I recently moved my home-office, having a partial clearout in the process (very therapeutic, highly recommend) and stumbled across an old woven label with 'Cheet for HOBBS' on it. It triggered a flood of memories that I thought to share with you. If you didn't know, the Elyse & i label used to be called 'Cheet' when I first launched it way back in 2005 - a name derived from my nickname Cheets. My collaboration with premium high street retail chain HOBBS came about after winning the Best Accessories Design award at the London Fashion Forum/Fashion Capital organised Profile 7 tradeshow in London's Tobacco Dock.
It was my first ever 'trade' show and to be perfectly honest, I was a bit despondent as it wasn't hugely well attended. However, ringing true with the notion that there's good to be found in anything we do, I landed not one but two golden opportunities from this event. Various big companies like Whistles, House of Fraser, Debenhams and HOBBS sponsored the awards which were coveted by young designers like myself. For two and a half days I eagerly awaiting the arrival of the HOBBS buying team to make their rounds of the exhibitors. On the last afternoon, just at the moment I stepped away from my stand to dash to the bathroom, they visited my stand. When my friends told me on my return, I was crestfallen not to have had a chance to speak to them.
That evening, there was a catwalk show together followed by the Award presentation. I was convinced my ill-timed loo break had dampened any chance of me winning and then was totally taken aback to see one of my bags - quite unisex in hindsight - styled on a man on the catwalk. My Mum was meant to be coming for this part of the evening but was running late. The Awards ceremony started and then quite miraculously they called out my name - in total shock, I strutted onto the stage in my East London market wrap dress, faux leather boots and gratefully but bumblingly choked out my thanks to Hobbs MD Nicholas Samuel. Afterwards, the HOBBs team said they'd been trying to find me earlier in the afternoon to chat to me (as I had them) but were already convinced enough to award me the prize. Frustratingly my Mum missed the whole thing - thanks London traffic!
Winning meant a meeting with HOBBS and designing a capsule collection for a few of their London flagship stores. They had loved an east-west bag seen at the show and commissioned the same bag in three rich shades of butter-soft Italian nappa - an emerald teal green, an olive and aubergine. They were lined with a heavy Italian grossgrain fabric - a signature of all the Hobbs bags at the time - and were handcrafted in Southern Italy. I designed a quirky resin horn and bead charm that would snap onto the zipper. Interchangeable straps, flexible features, floral leather clip on corsages were a big part of my designs - styling versatility being of paramount importance then as it is now.
They also ordered a couple of thick, hipster belts that were really en vogue at that time. A triple thread asymmetric belt made from Italian hair-on-calf leather which you wore snaked over your hips that was made in a British factory in Northants. A big regret is that this was from a time that pre-dated social media, from when phones were just phones (e.g. something to call someone on) so sadly I have very little record of this collection in pictorial form. I also remember the bags arriving so close to the delivery deadline that I didn't even really get good photographs of them nor did I get good in-store pictures either. That said, I still have one of the belt samples - post children it is more of a waist than hip belt and one of these days I'll share a picture on instagram for you!
I mentioned a second golden moment from this London event. Well, a few weeks afterwards, I took a call from the assistant to the Head of Menswear Buying at Debenhams (a large UK high street department store chain) wanting to set up a meeting with me as the buyer had been so impressed by my collection of 'mens' bags. Hmm, OK I agreed slightly awkwardly. As soon as I put down the phone, insecurity set in and I went back and forth with friends as to whether I should call back and confess to never having designed a bag for a man in my life. Unanimously, they shot me down - you are a designer, just go and meet them, nothing to lose. If ever there was an example of me 'winging it' it was that meeting. I rocked up with some bag samples - including the one in the picture above - and a lot of ideas for a range of hip, urban leather totes, pouches and wallets that I felt sure that even my very alpha male friends [insert: who wouldn't normally be seen dead wearing a 'man purse'] would want to carry. The bravado paid off and I was a Designer at Debenhams for three seasons with a brand called 'Cad by Cheet. GMTV's Ben Shepherd, TV presenter Gethin Jones and World Cup rugby star Will Greenwood all carried my creations, I outsold one of their biggest designers in my first season and garnered a great deal of press praise for the bags too.
Recently, I've been listening to podcasts where some great and successful actors, writers, presenters, all talk about their insecurity and something called 'imposter syndrome', a belief that they are not nearly as competent as others perceive or hold them to be. As someone who didn't study fashion, who didn't 'train' as a handbag designer, who 'fell into' bag design, for years I've had these same insecurities and have constantly downplayed my ability to create. My degree was in Italian and Art History and I've been instinctively designing since the first fabric handbag was sewn on that antique Singer Sewing machine, back in 2003.
Yet actually, I took a bold step - spurred by a desire to create and propelled by a growing lacklustre for my day-job-to-nowhere-happy - I started my label. It is only now, when I reflect on moments of past success like the ones I've recounted above that I can give myself a little proverbial pat on the back. My earliest passions were painting and creating art - I am an innate creator with a knack of turning imagination into possibility, be that in handbags (in huge collaboration with the brilliant artisans I work with), cake designs, costume making, headbands or most recently floral arrangements! Along the way, I have been truly blessed to have had what Matthew McConaughey would term 'green lights' - encountering people who've seen something in me and believed enough to give me a break. In conclusion, the stars will never be aligned at once for you to embark on a flawless journey but you'll tackle the pot holes and curves directed at you along the way. To quote Mr McConaughey again (yup, I just read his book) live your legacy now and do what stirs the passion inside of you. Emily
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