Big Interview: Xenia Xenophontos, Head of Communications, Cath Kidston

With any retailer, communicating a purpose and offering is important, that way it can operate productively and build relationships. The Retail Gazette spoke to Cath Kidston’s head of communications Xenia Xenophontos in an exclusive interview to get an insight into the iconic English fashion retailer’s story to success.

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“Everyone loves a story and they listen in anticipation and wait for the magical end, and I think as retailers that’s what we need to continue to do.”

For Xenia Xenophontos, storytelling is integral. And it’s no wonder that storytelling is an important part of her remit as Cath Kidston’s head of communications.

The iconic English retailer – launched by Cath Kidston herself in west London in 1993 – was known for using vintage fabric before designing her own, globally-recognised prints. While Cath Kidston has grown to become a successful business, complete with a loyal fan base, much of that can be credited to the communication of the brand’s purpose and image.

“Obviously, Cath was inspired by vintage products, or something that she’d seen in the past that inspired a nostalgic feeling, and that is absolutely the beauty of our brand,” Xenophontos told the Retail Gazette.

As head of communications, Xenophontos isn’t restricted to just leading Cath Kidston’s internal and external communications. She also sits with the creative director and marketing director to brainstorm ideas for new brand collaborations and how to communicate them to the media and public.

“Collaborations are integral to our overall growth strategy in terms of innovating the brand, keeping it fresh, attracting new customers, as I said we do have a very loyal fan base, but naturally we want to keep that fan base growing and attract new and young customers,” Xenophontos said.

“Collaborations are integral to our overall growth strategy in terms of innovating the brand.”

Cath Kidston as a business has seen many changes over the years, such as a new chief executive, new print designs, new collaborations, and global expansions, but the retailer remains consistent in its artistry.

“We are constantly looking at how we can develop, innovate and keep the brand relevant, obviously making sure that we’re keeping the brand DNA alive,” Xenophontos reflected.

Cath Kidston’s collaboration with Walt Disney Studios is perhaps one of the most prolific ever undertaken British retail. The collaboration involved unprecedented access to Disney‘s archives to source original character illustrations to integrate into the designs of Cath Kidston‘s own print portfolio.

The results were a series of one-off, limited edition seasonal collections of Cath Kidston products featuring prints of Mickey Mouse, Winne the Pooh, Peter Pan, and more.

Cath Kidston’s more recent collaboration with Top of the Pops presenter Fearne Cotton was also a limited-edition collection spanning across fashion, accessories and homeware. It also marked the first time ever that the retailer had worked with a celebrity.

“We had initial creative meetings to talk about what we wanted to include, and then separate meetings to go into how the prints were going to be designed,” Xenophontos recalled.

“Fearne is a talented artist herself and it really helped because not only could we bounce ideas off each other, but she could ‘literalise’ them. We worked really closely together on the colour palette and we decided on what would work and sit well together.

“She was involved in everything, including in how we were going to shoot the range, so she’s not the type of person to just give her name over to a brand, she wants to be involved and she’s got a hugely artistic streak.

“Of course, it was a collaboration, but we created it together, and that was what was so special.”

Xenophontos’ passion for fashion came from her experiences in working for several PR agencies and attending fashion week where she had backstage presence and access to designers.

“I worked at various agencies and in various sectors so I kind of dipped in and out of fashion,” she told Retail Gazette.

“My interest was always in retail, fashion, the arts, you know I’d studied the history of art, it was always where my passion lay, and there was actually a job, an internal job which I applied for and went for which was effectively on the fashion team, and that’s really where I started getting my real passion for retail.”

Working for different PR agencies and in different sectors inevitably gave Xenophontos a taste of brand collaborations, such as during her stint as as communications manager at Coca Cola.

“As you can imagine with a brand like Coca Cola, collaborations were hugely integral to the brand, particularly for Diet Coke,” she said.

“During my career at Coca Cola I worked on collaborative projects with Karl Lagerfield and worked on launching Marc Jacobs for Diet Coke.”

“Every single season we’ll produce a spot print, a novelty print that is slightly more romantic, and obviously floral.”

Cath Kidston nowadays has 216 stores around the UK and internationally, and as head of communications, Xenophontos oversees the foreign communications. She also works on catering Cath Kidston to local demographics, as she did so for Japan.

“We tend to see the trends in Asia and that they prefer to use much smaller bags in Japan than in the UK, so that’s kind of affected our design processes as we added ‘bento’ boxes and green tea cups to our range for our Asian market,” she said.

“We’re constantly talking to our partners in Japan and the rest of the world to understand what is right and what’s important for them.

“Moving forward, we are absolutely looking at collaborations that have that international appeal.”

Xenophontos believes her role as head of communications does not abstain her from being able to decide on the design of Cath Kidston’s products, and at the same time, she said she works hard to deliver consistency.

“One thing that’s really amazing about Cath as a business is that we are collaborative to the point that it doesn’t mean that because my title says ‘head of communication’ that I would just need to set in that – we literally mix ideas so much so that I’m able to look at a new season’s range and be able to feed in on maybe adding a new product or applying a print onto a specific product that might not already be in the range,” she said.

“Every single season we’ll produce a spot print, a novelty print that is slightly more romantic, and obviously floral.

“We made sure that we were always true to that, so whether we were collaborating with Disney or Winnie The Pooh, we would make sure that we always had those characters sat back in those key prints of ours.”

When talking about the future of Cath Kidston, Xenophontos said: “There are lots of exciting things in the pipeline and what I can say is that there are a lot of things to look forward to both in collaborative partnerships and in the main range. As a brand, we’re going to continue to grow.”

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