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My Fashion Life - Hilary Cookson

Indie Maureen Cookson’s owner has no time to shop but is a trade show addict.

What’s the best thing about running an independent store (Cookson owns Maureen Cookson womenswear in Whalley, Lancashire)?

I get to be whatever I want to be. I am a psychologist, buyer, financier, marketer, presenter, street sweeper and fortune teller. No one day is the same.

And the worst?

When you have to fill in a form and tick the box for self-employed, knowing that is frowned on for security by the financial professionals. Wrong, denied, but true.

Did you always want to work in fashion?

Fashion isn’t the thing that spins my plates. I believe I could sell coal to Newcastle. I just love the whole concept of pleasing the customer, finding what she wants and building a brand around that. Who knows what else I would have done? I never think about what might have been.

How has trading been so far this year?

If we talk about Maureen Cookson as we know it, trade has been OK. The mild weather has been helpful. Benedicts, our deli and wine bar, has been recording fabulous figures. I am at a loss as to how so much food and coffee can be consumed in one village.

What were your thoughts on the autumn 14 buying season?

I found, in general, that other buyers are cautiously optimistic, but everyone is bewildered by talk in the trade of a real upturn.

The big debate was as to where those figures come from. Brands always talk a good talk - there are the perennial offenders of agents who tell you that this season’s collection is the best ever and are stuck for words when you remind them they said that about last season’s collection too. Then there are those agents who speak frankly, are supportive and don’t tell you if your spend is lower or higher than last time.

What trade shows do you visit?

I am a fair junkie. I love hooking up with agents, fellow retailers and sneaking merchandising ideas from the stands. I always hope to be at the forefront of a newly introduced brand. I do IMC menswear, Scoop, Moda, Pure London, Spring Fair and Autumn Fair and small hotel shows for accessories and menswear in particular.

How involved are you on the shop floor?

Not as much as I would like to be because of commitments to other businesses. However, when it comes to merchandising and interfering - totally.

Who is the Maureen Cookson customer?

She is on the move because of my reinvention of the brand. Historically, she has been more affluent and a golfer, living on investment income and with a strong social life. Now, we are increasing focus on someone more local, who is price-conscious and wants to ‘wear it again’.

What is your brand mix like?

We have about 50 brands, spread across all areas of womenswear and accessories. Random examples are Gerry Weber, Olsen, Betty Barclay, Frank Lyman, Passport … the list goes on.

Have you ever thought about having your own brand?

No, no and no. I’m a retailer and I can’t confuse the two. I’m a bear with a small brain. I’m sure there are those who do that brilliantly, but I want the freedom to walk away from a collection.

Where do you like to go shopping yourself?

I’m in retail, when is there time to go shopping?

However, I can’t go past [French footwear brand] Robert Clergerie on Wigmore Street in London or Tod’s [the luxury footwear and accessories brand which has two stores in London] without a purchase.

If you could stock any brand ever, which would it be?

Any brand would be the brand of the moment, so that’s not “ever”. We’ve been on the early train for a few that have made us lots of money in their early days, before diluting their customer base and spoiling it for the retailers. We have a couple of brands that are growing at present - I’m happy and not sharing.

Have you ever had a celebrity in the shop?

We get celebrities in, but we are renowned for not recognising them. I got a buzz out of being told about an episode ofEmmerdale that had a girl who had been out shopping unpacking various bags, including some from Maureen Cookson.

What’s the strangest thing a customer has ever done?

Chosen an outfit for her husband’s funeral before he died. She got the call while the alterations were being done that he had passed away.

Are you a shoe woman or a bag woman?

Both. Always black. Always leather.

What annoys you the most?

People who don’t consider their words before uttering them.

You were a judge for the Drapers Independents Awards - how was that?

Fabulous and fascinating. There are those entrants who put their heart and soul into the entry, but don’t follow the remit and so will never get through. Why are we so reluctant to talk figures? Failure to prepare is to prepare for failure. Then there are those whose passion just shines through.

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