You’ve previously mentioned that your grandmother was a big influence on your bold jewellery-embellished designs. What was your childhood like?
I was very lucky growing up because we travelled a lot. Moving from Tennessee at a young age meant that as a family we were often going back to the US to see friends and relatives. My grandmother had a decorative homewares shop in Nashville and she surrounded herself with beautiful things. She had a curiosity about places and things and this was definitely passed on to me. When we moved to England, my mother dragged me from museum to museum; I eventually started to look at things in a new way and I think that must have subconsciously informed some part of what I am doing today.
You’re a proud supporter of English manufacturing. Why do you think it’s important to support local industry?
We manufacture any bag with leather on it in the UK. For me it’s important to support smaller businesses. My clients could easily shop the big brands at the big stores and even if they still do, they shop at Wilbur & Gussie. I also feel that if we don’t support the manufacturing industry then the skills will eventually disappear and a gaping hole will be left. I know it costs more, but the quality of craftsmanship is superb and great pride is taken in the work. I love being able to say: This bag was made in England.
Would you describe your brand’s style as particularly British?
I think the style is pretty classic, but whimsy and eccentricity can be found in some of the silk prints and brooches, which gives them a certain Britishness.
Can you name-drop a few of your celebrity clients…
We work with a handful of stylists who call in our bags for their clients for specific events. It’s obviously wonderful when they carry one of them but even nicer when the stylist comes back to us for that client. It shows that they like the product. I do still get a thrill seeing Wilbur & Gussie on a red carpet. I don’t think I will ever take that for granted.
What’s your favourite London building?
The Victoria & Albert Museum. I could spend days in there. I try to go to all of the exhibitions, as well as do research in the permanent collections every season. I get a lot of inspiration from the decorative objects on display. And I think the gift shop is to die for. It must be one of the best museum shops in the world.
What were the last three countries you visited?
Mexico, Australia and the US. I’m not very good at taking holiday time but last year I used all my hard earned air miles and went to Australia. I like to try and visit a new country every year, so at the beginning of this year I went to Mexico. It was the most spoiling way to kick off another year. I go to the US a lot for work as I have some suppliers there. It’s a great excuse to catch up with friends at the same time so I feel very lucky.
What do you miss when you’re away?
My niece and nephew.
What don’t you miss?
What are you currently working on?
We are pre-selling our A/W 16 collection, which features two new clutch styles in suede and leather for more casual events. Wilbur & Gussie is so known for evening clutch bags, so I’m trying to break that conception. Some of our customers are happy to wear glitter or silk with jeans, but others see those materials as too formal, so we’ve introduced new ones.
What’s been your biggest career challenge?
Having your own business is constantly challenging because it is always changing and you have to move with the times, but I think the biggest one was actually getting the business from concept to product. Finding a factory took almost two years, and there were a multitude of mistakes made on the journey to get there. Last Christmas, our factory sent me the original framed drawing of the Charlie clutch bag. It looks so amateur today, but on the back they wrote how many thousands they’d made of that style and I thought: where there’s a will there’s a way!
What are you most proud of?
The shop. It was a big leap to go into retail but I wanted to bring the brand alive in a physical space. It’s hard to bring the personality of something across online, and you lose control of your merchandising when you sell to other stores. To me the brand has always been about having fun, being bold, and maintaining elegance. I wanted all of that to come across in the shop. I filled it with eccentric bits and bobs that I’d collected over the years for the fun, had lovely show cabinets built to convey the elegance and painted them bright yellow for the bold. It was a big risk but fortunately it worked and the customers love it.
What is your indulgence?
I eat out way too much! There is a new restaurant called Bernardi’s which opened recently near the shop. I tend to get lured there quite often after work. Seymour Place has really great restaurants.
What are your handbag essentials?
I don’t like having a lot of unnecessary stuff in my bag so I try to be organised. Aside from my keys, phone, money/oyster card, I always carry a plaster just in case of a blister, tissues and a pen. I also go berserk if I leave my lip balm at home.