STIL talks with Samantha Cameron, founder of today’s most sought after contemporary and elegant label Cefinn. Cefinn has become the ‘go to’ for stylish working women and those wanting a simple, impeccably cut piece for a formal occasion. She lives between Notting Hill and Oxford with her husband David and their three children.
STIL: Can you tell us how you came to choose your brand name ‘Cefinn’, and talk to us about the inspiration behind your first hugely successful collection?
SC: The name comes from my children’s initials – Elwen, Florence, Ivan and Nancy Cameron. When working as Creative Director for Smythson I found it very difficult to find smart, on-trend daywear that had a modern, creative edge but was also appropriate and of high enough quality and comfort to wear to the office. This was the design problem I was determined to solve and at a good value price point that was distinctly lower than the designer/luxury brands.
STIL: Your mother is a most inspiring lady, having first developed her own jewellery line and then co-founded Oka with her sister. Were you inspired by her success? Did growing up surrounded by so much creative energy give you the inspiration and confidence to become an entrepreneur yourself?
SC: Yes, having a mother who always worked and was an entrepreneur definitely influenced us as children and gave us the drive and confidence to do it ourselves. Four out of her five children currently have their own businesses.
STIL: It is said that the dining room at 11 Downing Street doubled as your atelier. Can you describe how you managed your fledgling business during your time there? And are we picturing you having to clear the table for meal times?!
SC: Initially I just treated it as an investigative project but as it got more serious I employed a part time production consultant and a pattern cutter to help start to test fabrics, factories and develop initial samples. For a few months before moving to an office we worked out of the apartment in Downing Street. The flat was quite spacious so I didn’t have to clear the dining table very often as we mainly ate in the kitchen!
STIL: You are hugely creative, but what part of the process do you find the most challenging, and which do you particularly enjoy: the sketching? …cutting? ... fitting?
SC: What I love about design and retail is how varied it is, juggling design, production, marketing and finance ensures your mind is always stretched to the max, it is never boring! The design, fitting and development process is definitely the bit I love most. Losing control of the process during production is the most stressful.
STIL: Cefinn offers a neat capsule wardrobe with the ethos of taking you from day to evening.
SC: I often have to go out in the evening after work so I need a wardrobe that is versatile enough to take me from the school run, through a day of meetings in the office and then out in the evening. We carefully design and style as much of the collection as possible so it looks as good with trainers or boots as with heels and evening jewellery. We spend a lot of time considering the fabrics and silhouettes to ensure they can look appropriate in the day as well as at night. I often don’t have time to change and don’t want to look corporate if I am out in the evening. It is not unusual for me to wear one of our dresses with trainers all day and then just add some jewellery, heels and make up and go on out to a black-tie event in the evening.
STIL: Who is the average Cefinn customer?
SC: We have a wide variety of customers but the main age bracket is 25-60. Cefinn is about versatile day to evening wear so we sell to a lot of women that need smart on-trend daywear for the office but also customers that are looking for that piece to wear to a special occasion – it might be for going out in the evening or a big birthday, wedding or other event. Our customers appreciate quality and cut and the fact that we have spent a lot of time really considering each piece and how they will wear it.
STIL: Can you tell us a little about the fabrics Cefinn uses and why?
SC: We try to make as much of the collection as possible washable, crease resistant and comfortable. I hate creasing and fabrics that don’t hold their shape as I want to look as good at the end of long day as I did when I left the house that morning. I often don’t have time to go back and forth to the dry cleaner and several of our main fabrics are really easy to look after. I often pop my Cefinn dresses on a 15 minute wash at the end of the day, hang to dry whilst still wet and then step back into them in the morning with no ironing.
STIL: When you were our First Lady, were there expectations for you to dress in a certain way?
SC: It was always important to look appropriate for the event and sometimes it was difficult to do this and feel that you were also being true to your own style and personality. I was lucky to have so many talented British designers to help me. I became much more confident wearing print and colour.
STIL: Which fashion designers inspire you the most? Or perhaps you are inspired by other artists such as painters? Or sculptors?
SC: I always look at as many of the catwalk shows as I can each season but it is often the small details or use of colour I am inspired by rather than particular single designers. I did Fine Art as my degree, not fashion, so art is always inspiring. I love the Bauhaus and anything graphic.
STIL: Having your own business is all consuming. How do you juggle work and family life, - and how do you relax?
SC: I have always been good at compartmentalising, but it is much harder when you’ve got your own business. You can’t do everything so friends and siblings are slightly losing out at the moment. We cook a lot and eat together as a family and I love just staying in to watch TV, read and go to bed early. Keeping fit is essential to keep my stamina up so I try to run cross county at the weekends and then do yoga early weekday mornings to de-stress. Several of us in the office do a kick boxing class together, the co-ordination required really exercises my brain as well as body!
STIL: City living or country living?
SC: Because of my husband working as an MP for many years we lived between London where we worked and a cottage in his Oxfordshire constituency at the weekends. The whole family is used to that routine now. I love London and it's where the children go to school but Dave and I were both brought up in the country so having a bit of both is ideal.
STIL: When there’s decorating to do in the home, does your husband have any influence on style or colour?
SC: Luckily he is happy to leave that to me but we would talk a lot about how we want to live in and use the space as a family.
STIL: Can you share with us what you're reading at the moment?
SC: I have always read a lot. Bring Up the Bodies – the second in the Wolf Hall series by Hilary Mantel.
STIL: Do you have a favourite mantra – something you call on in difficult or stressful moments?
SC: Take time to breath and just take each day/task one at a time if the big picture seems too overwhelming.
STIL: You have an enviable physique, can you share with us some favourite diet and fitness tips?
SC: I am very greedy and finding it increasingly difficult post 45 to keep my weight where I want it. Giving up wheat and alcohol seems to work but annoyingly I can’t live like that.
STIL: If you were catching a last minute flight....which item would you grab (other than your phone!)?
SC: I have always had a fringe so a hair dryer and large round brush go everywhere with me, I wish someone would invent a portable hand bag version that does not need plugging in!
Stepping out from her husband’s shadow, Samantha Cameron has a clear vision of where her label is heading. Wearing her designs, she show's them off to perfection, low key yet effortlessly chic. With each piece being almost seasonless - Cefinn is sophisticated, elegant, both contemporary and classic. The Cefinn journey has only just begun.