Simple opulence

Kelly Hoppen talks to Charlotte Butterfield about her 25 year career in interior and product design and her plans to take the brand global by selling up...

Interior designer and founder of the eponymous Kelly Hoppen design brand.
Interior designer and founder of the eponymous Kelly Hoppen design brand.

Kelly Hoppen is a household name in the UK, as much for her vast range of designer products adorned with her monochromatic logo as for her ever lengthening list of celebrity clients, which at the last count included Victoria Beckham, Gary Rhodes and of course, her stepdaughter Sienna Miller. CID met up with Hoppen at the launch of her latest 'simple but opulent' designs at Harvey Nichols in Dubai.

CID: So how did you get into design at 16½ years old?

It's simple really, my father had died, I ran away, came back and basically somebody offered me a job and I did it, and from there I built a multimillion pound business.

Don't ask me how I did it, but I did it. I think at 16 you're fearless, I didn't want to go back to school, I happened to get an incredible second job, the first job was very small but I did it very well then it was word of mouth and then suddenly I was making money.

CID: What were your first design jobs?

The first job was a kitchen and the builders on the job liked a drink, they kept hanging everything upside down, it is absolutely true. And then I got a job doing a racing driver's five-storey house in Chelsea. They saw my flat and they loved it - I guess I just had style. I was very lucky with some of the clients I worked for in the early days, they're all very well-known and when I look back it's quite funny. There were actors coming in to my studio on motorbikes and grumpy racing drivers and little old me, at 17½ and I think you're not fazed by it, if you don't know any different. And celebrity wasn't any big thing like it is now, I'd be like, 'oh yes, I've seen you on telly,' but I wouldn't care.

CID: How has your style evolved in your 25 year career?

It's softer, more feminine. I used to hate round shapes, and now I use them a lot. I do things in interiors that I never would have dreamed doing ten years ago.

CID: What are you working on at the moment?

I run six businesses. The main one is interiors, and we are doing about 40 projects around the world, as far as New Zealand. Then the publishing side, we are doing a new book in September, and we just got the figures back from the book I've got out now, and we've sold 180,000 copies in 18 months. We're working on a TV show that will be worldwide, we've got the BHS high street collection which is in 130 stores across Britain, which is doing phenomenally well, then I launched the Design School and I also have the products. So six different things, but all under one umbrella. I try not to think about it to be honest, because if I do I think, 'ahhhh! How do I manage that?'

CID: How do you design such a vast range of products?

If I want to design a particular product I could phone up any company and they'd do a line with me, but I tend not to do that. We've just launched the Wedgwood collection, which is absolutely stunning and we've been working with them for several years now. With paint, that was a license that I did years ago, and I never thought it would be a big license, but we sell over 2 million pounds of paint a year, with over 18 colours, and I'm launching a new range called 'The Perfect Neutrals'.

CID: How do you decide what area you branch out in?

You don't. How do you decide that you're going to wear pink that day? You just see it and decide to wear it. I'm a great believer in fate and syncro-destiny and that you meet people and things evolve for a reason.

I believe that if you want something bad enough you can make it happen, and all the things that have happened in my life have happened because I've been in the right place, I've met someone, I've had an idea, I'm good at putting things together.

CID: Is there any thing that you haven't done yet that you'd like to?

There are a million things that I would like to do and produce but will I do it? I don't know. I'm very keen to do this TV show. The show is my show, it's being written by someone very big in television, we're just coming up with the concept at the moment. But it will be about home, interiors and reality, that sort of thing.

CID: Like an interior design advice show?

[She shakes her head] I'm not going to speak about it because someone will nick the idea it's so brilliant.

CID: You've recently completed a restaurant in London for celebrity chef Gary Rhodes, what is that like?

The brief was French/ English so I wanted to make it very eclectic. The chairs in the waiting area are all grafittied with his menu and it's also got an Eastern element with screens. I had absolutely stunning chandeliers made in crystal and all these amazing mirrors that are wrapped in velvet. It's very luxurious. The press have gone crazy for it in England.

CID: How much say did he have in the interior design of his restaurant?

I had to understand the food he was going to serve and understand him, like I would any client who says 'this is the way I want to live,' it's the same thing.

CID: Where does your inspiration come from?

Somewhere. I just do it. I do so many projects I just wake up in the morning and feel inspired. I design everyday. People say to me, where do you get the inspiration from? And I just do.

CID: Do you carry a notebook with you to jot down ideas?

No, it's all in my head. Travelling, shoe shopping, going and having my hair done, whatever I'm doing I'll see something that inspires me. Say for example a colour, I just saw an ochre yellow sofa next door and I thought, how would that look with taupe? So it's not the design of things, it's a fraction of things. That's how my brain works, it triggers something else that I've seen, which triggers something else. I have a brain that is constantly going and I might pull something from here, from there and then I have this whole thing to work on.

CID: How much time do you still spend designing?

I'm in the design studio almost every day. I have about 10,000ft² and that is my playroom. I have libraries and everything I need at my fingertips. When I'm designing I don't like to be disturbed, I like to put the music up loud and just concentrate. I can design a 10,000ft² house in ten days. I can design eight rooms a day if I'm rolling, or just two if it's slower going. I have to be in the right frame of mind so that I can design something really well.

CID: How much design work do you delegate?

I think my business remains at the top because I design everything myself. If a client commissions Kelly Hoppen, they want me and not someone who's doing this on my behalf. In my design school, people were flying in from all over the world and they thought that I would come in say, "hello, how are you, enjoy your day" but I taught every class for a week and they were so amazed. I had specialists come in, but I'm very personal like that, I love to be involved in everything I do. I'm a control freak, what can I do? It would be like you having the idea and telling someone else to write it and put your name on it.

CID: Is it the same with the products?

It's much easier to have a team of product designers, so I'll sit down with them and say, "look, I want to have this chair that looks a bit like this," and they sketch it as I can't draw very well. Good product designers are much easier to find, as long as you head it, but with interiors I still like to sit down with every client and take charge of it. But I will continue training people up so that in ten years time I can take more of a back seat, I'll be an old woman then.

CID: Is that your plan? To sell up?

I want to sell the business next year. I want someone to come in and take the brand global. Big time. And the only way I can do that is to have someone buy me. I would then want to stay in it for 7-10 years and still be creative director, still design. Someone could make a lot of money taking the name, the brand to every country.

CID: Why not you?

Because I don't want to spend millions of my own money doing it. I'd like to stay where I am. I've been offered very big money for the business and I'd be foolish not to take it. Everybody's doing it. Jo Malone did it, Estée Lauder bought her, she stayed in it for five years and she started in a tiny room that I designed. When I met her she was in a kitchen making her stuff and now she sells millions of the stuff. That's what we all do. We start a business that becomes a commodity and then we sell.

CID: Would it be strange though? For you to walk into Saks Fifth Avenue and see your range with your name on it that you didn't design?

[Laughing] Not if I have a few hundred million in the bank, no. Would you?

CID: I see your point. Tell us about your new collection at Harvey Nichols.

This collection in Dubai is a good capsule collection, it is all quite understated, but can be adapted for Arab markets, there are ways of bringing bling into your home, just in a very chic way. The colours we chose were a bit darker. If I'd been here before I'd have done the opposite, but as we sell out, we'll bring in more.

The mother of pearl is a very big thing for me but Harvey Nichols has chosen horn. But you start in the comfort zone and then start to bring in different items. You get an indication of the market by what's selling.

CID: What could you bring to Dubai?

I think I could bring a very European style, using the local culture and textures, but doing it my way. I've done my research, I've seen all the interiors of all the hotels. It was hard to find somewhere to stay that was neutral in décor, so I think I could bring a lot to the region. You can show luxury and wealth in a much more understated way. Would I like to do it? Yes I would. I have a lot of Middle Eastern clients in London and they love what I do. They come into my showroom and spend 50 thousand pounds in fifteen minutes and ship it back here, so why hasn't it happened here? That's what I can't understand, but if it's meant to be then it will.

CID: Have you got a material or product of choice that you tend to use a lot?

I use a lot of linen. It's a natural fibre, I love velvet too. Texture is very important for my designs. I love it when people come into my home and they touch everything, that's when you know that you've won.

CID: What interior projects have you got lined up?

I've got about eight projects ready to design now. A project in Barcelona; a hotel in Morocco, a restaurant in London. I recently had an email about doing 30 penthouses in Vegas, which I'm very keen to do as I've never been there and the guy is very well-known and it would be a fun project.

He was very adamant that he wants my East meets West style for the Asian gambler and the Rock Chick style for the young entrepreneur gambler, so that's my brief right there.

CID: How would your design for a Vegas project differ from your design for anywhere else in the world?

It wouldn't. Otherwise, why bother using me? No, I think I'm old enough and ugly enough for people to employ me for who I am, rather than say to me, we'd love you to do it but can you do it this way? I'd just say, "well go and get Philippe Starck or someone else." I think the key is to employ me for what I do well and then you'll get the best out of me.

CID: Do clients ever ask you to do something that you're not happy with?

It does happen sometimes and I'll just say no. And they'll ask why, and I just say, "well, you've got to trust me."

For instance, [fashion designer] Amanda Wakeley is a good friend of mine, and I'll go to her and she'll pick something out for me that I never would for myself and she'll simply tell me to trust her. And I think that you've got to admire somebody who is that confident. You'll always have to give people a reason why to go for something or not, and nine times out of ten they'll listen to you. It's your name on it at the end of the day.

Some people pretend I've done their homes and that really irritates me. I've had people say to me "Oh, you've done so and so's house," and I'll say "No I didn't!" so obviously someone was sat at a dinner party and said this as an anecdote!

CID: Is there anything you haven't designed that you really want to before you sell up and move to the country?

I don't think there is anything I haven't designed, I've done speedboats, sailing boats, aeroplanes - commercial and private, ski chalets, hotels, restaurants, bars, golf club, spa, shops, what else is there?

CID: A train?

I haven't done a train, ok, bigshot, I'll do a train.... or a caravan.

CID: Winnebago by Kelly Hoppen?

Ok, a train or a Winnebago, watch this space.

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