Seraphina London: How the Sights and Textures of a Childhood spent in Darjeeling lead to a thriving Business in SemleyPosted: 15th Sep 2021
The sounds and scents of our childhoods leave a permanent imprint on our lives. At least that was the case for Fiona Hodges, whose memories of her childhood on her father’s tea plantation in Darjeeling, coupled with her love of design were the seeds from which her brand Seraphina London were born.
In this interview, we learn more about Fiona’s journey which took her from a tea plantation in Darjeeling, to Vogue and eventually, to the picturesque village of Semley. She explains, how Seraphina not only survived lockdown, but came out the other side an even more thriving business, and what it is exactly about Seraphina’s designs that makes them so sought after.
Hi Fiona thanks much for speaking to us. It’s clear that you think a lot about the sensory aspect of design, what sights/sounds/textures/aromas to mind when you think about your childhood on your father’s tea plantation in Darjeeling?
The hooting of Tuk Tuks definitely take me back every time and the smell of spices cooking in the kitchen.
India plays a huge part in the design aspect of the brand, but what about the name. What made you choose Seraphina as its title?
We launched in 2016 and as I love Italy so much it had to be Seraphina.
*Seraphina is an Italian name that translates to angel of the highest order
Before starting Seraphina you worked for Vogue, There are few forces in fashion that share it’s level of cultural impact. What was your job there, and how did you take what you learnt and apply it to the way you run your brand?
My first job was working at Vogue for the Managing Director and I then went on to work on the editorial side in Sydney, both jobs have been invaluable. The one thing it taught me was to experiment and find your own style.
The creation of the first kaftan was a significant turning point for your journey as a designer. What was it that inspired you to have that first kaftan made in the market? Did you already have the designing bug?
I have always wanted to create and to this end, it was either going to be clothing or interior design. I have had clothes made in the past, but never made my own! I think what inspired me was literally walking through the many markets in Delhi and seeing the fabulous array of colours.
As a brand that places emphasis on slow production you must put an enormous amount of thought into every piece, where do your ideas come from?
For me, ideas can come from all sorts of sources! I have a huge board in the office where I pin anything that I love and the designs and prints come from there. I had so much fun designing our current collection based on the Amalfi Coast.
You founded in 2016, but only opened your showroom in 2020. This was a daunting time for retail, how did you feel when you realised we were going into lockdown?
At the beginning of lockdown, I have to admit I had a mild panic attack, but quickly realised it was the perfect opportunity to sit down and think about how to grow the business and where I actually wanted to be longer term, rather than just fire-fighting daily.
Why did you decide on Semley as the location of your show room? Can you describe the shop and what makes it unique?
We opened our showroom and office in Semley as we grew out of the dining room at home! I only live 5 minutes away so not a long commute. I did not want a “shop” on the high street as such, but wanted a beautiful environment to work in and meet clients. I wanted the showroom to feel more like walking into home, rather than a shop.
Seraphina’s business boomed during lockdown, what do you think it was specifically about your brand that connected to so many people?
We were lucky enough to have had delivery of our collection before lockdown so we actually had something new to sell. We also had taken a slight change of direction and designed dresses that could be worn in the city or country and not just abroad.
Did you do anything different to promote yourself?
We spent time focusing on how to improve our website, fulfilment and customer service, as well as on our social media.
You clearly have an incredible work ethic to have grown your business from scratch in such a considered way which focusses on the ethics of slow fashion and providing a holistic customer experience, what do you love most about what you do?
There is never one day the same!
We have spoken about the influences of your childhood on your work, are there any consistent threads of inspiration that you return to as you design?
Always nature, in particular being on the coast.
What has been most rewarding since starting Seraphina?
Seeing our growth in the last year.
You founded Seraphina, and work closely with Emma Cobb, Head of Operations to run the brand, how does that relationship work?
Emma has been an absolute godsend and we have a great working relationship. She has taken on so much of the day-to-day running of the business which enabled me to concentrate on other areas of the business. And all my clients just love her!
After the success of the last year, you must have a lot on your plate. What are your future plans for the business?
We are juggling lots of plans and have one or two very exciting collaborations coming up this autumn, watch this space!
If you had to describe in a sentence, what it is that’s so distinct about your designs, what would you say?
Each piece is designed with more than one occasion in mind making them wearable and versatile.
And finally… Do you have any famous clients (who you can tell us about)?
We pride ourselves on being discreet – say no more!
You can find more about Seraphina London and Fi’s thriving new business in Somerset here.