Recession-proof Cath Kidston has defied the crumbling economy with her ‘kitchenalgia’ empire (apparently this is ‘kitchenalia’ blended with ‘nostalgia’, in case you are as confused as I am). This year she has sold more polka dot tea towels and chintzy fabrics than ever before and has smugly recorded profits of £4.6m, up from £2.9m in 2008.

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This is a big deal in the interiors industry. Other homeware brands have been hit hard by the recession – The Pier has disappeared. High street favourite Woolworths is a gonna (which of recent years was yawns-ville but in the past brought us such classics as the Ridgway Homemaker tableware collection) and MFI has tragically died. So, for Cath Kidston’s sales to rise from £19.2m to £31.3m is pretty impressive. She’s going from strength to strength and now has 27 stores in the UK and Ireland, with 10 new openings in the last year. And it’s not just us Brits who go crazy for her cute, floral style – she’s also huge in Japan and now has shops in Tokyo, Nagoya and Yokohama.

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There have been articles in both The Guardian and The Sunday Times recently charting Kidston’s amazing growth and discussing what the secret of her recession success is. Do women turn to her cheerful designs for comfort in hard times? Do her vintage patterns remind us of our grandmothers, idyllic childhoods and homespun rosy days? Is the CK lifestyle ‘a way to nest, but without all the hard work involved in nesting’? In the Daily Mail recently, Leah Hardy, a self-confessed Cath-addict summed up why she’s obsessed with the brand: “In Cath Kidston world, surrounded by my Cath Kidston things, I can believe I am the perfect housewife. I live in a mullioned rectory. There are perfectly behaved, rosy-cheeked children and well-trained dogs at my feet. Carrots are growing in my garden and there’s a homemade cake cooling in my kitchen. The reality, of course, is somewhat different. I’m a harassed working mother living in a South London semi, with cats and urban children, at whom I sometimes shout, especially when I’m on a deadline and they are fighting over the TV remote control. There are no roses around my door, I wince when my bank statements arrive and my ironing pile is a disgrace. In my retro-styled sewing box I have a Cath Kidston floral-print tin button box but I can’t remember the last time I sewed on a button.”

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So, Cath allows us to fantasise and escape reality. But can she peddle this dream forever? There have been rumbles in the press that she’s grown too big – that her ‘pinny porn’ has spread ‘like ivy’ – that fashion will turn against her as it did with Laura Ashley in the 1990s – that selling spotty bags in Tesco, phones for Nokia, tents in Millets and opening an outlet store in Bicester is a bit too much and somehow, well, chavvy. It’s like when you hear a song you like on the radio. Every day. Twenty four times. It soon loses it’s appeal and becomes a bit annoying. It’s overload. Controversially, a former Cath-fan recently referred to Kidston as ‘a bit of a tart’ in the Daily Mail. She explained: ‘Cath Kidston is everywhere now – and there’s nothing more annoying than finding your hidden gem is suddenly a cheap bit of costume jewellery available on every high street.’

While I’m sure Cath won’t relish being labelled ‘a tart’, she might be glad of all this convenient media attention, as there are rumours flying around that she’s planning to sell her empire… so, what do you think? Have you had your fill of sugary florals? Are you all Cath Kidston-ed out? Or are you a complete convert? Do the new CK  images here still give you a thrill? Will you be rushing out to buy the new Cath Kidston Roberts radio (above)? So many questions! Let us know what you think! – Ellie

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It’s worked for Tupperware since the Sixties, it made millions for Ann Summers in the Nineties, and last year Richard Branson gave it a go with his company Virgin Vie. Now, Jamie Oliver is having a bash at throwing private shopping parties to flog his new collection of kitchenware and garden kit – and he’s timed it perfectly. After all, staying in is the new going out…

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'Jme' with his party hostesses

The new Jme range (geddit? Jamie, Jme, genius) is sold online and through a nationwide network of self-employed hostesses who pay £100 for a starter kit and then make extra money in their spare time selling the collection to members of their social circle and at special Jme parties. According to Jamie’s public relations team, there have already been over 800 Jme parties around the UK since the party concept launched just four weeks ago, and more ‘reps’ sign up each day.

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There’s a huge ‘back to basics’ shift at the moment. With so much economic uncertainty, we crave a simple, more fulfilling home life. We dream of ‘the good life’ – gathering organic vegetables, plucking fresh eggs from a rustic hen coop and skipping joyfully around a sunny orchard holding hands, eating healthy meals and living a wholesome, idyllic existence. Basically, we crave Jamie’s seemingly perfect lifestyle – (as seen on the old Sainsbury‘s adverts and on the drool-inducing Jamie At Home TV series, where Jamie waxes lyrical about Mother Nature’s bounty and cooks up treats in his stunning wood fired oven to feed his beautiful wife and three gorgeous but strangely-named children) – and the Jme products allow us to bring a slice of that lifestyle into our own homes. Rustic, simple cookware, packets of seeds and chic-but-useful kitchen tools let us buy into the Jamie dream. The products are chunky and utilitarian and have a reassuring ‘built-to-last’ quality that appeals to us when money is tight.

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My personal favourites in the range are Jamie’s cheeky tea towels with amusing pro-allotment slogans on them such as: ‘Digging potatoes is always an adventure’. I’ve ordered one already! – Ellie

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Move over magnolia

April 7, 2009

New research released today reveals we’re injecting more personality into our homes than ever before, as the recession means we’re decorating for ourselves, not potential buyers. The survey, conducted by B&Q, showed that nearly a third of us (32%) are already using braver and bolder prints and more vibrant colours, while almost two thirds of us (62%) are planning to bring personal style into our homes. Perhaps we’re using bright colours and cheerful patterns to cheer ourselves up and beat the Credit Crunch blues, too?

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Cole & Son's Automania wallpaper is bold, bright and bursting with personality. It harks back to the swinging sixties when daring colour combinations and funky patterns were all the rage.

Industry experts have already picked up on this shift towards colour and personality. Speaking at London Design Week recently, designer Nina Campbell declared: ‘The Age of Beige is officially over. Hotel-style homes are a thing of the past – as the housing market has collapsed, fewer of us are moving, so we’re decorating for ourselves, not future buyers.’ She likened teenagers who have been brought up in the magnolia-drenched neutral homes of the Nineties and Noughties to moles ‘…emerging, blinded and blinking into a 2009 world of bright, bold colours and patterns.’

Personally, I love bright colours – even in smaller spaces, so this trend is right up my street. Check out our brilliant Ideal Home galleries for great ideas about how to use colour and pattern successfully in your home. – Ellie

Wartime tips

April 2, 2009

Do you want to save money? According to new research, six out of 10 people in the UK think a return to a Second World War approach to using resources could curb waste. With this in mind, a new ‘Wartime Spirit’ campaign launched today by the Energy Saving Trust aims to share 1940s tips and tricks for reducing waste and saving pennies. Although wartime ideas may sound old-fashioned at first, in today’s shaky economic climate as we batton down the hatches and tighten our belts, a lot of this advice is still relevant today.

Dig For Victory Ð Grow You Own Vegetables

This morning I went to the Imperial War Museum for the launch of the campaign inside a life-size 1940s display house, where I met Energy Saving Trust experts to find out how we can implement energy-saving ideas from the past into our 2009 homes. Here’s a diagram of a 1940s home with some tips:

picture-2As part of the launch, TV presenter Miquita Oliver (of T4 fame) demonstrated inexpensive wartime make-up, including beetroot juice mixed with beeswax for lipstick! It worked surprisingly well but even in our cash-strapped times, making my own make-do make-up seems like too much effort to me! Think I’ll stick to composting, instead. – Ellie

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Credit Crunch lingo

March 31, 2009

The new Heals spring/summer brochure landed on my desk last week with the word ‘Chiconomics’ proudly splashed across it, while ‘Recessionista’ (a frugal fashion follower who scouts around for bargains to save money but still manages to dress fabulously) was word of the week recently on the Macmillan Dictionary website. If you want to be cool, you need to get down with the Credit Crunch kids, tap into the zeitgeist and learn the lingo.

picture-13Over the past few months, as economies have collapsed and banks have gone bust, new Credit-Crunch-related words have been popping up all over the media in TV programmes, press releases and newspapers. This new recession slang heralds the beginning of a global thrift trend; it’s no longer cool to spend big bucks – which is just as well, as most of us are feeling the pinch and counting our pennies.

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Last month, American paper The Financial Post declared: ‘Ostentatious consumption – even for the well-off – is beginning to appear gauche’. So, it’s official – it’s cool to be frugal. I’m finally fashionable! This year, instead of complaining that I can’t afford to go abroad, and moaning about camping in Wales (again), I’ll be showing off at dinner parties (remember: staying in is the new going out) and telling everybody I’m taking an über-cool ‘Staycation’ in the UK instead – it’s all the rage for a Recessionista Frugalista like myself who’s embracing Chiconomics, darling. – Ellie

For more on ‘Chiconomics’, buy the June issue of Ideal Home magazine 🙂