TAKING on a widely-known, eponymous British brand and evolving it into a highly desirable, international fashion house with continued appeal for its loyal customer base isn’t a job to be taken lightly. But having joined Karen Millen as design director in 1999, Gemma Metheringham knew where to start – with a move.
“Moving to our atelier in Shoreditch was a big step towards putting craftsmanship and quality right at the heart of the Karen Millen brand,” said Metheringham, who is now the brand’s chief creative officer.
“And our new location was the perfect place to access and nurture the best new and emerging design talent in Britain. Plus, fashion’s all about inspiration, so it doesn’t hurt to be based in London’s hottest postcode, surrounded by the most creative people and places in the capital.”
But that was just the beginning.
Metheringham and her team have always been firmly committed to international expansion, and building boldly on early success, Metheringham has overseen unprecedented growth. The Karen Millen brand is now one of British fashion’s most successful exports.
Today, Karen Millen trades in over 50 markets across six continents, with stores in cultural and fashion capitals around the world. Over 60% of the brand’s sales now come from outside Britain. Its success has won Metheringham plaudits from her peers – she has been commended in Draper’s Top 100 People In Fashion, while the University of Hertfordshire recently awarded her an Honorary Award and Fellowship.
You don’t get growth like that without the right product, so Metheringham has always been totally hands-on.
“I’m absolutely involved in every step of the design process,” she enthused, “from the stories that shape each collection to the prints, fabrics, cuts, buttons and trims that finish it. Without our product, we don’t have a brand, so I’m never far from the atelier.”
Like most fashion creatives, Metheringham doesn’t really do down time. She always finds inspiration in the cultural highlights around her, whether it’s street markets, exhibitions, up-and-coming talent, pop-up restaurants, the theatre or, simply, a good read.