One Of London's Most Respected Womenswear Designers crack
Caroline Charles opened in Cheltenham 21 years ago in Hooper’s, the well-loved, speciality department store in Cheltenham’s Promenade. When Hooper’s closed its doors in 2003, Caroline Charles moved to the Courtyard in Montpellier where it has been ever since. Manageress Muriel tells me that it’s ‘infinitely better’.
I soon discover that Caroline Charles is a real person and not just a brand. She is one of London’s most respected womenswear designers who has developed her business over the past four decades and whose label is sold and marketed throughout the world. Caroline began in the world of fashion art school followed by a couture apprenticeship and a stint as a photographer’s assistant. She then worked for Mary Quant in the swinging sixties before branching out on her own. Her designs were soon adopted by many celebrities from pop singers Lulu and Marianne Faithful to actors such as Emma Thompson, Helen Mirren and Kristin Scott Thomas.
Caroline, I discover, is 68 years old, but her customer base comprises all ages. Many of her customers are mother and daughter and include royalty as well as famous names. Muriel wouldn’t tell me who though as that would break a confidence, but I am sure we can have a good guess. One well known royal customer however, was Princess Diana who loved to shop at the flagship store in Beauchamp Place in London.
Caroline herself still lives in London.
Everything in the shop has been designed by Caroline and while most of the items are manufactured in the UK, the heavily beaded dresses and jackets are worked in Hong Kong, where all the top designers go. The look is always elegant, self assured and polished, the colours such as olive, aubergine, cognac and amethyst, both classic and sophisticated yet modern. Everything is designed to tie in - from the clothes, bags, hats and soft leather gloves, to the jewellery which Caroline has made up in Paris.
We chat about London Fashion Week which takes place twice a year; the next one is mid February.
Caroline was one of the first designers to join when it started and still puts on her catwalk show every time. Last year Muriel informs me, Joan Collins was at the show, as was Boris Johnson. Caroline is well loved and interviewed all over the world.
Everything in the shop is so beautifully tailored. I particularly like a dark green panne velvet jacket which takes me back to the seventies and a leopard print blazer, but I can’t help being struck by the elaborate beading, such as the Jazz Silk Beaded Shift Dress and the Cleopatra Silk Beaded Bolero, which characterise the unique Caroline Charles look. My favourite item though, is the more casual brown and cappuccino Patchwork Coat, which would go wonderfully with the brown Brushed Cotton Jeans.
The Cheltenham branch of Caroline Charles is at:
14 The Courtyard
Telephone: 01242 578111
And the website is at: www.carolinecharles.co.uk
Other branches can be found in Guildford, Tunbridge Wells, Harrogate, Wilmslow, Exeter and there is also a concession in Harrods.