops that you could imagine, and this book is a work of art.” A thick tome, weighing in at almost 300 pages, Cath passed the book around so that the audience, largely made up of print designers and textile designers, could have a look at some of the beautiful prints that lay within. She proceeded to tell us how she had gone to work for an antique textiles dealer before she decided to go it alone, which served to intensify her love of print. “The global journey of how a print is made is fascinating. Kenzo always had these clashing pinks and yellows and oranges which was an amazing influence.”
3. John Fowler: Prince of Decorators, Martin Wood
An interior decorator who was something of a taste-changer, John Fowler was also a huge champion of traditional English design, but with a twist. “His use of colour was fabulous. This book opened up a whole new way of thinking and playing with colour. He took all of this traditional English design then just threw it around.” You only have to flick through a few pages of the book so see what an impact John Fowler had on Cath’s work, and her decision to start up a house clearance shop, which later turned into the Cath Kidston that we know today. She continued to tell us about the glory days of car boot sales, when she would stuff her car full of various fabrics and homewares to sell at her shop. “The idea for the shop was a mish-mash of all these influences, Kenzo, Biba, John Fowler and so on.”
4. Think of England, Martin Parr
One of the highly reputable Magnum photographers, Martin Parr’s Think of England is an affectionately satirical photo book that almost works as a brand book for the identity of England. “I just love Martin Parr,” Cath explained, “Everything in this book has a warmth. There’s something very moving and incredibly tender about it. It has this gentleness and kindness.” She proceeded to tell us about the role that Britishness plays in her work, and how an upbringing on English seaside holidays has stayed with her. “This book captures what our lives are made up of, living in England.”
5. For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness, Julian Germain
With potentially one of the best titles in publishing, it was Cath’s publisher that told her about this book. Another photo book, it captures the quiet, contemplative existence of an old man living alone in a small house in a city on the south coast of England. “At first you’re not aware of it, but as you go through the book you start to realise that his wife has died.” In a beautifully candid moment, Cath told us about her relationship with memory, and why she chooses not to be surrounded by photographs. “This book reminds me of my own photo albums from when I was a kid, and it really captures the emotions of all those memories. Memory is a huge part of what I do but I don’t like to be surrounded by them all the time. I find it too intense. I don’t want my memories to be too clear.”
6. Frenchman's Creek, Daphne Du Maurier
“There are certain books that I love to go back to and this is one of them. It’s very light reading but it’s a beautiful story.” After declaring her overuse of her laptop, “I should probably go to Laptops Anonymous”, she explained how important reading is for escapism, and how this particular book gives her brain a rest and allows her to disappear into another world. “If I go on holiday and don’t know what book to take, this is my fall back book.”
With a number of Cath Kidston fans in the audience, the floor then opened up for some highly insightful questioning, which brought out a whole host of stories about how she started up the shop, her hopes and fears for it, her views on business, and how the Yellow Pages played a significant role in why she decided to name her shop eponymously.
A huge thank you to Cath for taking the time to come in to YCN and telling us the short story of her life through six books. Members can pick up copies of Cath's book choices from the YCN Lending Library and if you want to see more of her work, you can head to her website. Also, keep your eye on our events page to find out about future YCN Reading List events.
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Location:72 Rivington Street,
London, EC2A 3AY,
Start:4th June, 2014 at 6:30pm
End:4th June, 2014 at 8:00pm