Iona Debarge has some history. In fact, you could say that history is almost repeating itself. You see, back in the eighties our founder's mother also had a nightwear boutique. One that proved popular with high society - or some might say the very highest society...
In honour of Mother's Day, we speak to Robina Cayzer about women inspiring women, mixing business with family and of course, her liaisons with Princess Diana.
Your daughter claims your nightwear shop was the inspiration behind Iona Debarge, what was it like owning a shop in Chelsea in the 80s?
It was enormous fun - I loved it - the shop was in the Pimlico Road which was a great location with a lovely friendly atmosphere. Quite a few well known names were there: Jane Churchill and later David Linley, Joanna Wood and many others.
You were only 25 when you founded After Dark, what inspired you to take the leap to start your own business?
I had a very sheltered upbringing so knew nothing about business - or any idea how much work was involved! I was looking for something to do when someone suggested I starting a shop - they were 10 years older than myself and married with two children. The only problem was her husband gambled and she suddenly urgently needed her money back - I had luckily been able to borrow some funds from the bank and so decided to open the shop anyway. The shop had been Nina Campbell's original one and quite a feat securing the site at the time!
You had some very famous clientele, including reportedly Princess Diana. Were there any items she was a particular fan of?
The first time she came with her mother was just before she got married, and they bought several nighties and dressing gowns. She also bought maternity nighties before William and Harry were born, dressing gowns for both summer and winter, as well as other odds and ends. She, of course, never paid us directly and we had to send the bill to Buckingham Palace. The effect she had on customers in the shop was quite amazing - they would often leave their shopping behind!
You brought up two young children whilst single-handedly running the shop. How did you juggle motherhood?
It was not easy, especially as I had no mother myself. My mother-in-law, although she lived in Paris, was great help particualry during the summer holidays. I did of course, have a nanny otherwise it would have been impossible, especially as I was also having to keep an eye on my elderly father.
Do you notice any similarities or differences between what people are looking for today versus the After Dark era?
Yes, I think people still want quality items that they are going to enjoy wearing; ones that are made with good fabric that lasts and keeps it’s shape. They will then become regular customers and pass your name on to others. The main differences are technical. At my shop there was no computer, no iPhones, no emails, no internet - everything had to be written down. There was certainly no social media - a very different world.
You now run a very successful interior design business, are you able to use your past experience to help the Iona Debarge brand?
I hope so! All businesses work on the same principal of supply and demand, and if you have a passion for doing something and become good at it, it goes a long way to making it successful.
What's the best advice you would give Iona today?
Capitalise on your many achievements you have made.