Sarah Murray talks about the boutique her mother set up in Edinburgh in the Sixties and how fashion is in her genes
Celebrating the 50th anniversary of Jane Davidson, the luxury boutique selling designer womenswear in Edinburgh, Davidson’s daughter and current owner Sarah Murray talks about how she grew up in the business and continues her mother’s aim of championing design for the capital’s stylish dressers of all ages.
From its early days as a boutique selling British brands such as Jean Muir and Ossie Clark in the Grassmarket to four storeys in the New Town the Edinburgh institution has a history of introducing high-profile brands to Scotland, from Jimmy Choo to Roland Mouret to Veronica Beard.
Murray looks back to her early years as a child tagging along on buying trips with her mother and later hiding her edgy Docs behind the counter when working in the shop as a teenager.
She talks about the buzz she gets today from discovering a new brand and stocking key designers for a loyal following, and as she looks forward to a future embracing sustainability, diversity and the digital age, she tells us why fashion is in her blood.
Who are you? What is your job? How old are you? Where are you based?
I’m Sarah Murray, Davidson was my maiden name. I own Jane Davidson. I am 45 years old and based in Edinburgh. Wife to David, Mum to Charlotte and Georgina.
What’s a typical day for you?
No day is ever the same. I could be rolling up my sleeves on the shop floor, hosting a fashion event, buying stock in London or Paris, shooting product for a website. Or I could be at home with my family, or watching a hockey match.
What is your training/background?
I have an Honours degree from Glasgow University in Philosophy. I then went to London College of Fashion and did a course in PR and Marketing. Mostly though, I learnt on the shop floor and from my Mum. As a little girl I would go to buying appointments. I think fashion is in my blood.
How long have you worked for Jane Davidson?
Over 20 years officially, though as a teenager I used to help in the shop. I remember being told to stand behind the till and not let anyone see my feet as I was wearing Dr Marten boots.
Can you tell us about the current fashion you stock, and why you have chosen those designers?
The designers that I really love don’t follow trends, they embody style. I love brands that can be 17 or 70. By that I mean, they can be worn by a 17-year-old or a 70-year-old. I’m not interested in fast fashion, it’s false economy and damaging to the environment. My favourite designers are Dries van Noten, Roland Mouret and Huishan Zhang. For day you can’t beat a beautiful piece of cashmere paired with some J Brand jeans and a luxe parka. We are dressing much more casually these days on an everyday basis, but I still believe there is a place for glamour.
What’s different/unique about Jane Davidson compared with other fashion outlets in Edinburgh/Scotland? What is the history of the business?
We are a family business with 50 years’ experience. We really know our customers and buy directly from the catwalks with them in mind. I know the social circles in the city and can make sure that the same dress does not appear at the same event. I know the wardrobes of many of my customers inside and out and can recommend key pieces each season to update them.
What challenges have you faced over the years?
Many. When I was growing up the shop was all about German separates, mix and match collections for career women. Thankfully fashion isn’t so formulaic now. I’ve had to learn on my feet and discover new brands before other stores get them. Then we had to learn how to sell online, promote ourselves on social media. Advertising mainly comes from influencers these days, plus major titles like The Scotsman, Drapers or Vogue, and great local glossies like i-On.
What is your mother’s role in the business now?
Mum is and always will be an ambassador for the store. It was her vision; she created it and ran it successfully for years. Now she prefers to lunch with clients and friends and spend time with her grandchildren.
What is the fun part of your business?
My favourite part is buying. I travel to London and Paris eight times a year. I don’t go to a lot of runway shows any more as I always think I have to sell off a coat hanger, but I love the process of selection. A Dries van Noten appointment can take me three hours as I shop with really specific clients in mind. I also get a buzz when I discover a new brand that I want to bring to Scotland.
I love a catwalk show which has something more to it… for example, Dries van Noten’s 100th anniversary show featuring all the supermodels out of retirement. Beautiful women in their 40s, 50s and 60s. I also loved the diversity of Roland Mouret’s recent show, featuring male models and gorgeous curvy models. It’s so important that fashion continues to be diverse.
How has it evolved over the 50 years? Did you set out to put your own stamp on the business, or did you want to keep it exactly the same?
When I took over I had a vision to grow the business and this was in the Sex And The City era. I knew that women my age loved the show and what the cast wore. I contacted Diane von Furstenberg, Jimmy Choo and La Perla, and soon became the only stockist in Scotland for those brands.
Since then I have continued to source exclusive brands that aren’t available elsewhere. My newest ones this season are Veronica Beard, which Meghan Markle has been seen wearing, and 49Winters, which is a British outerwear brand. I’ve been searching for years for a replacement for Moncler and Canada Goose as they are just everywhere now. When my mum Jane started the store it was mainly the wives of successful Edinburgh businessmen who shopped in the store, now it’s mostly independent women spending their own money, which of course is a fantastic change personally, and something I’m continuously passionate about.
For the future, I want to focus on ensuring customers understand why a Jane Davidson choice is and always has been a sustainable fashion choice, as we move the business into an era where my children are not just my priority, but the world they’re growing into.
I don’t have a big wardrobe myself but the pieces in it I absolutely love and wear and wear. I would prefer to save up and have one amazing designer piece a season that I will have for years over several pieces from the high street.
I always consider cost per wear. I have Queene & Belle shawls that are 10 years old, and I still wear and enjoy all the time. I also operate a strict one-in-one-out policy to my wardrobe and sell on or donate.
Jane Davidson has long held individuality, diversity and empowerment as key values, and I’ve been implementing sustainable packaging in the shop, and questioning suppliers about how we can change practices like single use plastic garment covers and hangers.
I was genuinely excited to see Kering Group’s recent Fashion Pact announcement, which brings our luxury, handmade and designer spectrum of fashion together to share examples, suppliers and discuss best practices with the fast fashion online or high street markets that need to catch up.
What have you learned?
Five years ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer, which happily was all very treatable. I learnt through that time that clothes and make-up can help enormously during a seriously tough time. I was never without a bright lipstick and wearing nice clothes made a miserable experience feel better. I think sometimes we can underestimate the power of fashion in lifting your mood.
What are your biggest sellers, perennials?
We have keys brands which we have stocked for years and which we have built up a very loyal following for such as Diane von Furstenberg, J Brand and Fabiana Filippi. We are also known for selling the most beautiful Scottish cashmere.
Who are your customers?
A difficult one to put into words… when I took over the business, I inherited a very loyal customer base and I worked hard at keeping them happy. I still have a lot of clients who age with my Mum in their 70s, and now their daughters shop with me too. Broadly I would say my customers come up from the north of England and down from Inverness, across from Glasgow and of course locally from within the city of Edinburgh, plus we get tourists, and look after all our online and international customers too. We recently implemented a WeChat marketing campaign to engage more with all our Chinese clientele.
What we do in the boutique is persuade people out of their comfort zones and tempt them into trying something a bit different, and that’s what people come to us for. It’s so easy to get stuck in a rut with what you like, and we help people to discover a new look and confidence.
Which items do you have at home?
A Smythe blazer, several pairs of J Brands, a cashmere collection built up over 20 years. Several Roland Mouret event dresses and a 49Winters coat for everyday.
Are there any designs that surprise you by being more popular or less than anticipated?
Always. Being a fashion buyer is a bit like gambling. I choose all my stock and commit to it six months in advance. I don’t always get it right of course, but I’ve got better over the years. I need a crystal ball for Christmas to help me see into the future.
What’s your style philosophy and what was your mother’s? Are they the same?
I think we have both just wanted to make women feel amazing… just to find their best version of themselves, and give them confidence to go out and face the world and all they have to achieve. Whether it’s a knockout dress for their 50th, a sharp blazer for an important work presentation or a cosy but stylish coat to watch the rugby in.
What did you learn from her over the years?
I have learnt so much from my Mum. I would say though that we are quite different. Mum is really a people person and she gives so many people a shoulder to cry on or help and advice. She grew the business by nurturing her customer base. I have not been gifted with this as much, preferring to be in the background focusing on product and strategy. I enjoy being on the shop floor a huge amount, but there just are not enough hours in the day for me to do it as often as I would like.
Who has influenced your style, what are your inspirations?
I think very few people get it right all the time, but for inspiration I would always look to Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly. Jackie O, Bianca Jagger.
More modern icons are Alexa Chung, Kate Moss, The Duchess of Cambridge, Tilda Swinton, Amber Valletta and Stella Tennant.
What is the future for Jane Davidson and do you see it being passed on to the next generation, your children?
My girls are definitely too young to express an interest and the industry is changing so quickly, who knows what the industry will be like in another 10 years? Through my advisory role at [online fashion platform] www.Atterley.com I can see how the model is changing. Atterley is a marketplace for boutiques like myself to sell on together. If smaller businesses can band together in this way, we can have a voice amongst the bigger players yet still have our independence which makes us unique.
Is Jane Davidson the longest established women’s clothes shop in Edinburgh?
Yes, though there are other Edinburgh businesses with a long history too… Charlie Miller, Joseph Bonnar, Flowers by Maxwell.
Are there any high-profile or celebrity clients we can mention?
I’m far too discreet to divulge this information, which is a part of our role in people’s lives.
Jane Davidson, 52 Thistle Street, Edinburgh EH2 1EN (0131-225 3280, www.janedavidson.co.uk)