Christina Strutt, Founder, Cabbages & Roses
After a successful career as assistant to editor at Vogue Living, where she learned about creating beautiful interiors, Christina set up Cabbages & Roses in 2000 as a family business, initially specialising in high quality historic printed fabrics.
Over 20 years later, the company has expanded to offer clothing, interiors and lifestyle goods, using its signature beautiful floral designs. Everything is British-made, uses sustainable materials, and has gained a following that includes the Duchess of Cambridge, seen wearing Cabbages & Roses in Vogue. In more recent times, Cabbages & Roses has moved from being purely an online shopping experience, to a physical flagship store in Bruton, Somerset.
Christina is also a bestselling author, her books including Home Made Vintage (2006), which sold over 30,000 copies, A Guide to Natural Housekeeping (2008), which sold more than 34,000, At Home With Country (2010), Vintage Chic (2011), Green Housekeeping (2019), Living Life Beautifully (2020), and A Life in Fabric, due to be published in April 2022.
We spoke to Christina to find out more about her and what she’s up to now.
How did you find your way to working on Vogue Living?
Quite by accident, I was working as ‘administrator’ of the art department at Vogue, which is surprising enough, especially as when I first started I didn’t even know the difference between a transparency and a negative. After bluffing my way through two years, the Editor, Beatrix Miller, offered me the job of working with the Editor of Vogue Living, Judy Brittain. I was on my way to hand in my notice, I actually can’t remember why, but we passed in the corridor and she stopped me and asked if I was interested – the timing was impeccable.
What made you decide to leave the magazine world and start your own business?
I left Vogue in 1980 when I got married and moved to the countryside in Somerset – there was no internet in those days, so it was impossible to continue to work in London. I spent the next 20 years styling for various magazines, which then progressed to interior decoration. It was in 2000 that I decided that I wanted something tangible that I could have complete creative control over. I started Cabbages & Roses with my friend, Brigette Buchanan, who had also left Vogue to get married and live in the country – it was a perfect situation with small and medium children still to take care of.
What did you take from your former life into Cabbages & Roses?
I think a deep love of interiors, in the 80’s the style was traditional and classic and above all cosy – it was perhaps much more over the top and flouncy than it would be now – but the aesthetic was the antithesis of minimalist modern. It is the classics that have a longevity, something fashionable fads do not. It was mostly old country houses that we photographed, traditionally decorated in their own unique way. It is a fascination that will never leave me.
What were your intentions for Cabbages & Roses when you launched?
Really to create things that we loved, that were not available from anywhere else, and to make a company creating unique things to wear and to decorate your house with. This I think we have achieved. It was only possible if we designed and manufactured our own products. Having nearly everything made in the UK makes our lives easier, but it was also something that we decided upon from the beginning.
What made you decide to move from being a purely online business to having physical locations?
When Cabbages & Roses was born, I didn’t even know what the internet was, and I am not sure it was even invented, certainly to mere mortal non-tech people like me. So, really, we started in a physical location – my home. The ‘shop’ was once the children’s nursery and people used to come from all over England to visit and buy our wares. From there we opened our first shop in London, then a few more. By 2006 we had spaces in about 23 Jigsaw shops and three stand-alone stores. Once we left Jigsaw and became independent again, we had just two lovely shops, side-by-side in Chelsea’s Sidney Street. The struggle of living in Somerset and running a shop in London, not to mention the expense, led us to leaving physical presence anywhere and just rely on the website. This was a life-changing decision, simplified the business and reduced the huge expenses associated with retail in London. We then decided that a physical location – again – was a good plan and miraculously found our lovely new shop in Bruton.
How did you find the space in Bruton?
My daughter Kate and her husband Christopher moved from New York to Somerset in 2018, and they had found a very unprepossessing space in Shepton Mallet High street. Kate has great vision and saw a wonderful space behind the hideous supermarket fittings. She was right and we started work on converting the shop in 2019. It could and would have been a beautiful shop, but sadly we were plagued by endless leaks from the ceiling, which during a rainy period became cascades of water running down the walls. Just as we were about to give up the idea of physical retail space, we happened upon a wonderful antique shop in Bruton, in a building that was once a car repair workshop. It was serendipitous that the owner had just made the decision to close the shop and they were looking for new tenants – we moved in six months later.
Any particular favourite places to go in the area?
There are so many wonderful restaurants including Osip and At the Chapel and there is the lovely Durslade Farm Shop attached to the Hauser & Wirth Gallery and restaurant. Bruton High street has many interesting independent shops including Swan Vintage selling cleverly curated clothing. There is also Number One Bruton, a marvellous little hotel which is constantly in the press. We have an art gallery attached to Cabbages & Roses, owned by Nadia Waterfield, with a constantly changing selection of beautiful and interesting art. Then there is The Newt, a newly opened hotel, farm shop and restaurant close by. I could go on and on…
I used to love walking past your shop on Sydney Street, South Ken. Small and always inspiring to have a look around. Do you miss having a physical shop in London?
Not one bit! Having a shop in London was a nerve-wracking experience with such high rents and council tax. Although we really loved our shops and wonderful customers, the competition was so great that, even though we have a completely unique offering, our prices could never compete with the likes of high street brands. Especially now, I feel that London has lost its charm for us since the pandemic and I am so happy that I am not searching for a new tenant to take on an expensive London lease at this time.
Where do you look for inspiration?
Everywhere. I often find myself re-creating the past, my childhood, my dressing-up box, my grandmother who was born in the 1800s, my mother. A film can inspire me, or a potting shed – there is no controlling where an idea might seed itself!
Are there any artists, designers or illustrators you’d really like to collaborate with?
More than anything I would like to collaborate with an old-fashioned Wellington boot manufacturer – something that doesn’t seem to exist in the UK.
How do you find time to write books as well as working on designs and running your business?
Luckily the business is run by my daughter Kate and her husband Christopher Howells. I am far too shambolic to run a business! Writing books is a kind of holiday, as I have to concentrate totally on one thing, rather than in real life, when there are so many guilty abandonment issues. If I am concentrating on designing clothes, there is always a nagging feeling that I should be concentrating on new fabrics, or window displays, or shop re-arrangement, or working out photography – on and on it goes. So, writing a book is a worthy and easy excuse not to be able to concentrate on anything else.
Where do you go shopping for classic vintage items?
The main places are Ardingly and Kempton, but two or three times a year there is a wonderful vintage fair run by Lucy Haywood called The Country Brocante – always filled with wonderful, dedicated dealers who curate beautiful collections for sale.
What effect has the pandemic had on your business?
If anything, the pandemic has increased business. I am not sure why, but we saw a huge spike in sales throughout. We are very lucky that we have a good website and since we hadn’t quite opened our new shop, it didn’t really have an impact on us. It also saw an increase in sales of fabric, which I suppose was inevitable as people spent more time at home than ever before in their lives.
Is there a bestseller item that is always popular each season and do you have an all-time favourite clothing piece?
Each season our coats and jackets seem to be the best sellers, though there is no rhyme or reason as to why something sells out very quickly and others not so. This past season had some very surprising sales of things that were made from very expensive fabrics and therefore were very expensive – all sold out within days – I can’t tell you why!!
What plans do you have for the future?
We have some lovely events coming up in the near future, with guest pop-ups at the shop, coinciding with the delivery of our new clothing collection. The publication of our newest book A Life in Fabric. We are debating whether to open more shops in the UK – though we are so happy with our Bruton space that it is a hard act to follow. In the world of Cabbages & Roses, we go with the flow and see what happens. As they say, people make plans, and the Gods laugh!!!