On Motherhood (& Daughterhood): Beverley & Nicola St Louis

Nature or nurture? It’s the question that immediately springs to mind when you meet Beverley and Nicola St Louis. Looking at physical appearance, the ‘nature’ part of the mother-daughter bond is undeniable. But their similarities go far beyond aesthetics.

As our district visual manager, Nicola supports the in-store visual teams to deliver the beautifully curated store environments Anthropologie is known for. This creative streak runs right through the way Nicola presents herself to the world: mixed colours, a clever mix of high-low brands and plenty of pattern. It’s a look that’s decidedly ‘Nicola’ – fun, imaginative and unique – but it’s also an aesthetic that she hasn’t crafted on her own. Nicola’s inspiration? Her mum.

“My mum studied fashion and made most of my clothes when I was little, at least the best ones! Let’s just say, creative direction began at an early age…,” says Nicola when asked about their shared artistic streak.

This Mother’s Day, we’ve teamed up with the content hub The Grace Tales to celebrate the launch of their first book ‘Grace Mothers’ – a collection of 60 thought provoking letters from Mothers to their children. Here, founder Georgie Abay talks to Nicola and Beverley St Louis about their creative careers, approach to fashion and politics.

First up, Beverley St Louis.

Tell us about your career as a fashion designer and how you juggled being a working mother with raising children?

I did a two-year Diploma in Fashion Design and at my final show, I was approached by a local shop that promoted young individual designers – they wanted me to work with them. I was very lucky to leave college and go straight to work. Fashion is a very difficult career to break into in a big way. I guess you do the best you can with the resources you have – tapping into family support, paid help or organising your work around childcare – you get organised! Whenever I became overwhelmed, I thought of all the millions of women who manage with a lot fewer resources.

Traditionally, I’m more of a conservative dresser, but I’ve noticed I’m taking more risks as a result of Nicola’s influence.

- Beverley St Louis

What was Nicola like growing up – did you always know she’d inherited your creativity?

Nicola was very creative from a very early age – she grew up in a very creative environment surrounded by creative people.

How does your style differ? 

Nic has her own style – she’s a bit more out there. I’m more conservative in my style however I’ve noticed I’m taking more risks as a result of Nicola’s influence.

What’s the greatest advice you’ve passed onto your daughter? 

‘And still I rise.’ Embrace challenges, be true to yourself, but remember ‘no woman is an island’.

What are you most proud of her for?

I’m proud of the woman Nic has become; of what she has achieved in her own right. I’m proud of her professionalism and her work ethic.

What’s on your Mother’s Day wish list from Anthropologie?

I saw an amazing sofa on the Anthropologie website, however I’ll settle for bed linen. I love bedding!

How will you be spending Mother’s Day?

We always spend Mother’s Day together if she’s in town. A bit of shopping and a large lunch.

And now, Nicola on daughterhood…

Tell us about growing up with a fashion designer mother – what are some early memories of your childhood?

My mother’s fashion background taught me simply, to be individual. She studied fashion and made most of my clothes for me when I was little, at least the best ones! Creative direction began at an early age, and when she started to ask me what colour stitching I wanted on my dungarees (green to blend in, or pink to pop) – my interest in fashion was born. As she also made amazing pieces for herself, we’d spend some Saturday mornings in the John Lewis fashion pattern department and spend hours looking at the Vogue patterns. I still have a dress she made from a YSL couture pattern which I can fit into. A couple of times she bought me some ‘Simplicity’ patterns to try out. I was amazed at how all those flimsy pieces of paper came together to make such beautiful clothes  – it seemed like a feat of engineering. We also used to go to a lot of ‘junk shops’ – I guess they’d be called ‘vintage’ these days –  and we’d look for vintage dresses for the dressing up box, but we’d customise them when we got home. She’d ask me how I wanted the dresses to look and we’d get to work, added St. Louis couture!

You studied politics at university and it’s something you’re still very passionate about – how would you sum up your current opinion on politics?

As a politics graduate, it’s no surprise that I think there should be some sort of understanding of the British political system taught in secondary schools and as a former student, it’s currently a really exciting time. The country is in the midst of a political storm and the significant change this will trigger is fascinating to me. Both major political parties are suffering from widening schisms and the debate around coalition and third-party governance we indulged in as recently as five years ago has completely disappeared.

As a citizen, however, I am worried. I worry about the politics of division being used to stoke fears, I see a lot of economic scapegoating which concerns me, complicated issues being exploited in the name of populism and I find myself in the position for the first time since reaching voting age where I don’t feel there is a party that represents me. On a positive note, however, I feel like we are having intelligent and open conversations about inclusion, diversity and what that looks like. And I feel like we’ve moved from a period of disaffection towards an atmosphere where people are demanding the right to be heard, which I’m hoping will lead to intelligent political debate.

What does being a woman today mean to you and what qualities do you want to encourage in young girls?

Being a woman – and a black woman in particular, as I cannot divorce the two – I feel dynamic, multi-faceted and powerful. As a collective, we need to acknowledge and harness this power to gain further momentum. I don’t think that we are fully realising our potential. I am empowered and emboldened at how far we have come – we are having discourse on the complicated dynamics around womanhood and what that word ‘looks’ like. We are demanding equality and holding people to account. I’m proud of what has been achieved, yet also determined, as we still have so much work to do.

The most important message that I would want to relay to young girls today is we need to support and empower each other to greatness. The success of one is success for us all and compassion does not equal weakness. Be confident enough in your talent to not feel threatened by others, because we are always better together.

This year I have also been learning to be more comfortable standing in my own power. As a result, positive things have manifested. So my message to young girls would also be – ‘Your playing small does not serve the world. Who are you not to be great?’ – Nelson Mandela.

Me and my mum still share clothes. She has some great dresses, and suiting and will give me a call if she needs some statement outerwear or jackets.

- Nicola St Louis

How do you handle things such as criticism or self-doubt?

I am actually my own worst critic. Over the years I have found ways to silence my  ‘gremlin’ as I like to call it. I discovered that once you do this, everything else falls into place. I have a mantra for this – you cannot legislate for other’s behaviour, you can only control your reaction to it.

As a creative, I tend to put a lot of myself into my work. I’m passionate about what I do and I’m proud of that. It took me a while to learn how to have a healthy distance between myself and what I produced.

It’s not that I’m training myself not to care about what I do – I’ve taught my brain perspective. As my area of work is so visible and so speculative, there tends to be a lot of opinion. It’s 1) remembering that feedback – as long as it’s constructive and not personal isn’t necessarily about criticism – it’s simply just a different opinion, and 2) also remembering to breathe!

Talk us through your career path and how you arrived at Anthropologie?

I left university with a politics degree and an innate love of fashion. I’d had one foot in retail since the age of 16, which is also when I discovered that I was good at and enjoyed visual merchandising, spending my summer holidays doing VM workshops in stores around central London with the VM manager.

So after the initial ‘what do I do now I’ve left university’ panic, I joined London Arts which was an organisation which was responsible for funding music in London. I spent a couple of years there before the fashion pull became too strong and left to work for the central body which funded the fashion and arts colleges in London such as Central St Martins, London School of Fashion and Chelsea School of Art. It soon became clear to me that I needed to be closer to product, so I went full-time as in-store press officer for the DKNY store in Bond Street where I’d been working part-time since I’d left uni. As I’d been working there in some capacity for so long, the manager put me forward for a role as a senior merchandising coordinator for the wholesale business. This involved travelling around the country supporting the concession business and setting up the Milan showroom four times a year for market. I was there for five years before I moved on to become display manager and brand stylist for Miss Selfridge which involved concepting, budgeting and installing window schemes, styling campaign shoots and press days and managing the field display teams. I then finally found my way to Anthropologie after nine years of making special trips to the US to marvel at its glory and as one of its biggest fans. I used to tell my team when we visited that I would work there for free… five years later I had my dream job in my dream company.

My love of fashion has absolutely been inherited from my mother! As a designer she knew about the importance of good tailoring, fit and nurtured my eye for detail.

- Nicola St Louis

What does a typical day entail for you?

My role is to ensure that my in-store visual teams are kept up to date with fashion, trend and concept information so they can plan their spaces for coming seasons. This involves being the conduit between the functions at head office i.e the buying, merchandising and allocation which dictate the product that hits the stores, and then visiting the different sites and types of stores in my district and working with the in-store teams to ensure a consistent visual message across the store profile.

The challenge is to make sure that the balance between the creative and commercial elements of the business are maintained effectively especially as Anthropologie is known for its in-store environments and its story telling through product.

Given your spending your days working in VM, is your home perfectly styled?

My home is curated with items from my travels and full of colour – I have cushions made from Indian saris and fabrics from Balinese ceremonies, alongside Moroccan finds from the souks in Marrakech and screen prints from Soho. I also have ex-display props that I’ve ‘rescued’ throughout my career… after the amount of time I’ve spent researching, sourcing and installing some of those schemes, I have a tough time letting them go!

What kind of changes do you think we will see in the next decade?

I think that customer service in stores will also become more important than ever. Anything that adds value to the experience of being in a store to make shopping an immersive experience will be worth its weight in gold.

What about content – how do you consume media?

I have a soft spot for good old fashion print. Don’t get me wrong, I still believe there is a place for Pinterest and other online mood-board forums, but there’s nothing like an image board of A4 photographic images to reference when you’re styling or building a concept. I am a great fan of Instagram and find it strangely calming. I use my page as a visual diary and constantly refer back to previous posts. I also use it to inspire my work and travel adventures and to keep in touch with our demographic to make sure that we are relevant and reacting.

Talk us through your wardrobe and how you approach getting dressed each morning?

My wardrobe is organised by colour, it’s really the only way I can make sense of it. I try to do a clear out every couple of years but I’m such a hoarder and emotional shopper that I find it really difficult to throw anything away. I’ve still got things I wore when I was at 16, and of course heirlooms from my mum and dad, although this implies that they gave them to me – it’s usually more like I’ve ‘borrowed’ them and not given them back!

For me, getting ready in the morning is one of the best parts of the day – anything can happen! I try to be more organised and plan the night before, but that almost never happens or I’ll change my mind at the last minute or decide to base my outfit around a piece of jewellery or an accessory I want to wear and work back from there. It makes it more interesting working backwards!

Five things in your basket from Anthropologie right now?

I’m always adding and taking things away from my basket, but at the moments it’s the woman up tee; Sam Edelman snake print loafers; Chio snake leather block heels; Gola Liberty trainers; Kachel Elena silk slip dress; you me and the sea beach towel, hammered mercury candle, crystal wands and the well done yoga mat.

Some of them will make it home!

What qualities have you inherited from your mother?

My love of fashion has absolutely been inherited from my mother! As a designer she knew about the importance of good tailoring, fit and nurtured my eye for detail. However she also gifted me my work ethic – through education and example and taught me the importance of financial independence – she worked hard so that I could have experiences that nurtured, stretched and inspired me.

What are some of the great life lesson’s she has taught you?

Not to take life or yourself too seriously while at the same time maintaining high standards professionally and personally. From a young age, she also taught me that individuality was something to be celebrated and an awareness of self-worth was very important – she still will not hesitate to let me know when she thinks I’m being exploited!

My grandmother also always used to insist that I walk straight and tall. At the time she meant in the purely physical sense, I was quite tall from an early age and found the physicality of that difficult to adjust to. However, the older I get, I appreciate the metaphorical significance of that statement just as much.

Did you ever share clothes with your mum?

Absolutely, we still do! The only thing is, we’re not the same shoe size any more so at least they’re safe, but everything else is up for grabs! She has some great dresses, and suiting and gives me a call if she needs some statement outerwear or jackets. When I lived at home, I would spend mornings looking for certain things I wanted to wear and then see her in the evening and realise she was wearing them! That doesn’t happen now I have my own place, but I do wonder how wise it is that she has my spare set of keys!

You practise yoga – what does this bring to your life? 

Perspective and gratitude and an understanding that self-care isn’t just about a face mask on a Friday night. It’s about protecting your energy, being compassionate and finding ways to maintain your authenticity despite your circumstances. One of the simplest things I’ve got from yoga is learning how to breathe fully and seeing the benefits of this on my body and mind. It allows you to gain the space and distance from situations where you might initially have a spike of anger or anxiety and just calm everything down.

What will you be giving your mother this Mother’s Day?

St Louis senior has classic style, but she likes to have a fashion edge, so I’ll be getting her the Selected Femme colour blocked chunky trainers to put a twist on her traditional suiting as well as a Janis pearl detail necklace for a contemporary, feminine edge. I’ll also get her a gilded monogram glass because they make a Sunday gin and tonic look extra decadent.

And how will you spend the day with her on Mother’s Day?

It’s tradition that we dress up and go somewhere nice for lunch – Kettners in Soho is our usual haunt and we were a bit worried when it closed for so long. The staff are so attentive and the service is excellent. It reminds me of a regency tea room where you would watch people come and go – we like to have a table with a view where we can see everything that’s going on!

Finally, the best career advice you’ve ever been given?

Everything you’ll ever want sits at the other side of your comfort zone.

Photography by Julie Adams.