AFTER 45 years in the vanguard of fashion, Edinburgh institution Jane Davidson is still showcasing the finest designer collections while championing new talent.
It all started with an empty shop, an antiques van and an Edinburgh librarian with a keen eye for fashion. Jane Davidson is now an Edinburgh institution, a destination shop for the daughters – and sometimes granddaughters – of the original customers who flocked to buy Ossie Clark and Jean Muir, available for the first time in Edinburgh in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
“Mum started the shop in 1969 in the Grassmarket,” says Sarah Murray. “At the time my dad had an antique shop and there was an empty retail site next door. Mum basically got one of the vans, drove to London and came back with all these amazing designers that she wanted but you couldn’t get in Scotland.”
She designed the shop like a French salon – all velvet swags, with the clothes nestled in a giant wardrobe. “It was very old school and gorgeous,” says Murray.
The move to its current home in Thistle Street took place nearly 30 years ago, when career women started looking for a simple solution to their working wardrobes. “It was much more about separates and German tailoring,” says Murray. “The fashion at the time was that you’d buy into a collection and you’d have the jacket, the trousers, the skirt, the blouse, the coat – it would all work. That was a revelation in fashion because it was easy shopping.”
In the meantime, Murray had come runner-up in a Clothes Show modelling competition, so was earning her own money and carving out a niche in the fashion world while studying philosophy at Glasgow University. She then moved abroad for a few years.
“I knew I wanted to go into fashion and I really wanted to be in PR but didn’t know quite how to get into it. Then my mum was ill so I came back to Edinburgh and helped her out in the shop. She’d really had enough at that point – it was about 15 years ago – and had been recruiting for a manager but the right person hadn’t come up.
“I’d spent years saying, ‘I’m never working in your shop’. It wasn’t very cool, it wasn’t the kind of fashion I was into. But I started thinking, ‘Actually, I quite like this, I could do something here. I could make it my own’. I could see that shops like Browns and Matches were becoming the in thing – the independent, multi-layer store. So I turned round to her one day and said, ‘I could do it’. And she said, ‘I’ve always wanted you to do it but it had to come from you – I didn’t want to ask’.”
The first thing she did was introduce a mezzanine level in the shop. “That was my Sex And The City room. I brought in Diane Von Furstenberg, Jimmy Choo shoes, which weren’t available in Scotland at the time, and La Perla underwear. It was the kind of thing that my generation was wanting to wear but which wasn’t available.”
She also introduced accessories for the first time – pieces like Jade Jagger jewellery – and jeans. “I always remember mum said to me, ‘We’ll never sell jeans in a shop like this’. Now, of course, they’re the majority of people’s staple.”
At the end of last year the shop celebrated winning the prestigious Best Premium Independent award at the recent Drapers gongs, against some of the country’s most impressive designer outlets. “We went down really not expecting anything,” says Murray. “I took my full-time girls from the shop to London for a day out basically, so it was a huge thrill to win.”
But it’s not enough to simply have that trophy glittering on the mantelpiece. The store continues to grow and develop, and this season she has brought in Scottish graduate Mairi McDonald for the first time, to sit alongside other home-grown labels such as Stephanie Laird’s cashmere hand-knits, Begg scarves from Ayrshire, Mackintosh coats, Queene and Belle cashmere and Georgia Wiseman jewellery. She also stocks exclusively in Edinburgh Dries van Noten, Roksanda Ilincic, Preen, Roland Mouret, Temperley and Matthew Williamson.
“My image for the shop is for it not to be all about the event dress,” she says. “The Victoria Beckham image of the body con dress and the Louboutins is great but it’s kind of unrealistic. What we try to do really well is the day wear. I have this philosophy that if you’re going to wear something every day of your life, that’s what you should put your money into, whether that’s a really great pair of jeans or the best coat.”
Follow Ruth on Twitter @Ruth_Lesley