Believe it or not, I am not a huge shopper. I find it more chore than pleasure. My favourite shops are the ones where the owner is around in body and spirit with a clear idea of what he or she is trying to create and with staff who are just as excited to be there as their boss.
Enter Isabel Ettedgui, owner of the re-launched Connolly shop on Clifford Street in Mayfair, my new favourite go-to spot as much for what it does do, as for what it doesn’t.
Full disclosure, Isy, as she’s known to her friends, is one of my favourite people. Effortlessly chic, warm, wise, hard-working and very funny, it’s no surprise that Connolly is terrific.
I sat down with Isy last week in the upstairs living space where the furniture is designed by the same people who designed the shop – Parisian architects Patrick Gilles and Dorothée Boissier – and asked her about her vision for the brand, who her ideal customer is and what advice she would give to other women wanting to set up shop.
I wanted (Connolly) to be very personal. It’s not big, it’s not a huge flagship store. If you can’t explain a product to a customer because you’ve got 500 shops, then the mystery and the beauty of the product tends to be lost on them. I want people to discover and feel comfortable and very well looked after when they come. They’re coming into my space, my environment. I hope with Connolly that we’re more connected to the roots, to the manufacturers, to the designers, to our customers. It’s about giving something that’s a part of you.
Isy and her warm staff – many of whom worked with her during Connolly’s previous incarnation several years ago when Isy’s husband Joseph was alive – know the stories behind each item sitting on a shelf or hanging on a rail. The Arran fisherman sweaters are each handmade by one knitter, six months from start to finish. Isy explains the origins of the Arran knits:
The cables were knitted by the fishermens’ wives. These jumpers … so that if they were lost at sea, each cable had a different pattern. (The wives) would be able to recognise a sailor if he drowned.
While Isy loves the past, she is a thoroughly modern woman. She discovered these vast bowls on Instagram, contacted their maker, an artisan named Joel Parks, and is now commissioning several pieces from him.
Parks finds dead wood in the forests of Devon, sands the pieces down to a rough shape, drills holes into the wood and then injects pewter and acrylic paint into the holes. Le voila.
Who is your ideal customer?
I don’t think they are into big status symbols … Connolly isn’t for everyone. It’s a very low-key brand. It takes a bit of confidence. It’s for someone who gets it, someone who says ‘Yeah, I’m going to make an effort and go into the one shop in the world, because there’s only one and I am going to give my friend a present because it’s from Connolly and it means something.
What advice would you give other women wanting to open a shop.
Don’t, she laughs. Work with other women, get a good team of women. They’re multi-taskers … And try and find one thing, find something you really love because unless you love it, you won’t stick with it.
Not only does Isy have exquisite taste, she trusts her gut, doing things that might seem impractical, like having a sparsely designed living room upstairs.
It’s prime retail space, and I’ve got a bunch of flowers , she half-jokes, about the lovely first floor space. It’s very indulgent.
For me it was very much about impact, the way people feel when they walked in.
On the ground floor, Isy made another bold move; the Classic Collection, created by designer’s designer Marc Audibet is limited to 19 pieces.
I didn’t want (customers) to feel that it was just rows and rows of clothes. The clothes are so beautiful that I knew I didn’t want to have 25 pairs of trousers. I’ll have three or four different styles. That’s more than enough … Ours is about the cut and the fabric, absolutely eternal pieces that don’t date. They’ll always be in your wardrobe. They’ll just work for you.
Do you have any fashion mentors?
Joseph for the way he merchandised and edited, his instinct for what women and men wanted to wear and the way he mixed brands.
Apart from launching Connolly fashion and leather goods,
Do you consider yourself a career woman?
A career woman is someone who is working for a large corporation, going up a ladder. There’s none of that here. The only ladder I go up is in the stock room. It’s not a career. It’s a life choice, really.
How scary was this opening?
It was the first time I was trying to do a build (18th c. Georgian townhouse completely gutted and redone) and build a brand. That was hard, and on my own, as a widow. There’s a certain freedom being on your own, but there’s also a certain anxiety. You miss that sounding board. It’s a double-edge sword.
What benefits does age bring?
Certainly not sagacity, she laughs. You kind of think ‘Well, I could die tomorrow, at least I’ve tried. It’s like youth. I think youth and age bring a kind of freedom. Youth because you’re naive and you don’t know what’s going to go wrong. And age, because what else are you going to do? You might as well give it a go.
Here’s to giving it a go. Bravo Isabel!