18 May 2024, 13:47
By Furniture News Apr 15, 2019

Angel investment at Design Studio

The soft furnishing division of the Belfield Group has launched its first branded collection – in collaboration with designer and author Angel Strawbridge, star of Channel 4 TV series, Escape to the Chateau. Paul Farley talks to Design Studio’s MD, Gareth Coxall, about challenges, opportunities, and a match made in heaven …

Given how much time we spend watching television each week, it’s surprising how few of us admit to experiencing a eureka moment in front of the box. Refreshingly, Gareth Coxall, who has worked with Derbyshire’s Design Studio since 2016, is an exception.

“I was watching Escape to the Chateau on Channel 4 one night, and Angel was fitting the Wallpaper Museum fabric to the wall in one of the towers,” he says. “I found her engaging – I could see there was a talented designer emerging on my TV.”

Never one to miss an opportunity, Gareth made contact with the designer, and in short order was meeting her at the chateau itself – a 45-bedroom castle in Pays de la Loire, France.

“Instantly, there was a connection,” enthuses Gareth. “Upon entering the chateau, it was clear that Angel’s unique interior design style had created a real feast for the eyes.”

Angel has refined her design chops since the age of 13, when she began collecting vintage jackets, bags and hats. A market stall followed, and, in 2001, Angel launched The Vintage Experience in Bethnal Green, where she offered advice, styling and hand-picked vintage products. Seven years later, the Vintage Patisserie brand was born, and, in 2010, Angel appeared on BBC Two’s Dragon’s Den, and was offered £100,000 investment by Deborah Meaden and Theo Paphitis. 

In the same year, Angel met Dick Strawbridge. They went on to have two children, before embarking on the renovation project of a lifetime – bringing the fairytale 19th-century Chateau de la Motte Husson back to life.

Now five seasons in, Escape to the Chateau, a televised documentary charting the family’s journey, is one of Channel 4’s biggest shows – and fertile ground for a product tie-in.

“When we first met, we discussed design ideas and how the collaboration would work,” says Gareth. “Angel was clear that everything we developed had to be authentic to the chateau. 

“At first it was difficult, as we all searched to find the look, the handwriting and the style that best suited the brand, and one that Angel and I agreed on. Our designers painted and sketched many designs that never made it to the final range – which shows the thought, creativity and consideration that has gone into designing this first collection.  

“Once we had the basis of the designs, we focused on application – the product type, quality and substrates. Then Angel came to our factory in November last year to meet the staff, and everyone fell in love with her! 

“We made a commitment to launch to the trade at the Spring Fair, and to consumers via a national PR campaign in March 2019. In an ideal situation, we would have been developing the collection in March/April, but, having only met in July, we knew that time was not on our side. After agreeing the final selection, it was very much a case of pulling in all the favours with our supply chain to produce the goods in time for delivery last month!”

Together, Angel and Design Studio developed four art deco-influenced ranges for The Chateau By Angel Strawbridge capsule collection, comprising curtains (made-to-measure and ready-made), cushions, bedding, furniture and wallpaper. 

The ranges are: The Wallpaper Museum, a diamond patchwork design based on offcuts of the wallpapers used in the chateau since it was built in 1868; The Heron Collection, inspired by the herons that frequent the moat around the castle; The Potagerie Collection, which celebrates Dick’s walled garden; and The Oriental Garden, which draws on Angel’s collection of kimonos, plus cuttings from the chateau’s bamboo plantation and blossoms.

“I personally love the Potagerie design,” says Gareth. “I think this is a mature, elegant design, coloured with modern soft hues. It’s delightful.”

Angel Strawbridge (centre) and Gareth Coxall (right) with the rest of the Design Studio team

Reflecting on the finished collection, Angel comments: “For my first collection, collaborating with a team who reflect the same ethos as me was so important. Design Studio has such a strong heritage in British manufacturing – the time I’ve spent there has shown me the pride and skill that goes into everything made by their craftsmen.” 

Gareth echoes the sentiment. “Angel has been with us all the way through this collaboration,” he says. “It has been an amazing journey, working closely and developing what has become a strong relationship, whilst also achieving the design and style that Angel wanted to achieve. For us, that interaction was fantastic.”

This was also Design Studio’s first collaboration, and, while the results are very much in keeping with the quality and feel of the company’s existing product, The Chateau By Angel Strawbridge has already opened doors to new customers.

“Angel has a large fan base,” says Gareth. “We have already seen a huge increase in our social media following and interaction, plus consumer demand to source the products. 

“Our target market is viewers of the TV programme, but for sustainability we have targeted the price points to be accessible so a wider audience can purchase a designer brand. We have already seen new types of customer that we didn’t have before – customers that are more gift orientated, wallpaper stockists (this is the first time we have launched wallpaper), and bedding specialists (we have never sold bedding through our own range).

“Angel is recognised all over the world for her unique style and aesthetic. Her passion for quality, design and provenance is well documented, so there’s a lot of anticipation amongst both consumers and the trade for her first collection. 

“For us as a business, this marks a real opportunity to differentiate and resonate with our customers. We’re moving with the times and trends and listening to what consumers want. Multi-dimensional offerings are key to growth, and allow us to explore new avenues while supporting our customers with greater choice and exciting product ranges.”

The Chateau By Angel Strawbridge may be Design Studio’s first collaboration, but the wider Belfield Group has good form in this field, thanks to its work with Mulberry through Tetrad.

Back in our January issue, Belfield Group CEO Gary Lasham told Furniture News: “Brand tie-ups are easy to buy into. I think they’re a great way to sell, and this one’s shaping up to be a key player in this sector. The future of Design Studio is all about our ability to spot trends, and share them with our independent and group customers. If this particular line is successful – and I have no doubt it will be – you can expect to see further collaborations in the future.”

Gareth says he’s been keen to develop such a partnership since he joined Design Studio – it just took a while to identify the right opportunity.

He says: “With a collaboration, you can use the name just to sell your product – or you can work together to enhance and strengthen the brand whilst achieving the product offering that the fans and followers want and expect. 

“While celebrity tie-ins are a little over-exploited, it’s all about finding the right brand – one with mass appeal and longevity which resonates with consumers across a broad demographic. It’s these collaborations which will continue to drive the retail market.”

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