On The Hill had a chat with Keturah Brown boutique owner and designer Goug Wilcox and Celyn Cooke, responsible for the brand’s new digital strategy.
Regent’s Park Road, with its stretch of charming, independent shops and restaurants, is unique in the capital, a throwback to village life of yesteryear. One of the most iconic in the area is Keturah Brown, which first opened its doors in 1980. The boutique has the intimate feel of a studio, where Goug has her sewing machine set up right next to the rows of gorgeous silk creations. She has even been known to make up petticoats on the spot for forgetful clients on route to chic events. Bespoke service indeed! It is a shop with a history and a veritable treasure trove of stunning pieces in silk and lace.
Starting At The Top
Keturah is Goug’s middle name, and it is no coincidence that it sounds like couture. Goug has been making her signature silk camisoles and bias cut slips and half-slips since 1974, when she sold her first collection to Harrods. “I started at the top,” she jokes.
The shop showcases Goug’s own delicate designs, drawing inspiration especially from the elegance of the 1930s, as well as outside design labels such as Simone Pérèle and Wolford. The ultimate luxury is the made-to-measure service that Goug offers: a dedicated following of clients will attest to her exquisite craftsmanship, ensuring a perfect fit.
Goug has been making her signature silk camisoles and bias cut slips and half-slips since 1974, when she sold her first collection to Harrods. “I started at the top,” she jokes.
Celyn Cooke is orchestrating the brand’s new digital presence. She has a background in fashion and visual arts and is a designer herself, creating hats and headpieces for her label Itty & Fee.
The Keturah Brown website is already up and running. The web shop will focus on Goug’s own designs. All items are made to order, and international as well as domestic shipping is offered. There is also a dedicated bridal collection. The website is essentially ‘the icing on the cake’, as Goug says, reaching new customers further afield and those who may prefer the ease of internet shopping.
Recent weeks and months have seen a big push for Keturah Brown: a feature in the Financial Times’s ‘How to Spend It’ supplement, an article in Vogue, all on the back of the brand’s expanding digital presence.
Keeping It In-House
As far as possible, the small team is looking to keep everything in-house. The photos on the website are mainly by Celyn herself, or by local photographer Christina Jansen whose work is currently on display at popular Primrose Hill eateries Greenberry Cafe and Sam’s Cafe. This is all part of their ethos of promoting the local community.
In addition to the in-house web shop, the brand is also starting to sell on Etsy, the renowned e-commerce website. As Celyn explains, “This platform fits well with who we are. Etsy specialises in hand made pieces, tradition, vintage. People log on to search for one-off pieces, preferably with a story behind them. It’s a more personal shopping experience. We even found some vintage Keturah Brown pieces on the site!”
Celyn admits that Etsy represents “a bit more work, there’s more competition, but as you get a track record and customers post feedback, you move up in terms of visibility”.
Although production of many items, including high street lingerie, has shifted to China and other low-cost locations since the 1990s, recent years have witnessed a counter trend whereby production is brought back to Britain. Quality and handicraft are valued above a minimal price tag. “Buying quality is actually more economical in the long run. One customer came in recently for me to make a small adjustment to a piece she had owned for twenty years,” Goug says with pride.
Innovate & Entertain
The shop is busier in summer as crowds descend on the open spaces of Primrose Hill and explore the local shops. Still, Goug and Celyn admit, it is not an easy climate for retailers right now. “We have to innovate,” says Goug; “turn shops into theatre spaces. My motto is that the customer should walk out of the shop happier than they walked in, but I don’t believe in the hard sell. By putting therapy into retail, you’re doing your job.” Goug certainly knows the luxury business intricately and has an impressive success rate at correctly guessing a customer’s bra size.
We have to innovate,” says Goug; “turn shops into theatre spaces. My motto is that the customer should walk out of the shop happier than they walked in, but I don’t believe in the hard sell.
Keturah Brown has found its true home in Primrose Hill; like the area it is stylish, unique and quirky. Goug believes in the importance of community. “I live in Primrose Hill, know people here and support other local businesses and organisations such as St Mary’s church.”
Recently Goug was invited to speak on “The Advantage of Age in Business” by Next Door , a private social network where local residents come together for everything from business gatherings to finding a reliable plumber. “It all helps you feel part of the community.”
Article By Ylwa Warghusen
Photos by Celyn Cooke