Cath Kidston – 25th years of retro style

In 2018, Cath Kidston celebrated the 25th anniversary since she opened her first store in 1993. It was here that Cath’s childhood fascination with plants and interior design came into its own, and she began building a name for herself as the Retro Queen for her distinctive Vintage floral prints with a modern twist.

I interviewed Cath in 2004 for a booklet that I wrote for the International Flower Bulb Council. This was the year that her collections first became seasonal and when she opened her flagship store in London’s Marylebone High Street, selling her hand-embroidered textiles, chintzy home ware and brightly renovated furniture. It was also when she launched her classic Rose Bouquet white fabric print, so I was most keen to find out what was the inspiration behind her nostalgic, shabby chic style.


Not surprisingly, it was a love for gardening and her nostalgia for the colours, prints and fabrics of her childhood home that has inspired Cath Kidston’s designs


Cath was brought up in the country and lived in an old house, which had a lovely garden with an orchard. The entire family were keen gardeners and especially her grandmother who taught her to appreciate every “feel good” aspect of beautiful flowers from their vibrant colours to fresh fragrances.


One of her fondest memories is running along the narrow path in her grandmother’s herb garden that had tobacco and lavender plants flopping over the edges that released a heady sweet fragrance as she brushed by. She told me that this delicious smell today still lingers in her mind and brings her joy whenever she gets a familiar whiff of it.


Garden visiting has been a life-long passion of Cath’s family and in true tradition she always tries to take in a garden or two whenever she’s out on the road and travelling the world looking for ideas and inspiration for new Vintage floral fabrics and wallpapers. Cath also liked to visit local gardens that are open to raise money for charity through the National Gardens Scheme (www.ngs.org.uk). Her well-thumbed Yellow Book has always been bedside reading!


Whilst Cath has a fondness for gardens she admits that she prefers designing flowerbeds and borders rather than getting her hands dirty pulling up weeds


At her old west London home, which she recently put up for sale, she had created a beautiful romantic garden packed with roses of every type and colour. At the back of the house, where she’s spent many happy years with her music producer husband, Hugh Padgham, there is an iris walk and a large lawn that leads down to the river, which over the years that they lived there, Cath eagerly continued to put her mark on.


Cath’s approach to design is simple and her aim with his fabric patterns is always to bring a feeling of joy to the space, whether it’s inside or outdoors


When designing and new flowerbed, Cath always starts with shapes that she can fill in with colours, which are blended in an adventurous way, and then looks for the plants that fit the bill and especially ones with aromatic foliage and scented blooms. Getting the balance of colours right is crucial for Cath as she has quite extreme emotional reactions of sadness and joy to different colours.


For Cath, natural light or sunlight is also an important consideration when planning a garden, “It changes throughout the day and can have a dramatic effect on the way a border is seen” explains Cath, “Imagine a border backlit with the sun filtering through the plants – it’s quite magical. Put the same border in the wrong spot however, and the effect may be flat and uninspiring. You need to know the places that are special and this can only be learnt by watching the light moving through the garden”, says Cath.


Cath’s ideal garden is a tranquil place where she can unwind after work and sit quietly whilst she reads the paper and gathers her thoughts. A traditional English style of garden is, as you’d expect when you see her range of Vintage florals, her favourite style and especially herbaceous perennials like iris, spring-flowering bulbs and cherry blossom trees, old roses and exotic-looking lilies and agapanthus.


Cath admits to being obsessed with dahlias!


“Dahlias are a particular favourite of mine. They’re honest, no-nonsense plants – just like the Kidston brand – and not at all snobby. They remind me of the garden fetes that I used to visit as a child. I love the way that they come in a vibrant mix of colours but in a range of sunny shades and tones that always lift the spirits. I also like the fact that you can cut them for the vase and the blooms keep coming then at the end of the season you simply hack them back and the following summer they spring back to life”.


Kidston on Colour


RED is one of her favourite colours – She says that she is really drawn to it as it bombards her emotions with positive feelings of joy. It is an exciting colour and full of vitality and because it invites one to sit up and take notice. Cath likes to use it to add an element of surprise in her designs and to set off other colours such as pale pink, which might look a little sad on their own.


BURGUNDY is according to Cath quite a dull colour so needs to be mixed with something more illuminating like red or acid green to give it vibrancy and warmth. She tries to avoid mixing white with burgundy as she feels the effect is soulless and quite depressing. Instead she looks for a plum shade that she feels works better with neutral, pastel shades and yellow to give a sharp, contemporary look.


TANGERINE ORANGE Cath says that this colour can be quite overpowering when used on its own and can be quite fatiguing when seen in large amounts. For her, it releases more positive attention and is emotionally exciting when imaginatively blended with another loud colour such as vivid fuchsia pink or dark red. It’s also a good colour to contrast with blue.


SUNSHINE YELLOW is bright and cheery and always makes Cath smile. She uses it a lot in my designs and especially with lime green. She likes to add it to favourite spring and summery colour patterns, which for her always spell excitement, newness and optimism.


GOLD is far too dull and boring for Cath’s taste so she tends to use this and other autumnal shades such as amber and burnt orange as an accent colour to jump out in a red or yellow scheme and give it a feeling of warmth and luxury.


SALMON PINK was never a favourite of Cath’s until she tried it with a muted shade of brown. This wholesome but striking combination has down to earth qualities and subtle warmth that she now finds presses her nostalgia button and really sets her pulse racing.


FUCHSIA is for Cath a quite disturbing and horribly depressing colour when seen on its own. She says that it looks good however, when used with restraint as a glowing highlight with cooler tones of blue, pink and white, which has an emotional effect that Cath finds quite calming.


WHITE is a bland, sad colour that reminds Cath of hospitals and funerals. Unlike some people she doesn’t find it a restful and neutral, minimalist look for interiors! She likes to cheer it up in the home and garden with red, pink or bright green, which she says arouses a feeling of well-being and vitality.


PALE PINK leaves Cath cold when used on its own but when combined with bright shades of red it takes on a youthful, fun character that she really likes. She says that she always thinks of colour terms of a pair of weighing scales, so is always prompted to balance the blend of pink in a positive direction with other colours to instantly put her in a good mood. The right blend can even have a calming affect.


RED & WHITE are one of the most striking combinations that arouse in Cath a sense of optimism, passion and curiosity. It can be quite an old fashioned blend but she thinks that it can be positively re-mixed and updated with a splash of bright green so that it becomes hip. It is the same approach she took when she redrew classic patterns for my Vintage floral collection and cheery polka dots.


IT’S A FACT!


In 2009 Cath was awarded an MBE in the New Year’s Honours List for services to business. On her 2011 ‘Desert Island Discs’ appearance, she said that despite the company’s success and her international recognition hers is still ‘a Marmite brand. People either love it or hate it.’


Cath’s very first fabric was inspired by a fragment of rose patterned wallpaper that she found in a derelict house in Wales that she cleverly matched with a piece of pink Andrex toilet paper, which she felt was the perfect colour for the roses!


Visit her on-line store – www.cathkidston.com


Credit: Photo Daily Mail/rexfeatures.com


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