Take a peek inside the shoe collection of any style conscious Brit and the chances are, you’ll find at least a pair or two by Kurt Geiger. Since Mr Geiger himself arrived from Austria in 1963 the brand has become one of the UK’s best known and loved destinations for fashionable footwear. The past few years have seen Kurt Geiger go global, opening stores everywhere from New York to the Middle East while wowing the critics closer to home with the launch of their accessories collection, “Everything But The Dress”. With further expansion planned for the year ahead, high heel lovers like myself wait with baited breath to find out what more joys Kurt Geiger has in store for us next.
Last week I caught up with the lovely lady behind the label, Creative and Buying Director Rebecca Farrar-Hockley…
LPA: Tell me a little about yourself. Where did you grow up, study etc…
RFH: Very boring, nothing to do with fashion! I’m a Vicar’s daughter and grew up in Hertfordshire. I was actually never very interested in fashion at all as a child or teenager, much more interested in boys. I never worked in retail or thought about doing anything in fashion until after I’d finished reading English at university and desperately needed to earn some money. So I went to Selfridges as a sales assistant at 21, loved it from the minute I started and really just fell in love with fashion.
LPA: So your first fashion job was a sales assistant position at Selfridges. How did you get that in the first place?
It’s rather embarrassing actually, I don’t know if I want to say… I put on my mum’s suit – bear in mind I was 21 and she was older than I am now – got all glammed up and went and stood in the queue for personnel. I suppose they thought I looked relatively respectable and they could put me on the shop floor so they picked my out of the queue and gave me the job! Then I just worked my way up all the way from the bottom until I became head of buying for accessories.
LPA: Why did you decide to leave your position as Selfridges’ head of buying for jewellery, accessories and shoes to join Kurt Geiger?
RFH: I loved Selfridges. I got promoted very quickly, did menswear, womenswear, accessories… But after doing 11 years at the same company I felt that I maybe needed to be a bit grown up and do something else. I also didn’t want to become one of those old people that has been there forever! Kurt Geiger was one of the brands I worked with at Selfridges so I knew them quite well and I thought it was an interesting company and perhaps there would be quite a bit I could do there. Eventually they offered me the job as Buying Director and I thought, why not! I never even had an interview, I just turned up and I’ve been here 10 years now.
LPA: How do you feel the brand has changed or developed in the decade sine you took over as Buying & Creative Director?
RFH: It’s changed massively, I think it’s unrecognizable from when I started. Back then we had about 3 shops just in the UK, I think London, Leeds and Manchester. Now if you include the ones at the airports, I think we’ve now got about 60. We now have stores in the Middle East and Turkey. We’ve opened two in the United States and about to open our third so it’s a much, much bigger company. We also had no designers when I first started at Kurt Geiger, just buyers and merchandisers, whereas now on ladies shoes alone we’ve got twenty something. I also felt when I started that out shoes were quite dusty. They were always good quality but definitely not shoes for a fashionista. I think for me the biggest change since first started is that then when I’d get into a London cab, give them the company address and say its Kurt Geiger they wouldn’t have a clue what I was talking about was whereas now they all know exactly what it is, so hopefully we’ve done a relatively good job.
LPA: How much involvement do you have in the actual design process?
RFH: It’s hard to do your own appraisal. My team would probably say a lot, I’m a bit of a control freak. I suppose that as Creative Director I set the tone for the season. I present the colour palette and talk about what our girl will be wearing in 6 months time to the design team.That’s a bit of a two way process, we sit and have two or three days of debate about what each girl for each of the three key brands will want and try to frame the season. Then designers go away and start designing and developing ideas and my office is just about the studio so every time they’ve got stuff to show me they run up or I run down. I probably touch base with them at least a couple of times a week.
LPA: Last year US supergroup Jones last year bought Kurt Geiger for a whopping £215 million. What effects have the sale had on the brand?
RFH: In terms of the day to day business I don’t think it’s changed anything. They’re very nice people and they like what we do. They’re also business people not creatives which is definitely a good thing because otherwise I’d be fighting. I think they believe very strongly in what we do and what we’re trying to do so while clearly we’ve got to deliver the numbers, to a large extent they leave us to it… Then again they’re also the other side of the Atlantic! The sale has meant that the company doesn’t have the debt levels it used to and they are fully behind our expansion and incredibly supportive. They have big business in the US and as our plans are to expand Kurt Geiger the brand over they can really help us with that. It’s still early days but so far the results of the sale and our relationship with Jones been very positive and it will be interesting to see what happens next. They’re very good at the back of house while we’re good at the front of house. We make things look nice and they’re very grown up and proper about their functions and processes so hopefully we can help one another.
LPA: So you’ve got shoes and accessories sorted, what are your favourite clothing brands?
RFH: I’m a real chameleon with clothing. If I could only have one brand it would be Prada. I adore it and actually have one item from every runway collection since 1991! On top of that I like all the obvious things I suppose. I work in the East end, run around all the time and travel a lot so brands like Alexander Wang are great for me because they’re practical. But what I wear really depends on y mood. Sometimes I’ll wear silly things from Miu Miu or Balenciaga and then other times I feel like a Chanel jacket and a pair of jeans. Stella McCartney is brilliant for basics, I probably have 20 jackets by her I’m slightly embarrassed to say. The one good thing about getting older is that you don’t change your mind so much and can keep hold of great pieces. I have a Dior Homme blazer I bought 7 or 8 years ago and still wear all the time. I suppose I like new things because their exciting but also my old favourites… And of course I never have enough space for any of it!
LPA: What kind of shoes would you recommend for the following three occasions and why…
First date: It’s so long since I’ve had a first date! I’ll just have to imagine. If it was me I wouldn’t want to look as though I was trying too hard although clearly I would have done. I’d wear a heel, but a little heel so I’d be able to be comfy and be myself. I’d want to wear something a bit fashiony because although that can scare men, if they don’t like that about me then I’m not that interested in them! I’d choose something very this season – so if it’s now, it would be white – and nothing too scary or boyish.
Job Interview: I’d wear something that shows that I can be serious enough but not dull. Maybe a pair of black stilettos but I’d give them and edge by wearing them with a sock.
Drinks with an ex: I think I’d really want to show I didn’t care and wasn’t trying hard so I’d go super casual… Trainers.
LPA: A job at Kurt Geiger is something most people I know would kill for! Are there any specific qualities or qualifications you look for in potential employees or interns?
RFH: Definitely not qualifications, for me qualities are much more important. I think fashion retail is a brilliant place in that if you’ve got the right attitude you can become anything in a company. I think people need to demonstrate that they really love fashion. Fashion is at our heart and we’re a creative company. Then they’d need to show that they’re not scared of hard work, able to have a good time and enjoy it, say what they really think and articulate that well. A person who tries their best and is enthusiastic should have good career somewhere like Kurt Geiger.
Love Ella. X