OK, I admit it. I must have been asleep all this time. The first I heard was the media hullabaloo trumpeting her success as a businesswoman. Cassandra Jardine in the Telegraph hailed her as a post-feminist icon, and pretty much everyone else has piled in as well.
Because? The year-end figures for Cath Kidston’s private company had just percolated to the surface (God knows why now, the year-end is March) – and they were astonishingly good. Sales have leapt more than a third to £31.3m and profits soared a majestic 59% to £4.6m (£2.9m). This is no flash in the pan. The 50-year-old designer has been sticking to her knitting for 15 years. What we have here is a recipe for success that has clearly been baked to perfection in the worst recession in living memory.
Now it’s not cheap, the stuff she sells in her 27 shops; nor is it to everyone’s taste. Some would characterise it as upper-class kitsch, whose last great exponent was Laura Ashley. So wholesome, so mumsy, so floral, so…English. Yet there are few places the Kidston motif has not managed to insinuate itself over the years. We even have the stuff ourselves – some rather nice mugs my wife once unwittingly bought at Waitrose. “These can’t be Kidston,” she declared authoritatively. “They’re not floral enough”. The monikored assay mark on the base of the mugs cleared that one up.
Whatever it is – let’s settle on zeitgeist – Kidston knows how to bottle and sell it. In her way, she’s a domestic goddess. A more matronly, kindly one than the grasping, go-getting Martha Stewart in her pomp, and a safer, less threatening one than the glamorous Nigella. But like them, she’s peddling a kind of escapism: in her case, the illusory, nostalgic domestic idyll of the Fifties. And women of a certain sort – the kind that can afford her – are lapping it up.
I agree with JKR’s blogger that calling her oeuvre “Pinnie Porn” unfairly demeans her. You wouldn’t employ that sort of perjorative language describing the achievement of Sir Terence Conran in an earlier era, would you? Indeed not.
You may convict Kidston’s design aesthetic of being bland, smothering, a conceit that denies everyday reality. But porn? No. it’s much cleverer than that. Good luck to her.
And, by the way, we still use the mugs and they’re still in perfect condition.