Inside the busy life of independent boutique owner, womenswear designer and professional chef Joanna Nicola
Having trained as a professional chef, Joanna Nicola swapped the kitchen for the shop floor when she teamed up with her mother Helen to open womenswear independent Oxygen Boutique on London’s Eastcastle Street in 2009. In 2013 the duo launched their own label Related Apparel, which has racked up a list of wholesale stockists and an ever-growing celebrity following.
What’s the concept behind Oxygen Boutique?
We originally opened with only American designers who were not stocked in the UK. We’ve now opened this up a little to include other super cool Australian, British and Italian brands. We really try and find amazing buys that no other stores in the UK have to keep us fun, fresh and individual.
What makes a new brand stand out?
The handwriting of the brand. I can immediately tell from the lookbook or first viewing of a collection if it will sit in the store among our other brands and whether it will sell with our customers.
You also launched your own brand. Why?
We launched Related Apparel after noticing a gap in the market for a wearable, contemporary brand with a slightly lower price point.
You work with your mother. What are the pros and cons of this?
I think working with family is the best. We have really similar taste and so designing comes really naturally to us. She is an incredibly talented designer and we both have a keen eye for buying too which is a bonus. My brother, father and fiance are also involved in the business, which is great as we trust one another completely.
What’s the most common thing you argue about?
About the length of our dresses. I love making cute little mini-dresses and Mum wants to see elegant, longer pieces – so we usually have a couple of each in the collections, which is great for our customers to have more choice.
Which do you prefer – working on the boutique or the brand?
They’re both so different it’s almost like having two jobs. I love buying for Oxygen and get such a buzz from discovering a new brand. Working on Related Apparel is a completely different feeling all together – seeing celebrities like Jessica Alba and Maisie Williams wear pieces that we’ve created is unreal and gives us a real sense of pride.
What’s been a career highlight?
Kendall Jenner wearing Related was the most incredible feeling.
Is it true you completed a Cordon Bleu diploma?
Yes. I did and loved every second of it. I worked at the River Cafe, The Savoy and on many films and TV shows, like Masterchef.
What’s your signature dish?
I’m known for making lots of amazing Greek and gluten-free food.
Social media is a big element of the business. Tell us about it.
It really is huge. We get so many click-throughs from Pinterest and Facebook. Instagram has been amazing for building our fan base and creating a buzz around the new designers or new. We get emails from customers wanting to buy whole looks from our Instagram pages.
What are your favourite social media accounts to follow?
Vogue, Pandora Sykes, Rogues, Martha Ward, Related Apparel, Suki Waterhouse, Grazia, Maisie Williams and Oxygen Boutique!
Where did the name Oxygen come from?
At the time we were a breath of fresh air, as nobody had any of our brands or were doing anything like Oxygen Boutique in London.
Favourite brands? Zara, Givenchy, Related, Alexis, SeaNY, Bella Freud
Favourite places to shop? Charlotte Tilbury for make up, Zara for high street and of course everything in my shop!
Biggest fashion splurge? Oscar De La Renta wedding dress
Last holiday? Cyprus
Last filmed you saw? Brooklyn
First job? Waitrose checkout girl
Dream job? If I could include cooking into this job somehow, that would be great.