Retail has long been a siren call for Samantha Cameron, and now Britain’s former first lady — who built a career at Smythson — is going for it. She’s creating her own contemporary clothing brand that’s all about dressing fashion-hungry, time-poor women like herself.
“I’m a retailer — I love the 360 degrees of it — the marketing, selling, cash flow, customer service. Once you’ve got the bug, everything feels boring in comparison,” said Cameron. Last month, she unveiled Cefinn, a contemporary clothing collection that will bow in February and be sold on the brand’s new website and at Selfridges and Net-a-porter.
Retail prices range from 100 pounds to 300 pounds, or $125 to $373.
During her Downing Street days, which began in 2010 and ended in July, she was busy laying the groundwork, studying pattern cutting with a friend. “It’s an incredible art — I’m not good enough at it, but it was important for me to understand the process,” Cameron said.
The creative and entrepreneurial Cameron, 45, had worked at Smythson, the Bond Street stationer and luxury accessories company, for much of her adult life, designing the windows while she was still at art college and eventually becoming a company executive. She would later become a creative consultant for the brand when her husband, David, became prime minister.
During her time as Britain’s first lady, Cameron was known for her laid-back approach to dressing and her mix of the high street and high-end. She was also an ambassador for the British Fashion Council — another role she’s not giving up — wearing designers including Erdem, Roksanda and Emilia Wickstead.
It is that woman Cameron is looking to dress with Cefinn — the working mother who’s still on her feet at 8 p.m., smiling and socializing, whether she’s at Downing Street or in less-exalted surroundings. She describes Cefinn as “very focused around the consumer” and answering a lot of different daily needs, at an accessible price point.
“These are hard-working, go-to day pieces — pencil skirts, A-line skirts, the sleeveless top you wear under a blazer, a peplum top. There’s a shift dress with a zip front that you can wear at the weekend with trainers and bare legs. You can dress them up and dress them down. It’s not about fancy clothes,” said Cameron, who on this day was wearing a Cefinn red and navy colorblock sweater with buttons dotted along the shoulder.
In keeping with her modern workwear approach, nearly everything is machine washable and built to travel and fabrics are wrinkle-free. Like many women, she looks lovingly at the silk clothes she already owns but finds that they “sit in the cupboard” because they’re high maintenance and need to be dry cleaned. There are lots of practical touches: A classic shirt dress has snaps on the cuffs — in Britain they call them poppers — while the fly front “doesn’t gape when you sit down,” Cameron said.
She said the collection was a long-held dream, and she was ready to realize it just a few months after the family left Downing Street following her husband’s resignation in the wake of Britain’s landmark and controversial vote to leave the European Union. Her husband had staked his political career on the U.K. remaining in the EU, so was left with little choice but to resign both as prime minister and as a Member of Parliament after the upset vote for Brexit.
“I’d been wanting to do this from further back — before Dave was in politics — and the timing of the launch was organic, not planned. Things did get a bit busy” for a while, she said with a smile. “The key is to breathe deeply.”
So far Cameron has been funding the business herself, but she has taken minority investment from Mark Esiri, whose Venrex Investment Management has also taken stakes in companies such as Charlotte Tilbury, Orlebar Brown, Astley Clarke and Lyst.com. Esiri was a former investor in Smythson and worked closely with Cameron between 2005-09, when he was chairman of the business.
Although the world saw her in the spotlight, Cameron said state business was actually a very small part of her life. “There were a lot of formal events with Dave, but they were not that often. I could get on with my life and my day-to-day didn’t really change — that’s what’s great about British politics. I was still nipping to John Lewis [the British department store] at lunch. People were incredibly respectful and treated me like normal. It was the same on holiday with the children – it was just the odd moment when we were snapped [by photographers].”
Asked whether she plans to stay in touch with Michelle Obama, Cameron said, “She’s an amazing lady, and I’d like to, now that we both have more time.” Of Obama’s soon-to-be successor, Melania Trump, Cameron had only nice words: “She has been very supportive of British brands — she continues to wear them and support them.”
Asked what gives her the biggest buzz in launching Cefinn, she said it’s “creating a British brand from scratch. With other brands you’re taking on a lot of history.”