THE JIGSAW OF STYLE
Princess Kate worked there, celebrities shop there and it’s all run from a base in Kew. Gilly Turney explores the legend of the Jigsaw fashion brand
Tucked away on a leafy street, a stone’s throw from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, is the headquarters of one of the most successful fashion companies in the land.
For 40 years now, Jigsaw has been an influential presence on our high streets, its slick shops displaying a unique brand of stylish, beautifully cut, sometimes quirky, fashions. Brainchild of John Robinson, who launched the brand in 1972 with just one shop in Hampstead, the firm has seen sustained growth and success ever since.
Today it has mushroomed, boasting a total of 47 shops across the UK, six in the United States, a successful e-commerce business, the children’s wear line Jigsaw Junior and an interiors arm Jigsaw Home – and that’s without mentioning its sister brands, Cabbages and Roses and Kew.159.
This month the company relaunches its iconic Jigsaw Menswear range, with the first collection since 1999. And all this is masterminded from the global head office in Kew, under the watchful eyes of John and his wife, co-owner and creative consultant, Belle.
Here is a British brand with a strong identity it has never lost since those early, modest days in North London. Yet it came about almost by chance. From his holidays in Turkey, John brought back a sheepskin coat which, he found, people wanted to buy. So he and his business partner went back to Istanbul, filled an old Post Office van with 60 coats and sold them upon return to the UK.
He met Belle, a model, through friends, and she was soon involved in the firm. With her creative flair and love of fashion, it was ideal.
“The concept of the brand is to bridge the gap between designer labels and high street fashion,” she explains, and her creative know-how is forever stamped on the womenswear collections, as she brings affordable designer looks to discerning fashionistas at the upper end of the high street.
“I wear a lot of Jigsaw myself,” she admits. “I especially love our beautiful maxi dresses and prints.”
Within five years of joining Jigsaw, Belle (pictured: below right) became a director. And, in the early 1990s, she was the creative force behind the introduction of one of the high street’s most successful and directional children’s wear ranges: Jigsaw Junior.
Having identified the need to bridge the gap between the wardrobe preferences of mothers and the demands of their increasingly fashion-conscious daughters, and in pursuit of creating a collection that appealed to these conflicting age groups, she developed the children’s wear line combining classic looks with whimsical design.
It was, and is, a best-seller.
Worn by princesses – Jigsaw is a favourite of the Duchess of Cambridge, who brought much public attention to the brand when, as Kate Middleton and girlfriend of Prince William, she worked as an accessories buyer for the company in 2007/8 – pop stars and celebrities, this is a brand for those in search of something fashionable but individual; something of quintessential British design, but with a neat touch of quirkiness, irreverence and humour.
Each of the 47 stores is unique and has its own individual style, determined by the feel and design of the area. As a consequence, the company boasts an eclectic overall image.
And although all the brands are based together at Kew, on Mortlake Road, each is quite separate with its own design and management team. Last year Jigsaw’s sister label Kew (originally established in 2003) reinvented itself as Kew.159 – the ‘159’ added in homage to the company’s local connection over the years. While Jigsaw is designer-inspired, high street, high-end fashion, Kew is real fashion for real women, focusing on quality, contemporary pieces for the woman of today.
Under the distinctive direction of Creative Brand Director Sandra Clarke, the Kew.159 new collections are well made, trend-relevant, wardrobe-building pieces, easily adaptable from season to season, in interesting fabrics and distinguishing patterns and textures.
Jigsaw Menswear too is quite separate from its female counterpart and, in spite of the general high street economic gloom, the comapany continues to advance. The menswear brand returns this month with its first collection since 1999, cashing in on the recent resurgence of interest in menswear and the public’s long-standing affection for Jigsaw’s previous menswear collections.
Spearheaded by Design Director Frances Walker, a graduate of 20 years at Nicole Farhi Menswear, this new collection is based on most men’s favourite wardrobe pieces – clothing with a dishevelled charm, comfortably put together – and goes into 18 existing larger Jigsaw stores across the UK.
Neither launch will have gone unnoticed by Belle, who is passionate about the entire company. The mother of five children, she is constantly juggling the demands of running one of the UK’s biggest high street brands, managing The Shop at Bluebird – another of her fashion concerns – and raising a family, while continuing to impress and achieve recognition for her contribution to the British fashion industry.
These days she and John divide their time between London and their country house in Wiltshire, with the occasional holiday on the Caribbean island of Mustique. “We spend two days a week in London, and I try to fit as much business as possible into this time, leaving the remainder of the week free for family,” she says.
With their hands-on creative input, Belle and John have established a strong brand heritage ensuring that, as the company grows and evolves, they cater for both the core Jigsaw customers – many of whom can chart their custom back to the first store opening in 1972 – and the new wave of devotees now pouring through the doors.
“Our vision for the future is to develop the Jigsaw brand and continue to provide our customers with beautiful quality and style,” concludes Belle.
As a fledgling fashion editor, newly arrived and living in North London, working on a magazine just off Fleet Street back in the 70s, I for one can remember the thrill of shopping in that first Jigsaw store. It was unique and inspiring. And those are qualities it has never lost.
- Main image courtesy of Jigsaw