08 May | People

In our continued search for great British pioneers we talk to our good friend Caren Downie - the founder of Finery.

Caren DownieCaren Downie has been called the most influential woman in British fashion. She's been fashion director of ASOS and buying director of Topshop, and helped to shake up High Street fashion along the way. Now, she's struck out on her own with one of the most talked about brands of the moment, Finery: a project which combines beautiful, contemporary design difference with accessible pricing.

We sat down with Caren to talk life, work, travel, fashion and more. But how did it all begin? "I studied Economics but I was always obsessed with product. Now, years later, I can safely say that fashion buying was the best career choice ever. It was fantastic to have been Buying Director at Topshop during it's progression from high street store to super brand. It was equally special to have been Fashion Director at ASOS as it became a household favourite. But it just felt like the right time to start something of my own. Finery launched just about a year ago and it's already growing fast. It's an exciting time."

Inspiration and advice

Who, we ask, has been Caren's biggest influence along the way? "Barbara Hulaniki. She is never afraid to take a chance. She is a pioneer who shaped the fashion high street we have today. Above all, she loves to laugh. That's important. You have to love what you do; you have to enjoy it." As a person who has held positions of real influence, we ask how Caren's philosophy to life has changed over the years. "You simply must treat everyone with kindness and respect," she says. "That's it."

Places to see

With such a busy work life, the opportunities for travel and adventure are understandably limited. Not that Caren is using that as an excuse not to explore whenever possible. "Cuba is at the top of my travel wishlist. It's where I most want to go next. The mixture of beautiful buildings in disrepair and joyful music and dance is very appealing. But I'm lucky, because the city I most love exploring is London. It's a treasure trove. And if I had to pick one place, in the entire country, that I would go back to time-and-again, it would be No.10 Greek St. I'm incredibly fortunate to work in such an inspiring place."

Favourite Farer watch

Since the very beginning of Farer we’ve always taken the opportunity to share our ideas and designs with Caren. So we couldn’t resist the opportunity to ask which is her favourite Farer watch. "The Johnson," she says. "For it's simplicity and the subtle colours."

Favourite item of clothing

And a favourite piece of clothing? Is it possible, we wonder, for someone who has dedicated their working life to fashion, to pick a single favourite item? The answer, as it turns out, is yes: a boned bodice, wide-leg jumpsuit by Jean Paul Gaultier.

Most treasured possession

Our conversation turns towards the importance of the things people own - how the contents of our wardrobes, our personal possessions, the things we collect and save - shape our personalities and say something tangible and important about who we are. What, we ask, is Caren's most-treasured possession? "An Irish cut glass whiskey glass that belonged to my Godmother," she says.

As answer to a fairly lofty question, it says a lot about Caren's success in the world of fashion. Her eye for what is both relevant and what is enduring, for what is both contemporary and timeless, has shaped what Brits have been buying on the High Street for a long time. And with Finery going from strength-to-strength, Caren Downie's journey in fashion shows no signs of slowing down.