In Conversation With…Juliet Dunn

In Conversation With…Juliet Dunn

London-based designer Juliet Dunn started her career in fashion in the 70s and turned to beachwear, setting up her own company in 2000, after finding inspiration from the colours and fabrics on a trip to India. Today, her colourful dresses, kaftans and jumpsuits are a hit with the A-list – think sun-drenched bohemian glamour with a modern edge. Here, Juliet tells us about how it all started, what she’s learnt over the years and how she keeps going…

My entire working life has been based in the fashion industry. I started off in a very junior position at Belville Sassoon, Britain’s foremost couture label and synonymous with high fashion since the 60s. I’ve had my own business since the 70s and I’ve always liked working for myself. I studied business after leaving school which later on gave me the foundations I needed to launch my own company.

India has been my inspiration since my very first trip there. I landed at the airport at 4am and, in my taxi on the way to my hotel, my first memory is passing an elephant walking down the street! He was off to work. That is when I fell in love with the country and, after discovering all the artisans and craftsmen working in various states within India, I really wanted to show other people these incredible skills. I love Jaipur – it’s one of the most inspiring places I’ve ever visited. Last season, I named a colour in the collection “Jaipur Pink” which was taken from the colour of the buildings – a wonderful dusky pink tone which becomes quite magical when the sun reflects the light. 

I launched my company in 2000 and I haven’t looked back from the day I started, as we’ve always been too busy to stop thankfully. At the time there wasn’t an established market for beachwear in this country. I have a house in Saint-Tropez and realised there were no attractive cover-ups and beach clothes available here the way there was in France. Beachwear in Europe is about the ethos and lifestyle that comes with it, not just the clothing. It’s all about effortless style that comes from an instant outfit – a dress you can just throw on, but which still is fashionable and thought-out.

I think that my brand, which I describe as an eclectic mix of individual style, is quite unique. It’s all about easy-to-wear bohemian glamour and I get involved in the design of every piece. In non-Covid times, I travel to India two to three times a year to oversee sampling and production. Of course, this past year has been different and we have had many new challenges – it’s been very hard because I’ve not been able to be as hands-on as I usually would be. We are incredibly lucky, though, to have a trusted team out there and they have managed to pull everything together, but I have really missed seeing everyone. I was also lucky because I was kept busy while the world closed down – I do wonder what I would have done without the business.

I usually attend all our photographic shoots which has not been possible, of course. For the past few seasons, we’ve worked with Kate Bellm, a fabulous photographer who is based in Deia in Mallorca. Thankfully, we’ve been able to send the pieces to her there and still shoot in this gorgeous location – it’s been really challenging but we are in safe hands with her.
Over the years my style has changed, mainly because travel has evolved. People don’t just want kaftans for around the pool anymore – they love dresses that look just as good on city breaks and walking the streets of London as they do on sandy beaches. We’ve tried to reflect this in our collections and offer dresses which have more coverage, or we include slips for added versatility. 

My latest collection, called Resort 22, is inspired by tropical flowers and all the beautiful botanics you can find both in the UK and more tropical locations. There are lots of vibrant colours and oversized blooms, and it’s shaping up to be absolutely stunning. Just what everyone needs after the last year!

What I love most about running my own business is that things can move quickly. There are no committees or board members, and we can change direction and go with the flow without having to debate or get involved in any arduous office politics. This allows us to adapt when we need to, which I think is absolutely crucial. We are just a small, loyal team in London and we have many amazing workers in India without whom we wouldn’t have a brand.

When asked what my business’s greatest achievement has been, I feel we were the instigators of the beachwear boom. Before us there were no beachwear brands which sold pieces as we do. Through the years we’ve seen resort wear grow into a huge industry, and I’m so proud that we have managed to grow with it. 

One of my career highlights was the year when I was the only UK brand to be on the front cover of Vogue. There are only 12 covers in a year and they were filled with Versace, Gucci, Armani…and then us! I was also included in the ‘Vogue 100: A Century of Style’ exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in 2016, which was a huge honour. 

I was fortunate enough to return to business and launch my brand after I had my children, so I was quite young and had the contacts and grounding. But the advice I’d give women wanting to start a business later in life is that it’s never too late. What is important is knowing people in the industry you’re in who you can trust and work alongside, as when you’re solo you need to have support.

The one thing I’ve learnt along the way is to enjoy things and take note of where you are. Otherwise, you’ll never appreciate what you’ve achieved. It’s also important to stop and look around because, in this industry in particular, everything moves so quickly and is forgotten year on year. I always say that when you’re swamped and have so much to do that you don’t know where to even start, it’s essential to always prioritise the things that make the money. Details and logistics can all fall into place or be handled by someone else, but as the boss I have to be the one steering the ship and making sure we’re not losing opportunities or sales by being disorganised. 

Looking to the future, sustainability is really important to us. I think it is something all fashion brands need to be looking at. We are working hard to introduce sustainable and organic materials into our collection. We only make to order to reduce on waste and have stopped using toxic chemical dyes. We also ship everything in biodegradable or recycled packaging now. 

And looking back, if there is one thing I’d tell my younger self, it would be to keep calm. Most things have a way of working out if you keep a level head and look at the situation in small increments, and don’t get overwhelmed by the bigger picture. 

Now that I’m in my 70s, I’m certainly not slowing down in the slightest. In fact, I’m speeding up as we are continuing to develop, which is always a lovely place to be. I keep my energy by taking vitamins and supplements every day; exercise is one of the most important things, too, as it helps the brain handle stress – I ride my bike, walk in the park and play tennis.

To relax when I’m not working, I really like reading, as it relaxes the mind. I also walk a lot to clear my head – my office is in Kensington and as I live just down the road I walk around Chelsea and visit all the nearby parks.

My top tip for looking great as you get older is ‘less is more’. Keep it simple and always have your hair done. I wear a bare face with a good lipstick, usually Read My Lips by Cosmetics A La Carte – it brightens your skin and instantly makes you feel more put together.

I love going on holiday and my favourite beach is Plage Gigaro near my house in Saint-Tropez. It’s protected, which means there are no buildings or developments, and it remains the same year after year with beautiful nature and scenery. It really is so relaxing, the perfect place to stop and reset. I’m also desperate to go back to Greece – we went there last year with friends and, once the restrictions end, I’d love to discover more of the islands and explore a little more freely.

The five essentials I always carry in my beach bag are Avène High Protection Sun Screen for my face, a mask and flippers for snorkelling, as I absolutely love it, a good book (I love Elif Shafak) and an Evian facial spray to cool off and refresh. 

Click here to visit Juliet Dunn’s website.

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