A little luxury: three British boutique brands to know
From cashmere stoles to herb-based body oils, lighten the mood with these lovingly-crafted products
Little luxuries go a long way towards lifting the spirits. Charles M Schulz, author of the Peanuts comics, had a better way of putting it. “All you need is love but a little chocolate never hurt anybody,” he once declared. Gentle on the surface, his words carry a deeper meaning especially in these difficult times as we find ourselves deprived of the pleasures we once took for granted, from holidays abroad to dinners out, although thankfully we still have chocolate.
The message really is that luxury “non-essentials” can really help to improve life satisfaction - and Schulz’s Snoopy, who had a penchant for root beer and open air type-writing, would surely agree that when the going gets tough, we need to follow familiar routes of reassurance.
With this in mind, The Week spoke to three British companies that specialise in exquisitely made luxuries that promise to have positive and comforting effect on your time in lockdown and beyond. No root beer but plenty of ideas to keep you snug, well-rested and self-confident.
For softness: Joshua Ellis
A purveyor of prestige cloth since 1767, Joshua Ellis uses age-old techniques to spin precious yarns such as cashmere, vicuña and escorial wool into the softest modern designs including scarves, stoles and fringed throws. Employing around 60 members of staff, the company remains a family-owned business and items are still woven in its Yorkshire mill. The brand has just released its very first collection of knitted accessories: a plush range of cashmere beanies, scarves, gloves and socks. The ribbed knit beanie and scarf above also come in pink, sapphire blue, navy and cinnamon brown. The Week spoke to Oliver Platts, managing director of the heritage company, about some of the challenges and positive surprises he’s encountered since the pandemic hit.
How important is it to you that Joshua Ellis produces in the UK?
Manufacturing in the UK is not only one of our key selling points for our customers but it is part of the DNA of Joshua Ellis. For over 250 years we have only ever manufactured in this part of Yorkshire and many of our current team are now third, fourth or fifth generation within the company. We are incredibly proud to say that we are still making fabrics, scarves and blankets here in the UK that are being sold in the finest stores around the world and we are delighted that the reputation for quality that comes with the ‘Made in UK’ label remains very strong. Long may that continue.
How is business and are there any new or recent launches that you’re excited about?
We are really fortunate to have a strong following in Japan and the Far East where our iconic cashmere stole is highly sought after; sales this year have been very strong. We have recently launched a capsule collection of 100% cashmere knitted accessories such as beanies, gloves and socks which are all made in the UK and initial signs are very positive which is possibly down to all the cold weather we have had. We are also really looking forward to launching our jacquard scarf collaboration with fashion designer Giles Deacon in the coming weeks. I saw them being finished in the mill a few weeks ago and they look incredible.
What items have proved to be the most popular so far during the pandemic?
We have seen an increase in home accessories in recent months and particularly when the current lockdown was announced. People seem to be looking for cosy items for the home at the moment so what better than to wrap yourself in a cashmere throw every evening?
For wellbeing: Ilapothecary
Practising mindfulness, getting more sleep and bringing wellness rituals in-house are three areas of personal health that have gained in momentum during the Covid pandemic. Ilapothecary, is an award-winning British brand specialising in healing and restorative products using 100% natural ingredients sourced from remote parts of the world as well as the UK’s green and pleasant land. In fact, British herbs such as borage and thyme feature in many of Ilapothecary’s nourishing remedies described as a synergy between “herbology, naturopathy, phyto-actives and homeopathy”.
Founder Denise Leicester started the business (initially called Ila) in 2007 from her kitchen table in the Cotswolds, where her products are still hand-blended today. Her lovingly-made formulations have gained a starry following: self-confessed fans include Natalie Portman, Meghan Markle and Gwyneth Paltrow, who recently posted a picture of her beauty cabinet on Instagram full of Ilapothecary’s signature sleek bottles. We spoke to head of brand, Christina Lykiardopoulou, who gave us her top tips for getting a better night’s sleep.
What have been Ilapothecary’s most popular products over lockdown?
Our twice awarded Beat The Blues room spray. This effective and transformative blend helps to clear the atmosphere and creates a peaceful and uplifting space. Clary sage, a mood-enhancing oil combines with Rose Geranium which restores peace and harmony, whilst Tuberose and Petitgrain calm the mind.
Lack of sleep and anxiety have been a real issue for so many people in lockdown. What would you recommend?
- Meditate regularly. Every Monday, we meet online with the Ilapothecary community and practice meditation together. We organise online gong bathing and online holistic consultations with our Ayurvedic practitioner. We also organise some healing sessions with professionals such as Alex Coleman so our audience can access a global holistic experience.
- Maintain a sleep cycle. High-quality sleep requires the right night-time routine. Shut down all your devices that emit blue light at least two hours before bedtime, take a relaxing bath with our Magnesium & Amethyst Deep Relax Bath Soak and just before you slip under the sheets, gently massage your body with the SOS Body Balm and your temples and chest area with the Calm Butterfly’s Soothing Balm which treats headaches, tight chestedness and helps to release tension. We drink a few drops of our homeopathic remedy SOS Pearl Drops - a potent modern-day rescue ideal for combatting fear, anxiety and restlessness.
- More obviously: add a good amount of exercise to relieve anxiety.
What would you say has been your breakthrough product?
Our Digital Face Mist. It’s an enlivening, vitamin and antioxidant-enriched remedial facial spritz that protects the skin from photo-aging and the inflammation created by digital pollution. The active soy extract is known to protect from screen effects and amethyst believed to heal the aura. It’s also good for long haul flights when we are able to travel properly again!
What would you say is the most underrated British ingredient used?
Borage (found in our Vitamin A C D E Rich Face Oil and also known as starflower) is a beautiful ancient oil of Britain. Highly anti–inflammatory and packed with essential fatty acids, it restores, moisturises and smooths dry and damaged skin and effectively treats eczema and dermatitis.
Due to its sticky texture, Benzoin oil (in our Magnesium and Amethyst Deep Relax Bath Soak) is rarely used in formulations even though its properties are nothing short of magnificent. This powerful relaxing oil comes straight from trunk tree resin and is known to remarkably release tension, relax the body and support the adrenal glands - ideal for anyone with nervous tension who feels burnt-out or exhausted. Benzoin was historically used pre-antibiotics as an aid to respiratory problems, as it also soothes and opens up the bronchial airways.
For fun and self-confidence: Dora Larsen
Dora Larsen is the brainchild of British designer Georgia Larsen who saw a gap in the market for brightly coloured lace lingerie with a coquettish edge. Designed in London and produced in limited quantities, her bras, knickers and bodies are ever-so-dainty with a frisson of non-conformist cool - the kind of underwear Courtney Love might have worn in the 90s, only sustainably made and ultra-comfortable, not to mention well priced with briefs starting at £22. Now five years old, Larsen’s brand is stocked at major retailers including Net-a-Porter and Selfridges in the UK and Luisa Via Roma in Italy and she also sells through her own e-commerce site. Here the young designer talks to The Week about her best-selling lockdown pieces and her hopes for her burgeoning business.
Have you seen any spikes in certain lingerie styles over lockdown?
Our clean tulle ranges have been incredibly popular. They’re simple and comfortable but they still confer that sense of being ‘special’, so it makes sense that people would choose them in a lockdown.
Your brand is quite unique. What do you put that down to?
Dora Larsen has, what I would describe, an eccentric British edge, which makes it feel very different to other lingerie brands. We’re all about experimenting with colour and we stay away from the prescriptive ‘sexy’ look that’s often associated with ‘the male gaze'.
Colour is something that really resonates with people at the moment but why did you choose to go down the route of fun and bright lingerie instead of safer classic tones?
My vision for the brand really stemmed from what I wanted personally in a bra. At the time of launching the brand [in 2016], the lingerie market was saturated with black strappy lingerie, or plain beige basics, even more than it is now. I wanted to wear something that gave me a real mood boost. Colour, and especially colour combinations, are so emotive. I just wasn’t getting that same excited feeling from wearing lingerie in black or a neutral block colour.
Has your business had to adapt to these changing times?
At first, I expected the business to crash and burn: in the first week of the virus, we received endless cancellation emails from our stockists. It was a really scary time. But fortunately, customer numbers continued to grow on our own website. It encouraged us to take a closer look at how our business is run and how to approach things in a more forensic way. On a personal level, the virus has inspired me to think more about sustainability and the responsibility I have, as a business owner, to take action. Our sustainability efforts have accelerated this year. For example, we donate a percentage from every online sale to a charity that supports either environmental or social change. We are careful not to waste fabric and keep fabric purchases to an absolute minimum. In addition to this, we have introduced laces that are produced using recycled yarns and our knicker gussets are crafted from 100% organic, GOTS certified cotton. There’s more of this to come.