Natalie Kingham remembers her first fashion purchase like it was yesterday. “I was taken to Portobello Market when I was about 10 and I bought a pair of 1950s satin pointy stiletto shoes,” she says. Even as a preteen, she had great taste. These days, her purchases are prophetic. As buying director of MatchesFashion, Kingham makes choices that shape how we all dress.
She has carved a reputation for not simply spotting the designers who count (she was the first to stock Vetements, Halpern and Charles Jeffrey), but she brought them to the market in inspiring ways. MatchesFashion leads the pack with its exciting collaboration projects. The latest – a wedding-skewed drop – features specially commissioned all-white pieces from her favourite brands, including Christopher Kane, Molly Goddard and Stephen Jones. Kingham balances cutting- edge newness with an eye for the most interesting pieces from big global brands. The MatchesFashion buy always has an element of surprise and daring.
“I think you’ve got to be ahead of the curve. You have to see something quite early on, because you are buying so far in advance,” says 48-year-old Kingham, who is settled into the dining snug of her east London house. She lives here with her partner and twentysomething daughter Tiger. It may look like a classic Victorian terrace from the outside, but inside it is a cornucopia of intense colour, fabric and texture. The walls are hung with work by Kingham’s artist and photographer friends, and from the green marble intensity of the kitchen to the serenity of her blush-pink dressing room at the top of the house, there’s hardly an empty space. “Before I bought this house, I always thought I was a minimalist,” she says, laughing.
jacket and trousers by CHRISTOPHER KANE, shoes by MIU MIU
Kingham grew up in southeast London, in a house full of women who loved dressing up, painting their nails and celebrating each other’s style. The family encouraged her fashion whims. “One minute I was a rockabilly, the next minute I wanted to be a punk, the next I wanted to be like a Charlie’s Angel. I think I realised quite early on that fashion was a really good way to express who you are.”
Dressing up offered escapism, but also a sense of community. Kingham and her friends would scour second-hand shops and compose elaborate looks to go clubbing in. “Philip Salon would be on the door. The people who looked the best were pulled in. We always managed to get in.” It was during one of these mammoth getting-ready sessions that she discovered her love of tailoring. “I got very desperate one night and I went into my dad’s wardrobe and borrowed his suit, and that’s when I realised that I liked dressing like a boy, and I liked dressing in oversized clothes, but with a feminine touch of some description.” Her style has evolved since then, but mannish suits and brothel-creepers always figure somewhere.
At school, she’d pimp up her uniform, swapping her sensible shoes for brothel-creepers or Roman sandals. “I used to get the mickey taken out of me,” she says, but eventually the girls at school stopped laughing. “They’d say, ‘Well, we’ll all be wearing them next summer anyway, won’t we?’ It wasn’t that I was trying to be clever or different, my eye was just moving quickly.” She’s made a career out of that trait.
jacket by HALPERN, trousers by BELLA FREUD,
necklace by AURÉLIE BIDERMANN
Joseph Ettedgui gave Kingham her first break. It was the early 1990s and she was working on the shopfloor of Joseph’s famous Brompton Cross store. “Joseph used me as a barometer, but he was very clear – ‘Bring me all the clothes and the good things that are happening around us.’ He wanted me to show him the things he wouldn’t know about because he was going to the smart restaurants and not going out clubbing.” She brought him Patrick Cox, whose square-toed loafers were cult among her club-kid friends, and persuaded him to stock Alexander McQueen, even though the designer’s maverick reputation scared off many retailers. She also turned Joseph on to Maison Martin Margiela, being the first in the UK to stock the iconic Tabi boots. “Mr Alaïa was always in there, and Tom Dixon used to come in with his new pieces of furniture. I’d watch these wonderful people in the industry coming in and I felt like I had their nod of approval for things that I had been bringing in. That’s where the buying bug started and having somebody recognise that I was good at this.” Today, she pays back the trust those fashion elders had in her by doing the same with her young, energetic team.
Great buyers have instinct and taste. They see things differently. They see things first. Kingham is always on the look-out for what she calls “the eye adjusters”. These are the pieces that don’t have instant populist appeal – “Because you might think it’s dreadful the first time you look at it and then, the more you look at it, the more you are convinced that it would make an outfit.”
Kingham is hyper-vigilant about shifts in taste. “It seems very simple but I think sometimes you can get too bogged down in the analytics and the numbers of it all, rather than just taking a step back and realising why everyone wants to wear trainers or big chunky boots, or why everybody is a vegan and why that would mean that nobody wants to wear anything that is cruel to animals.” Trends are important, but how people live their lives is more so. Cardigans, she says, are having a fashion moment because of the popularity of expensive blow-drys. “Can you imagine arriving at a restaurant and you’ve got to pull something over your lovely hair to get it off?” Clothes that get caught on rings are also a no. “You have to do the ring-pull test,” she says.
dress and necklace by CHOPOVA LOWENA, necklace by PACO RABANNE,
shoes by FABRIZIO VITI
What’s the next big trend? “I really hope there’s a return to some sort of subcultures and youth cultures, because I think they bring a sense of community. I never realised how much I missed that. I never thought of subcultures like that, but they are little pockets of community that are really good for certain people. I wonder if certain younger people today are suffering from mental-health issues because they are not in these little gangs.”
She joined MatchesFashion in 2010. She had spent the years before working in wholesale, repping fledgling labels such as Roksanda, Jonathan Saunders, Preen and Richard Nicoll. When co-founders Tom and Ruth Chapman were looking for ways to differentiate MatchesFashion from the competition with a more nuanced buy, they turned to Kingham and her passion for design talent. Forging close relationships with designers is central to her approach. For Kingham, success in fashion always boils down to people. “I love creative people. I am creative but not like they are, and I just really admire and love it. I really think they are clever. It’s a genuine admiration.”
She remembers the first time she met Demna Gvasalia, selling his Vetements collection in a tiny corner of a shared showroom in Paris. Other buyers had overlooked the brand but Kingham did what she always does and talked to him. It quickly became apparent to her that he was doing something that was taste-changing and game-changing.
jacket and trousers by CHARLES JEFFREY, shirt by LEMAIRE,
brooch by ART SCHOOL, shoes by GUCCI
“It is about authenticity and integrity with a lot of people you meet. You need to understand the message they are trying to get across and how passionate they are about it. You can tell quite quickly and probably within the first few minutes,” she says. What she’s looking for is “a wow moment”, when a brand or product makes perfect sense. It can’t happen at every appointment, but Kingham has a way of letting people down nicely. “Every brand and designer has a retailer for them, so it is more what is right for MatchesFashion. I have said that a lot – ‘Your brand is great and what you do is great, but it just isn’t quite right for us.’”
She spends nearly six months a year on the road, searching for the perfect mix of labels and has fine-tuned her style to suit her demanding schedule. Stiff fabrics that don’t crease and lots of great tailoring are her mainstays. “If I were to only buy and wear what I loved, there would probably be a lot more feathers and kaftans and big shoes, but actually, because I have to use the airport and run around, my wardrobe becomes a bit more subdued with a lot of tailoring.” She’s even installed a waist-height packing station in her dressing room to make folding clothes that bit easier. “When I’m packing for a trip I need the itinerary, I need to know the weather, and then I pack exactly what I need and I don’t really pack any emergency things. If it’s a long trip, I have been known to write the outfits out on a piece of paper and hang them in the wardrobe in order, because if I am getting sleep-deprived because you are working long days, I don’t want a wardrobe malfunction. And if I’ve literally only got 13 minutes to get ready, it’s there, ready to go.”
That’s Kingham: pragmatic, down-to-earth, happy in her own skin, stylish, curious and always seeking out the most interesting people and brands. “I’m just very happy in the fashion world. I don’t know what I’d do without it. I’d be lost,” she says. Us, too.
by Claudia Croft
Issue 3 of 10+UK – ENDURING, MOTION, GRACE – is OUT NOW and available to order here.
dress by BATSHEVA
throughout: earrings by RAPHAELE CANOT, MARIA TASH and DIANE KORDAS,
bracelets by CAROLINA BUCCI and HERMÈS
Photographer ANNA STOKLAND
Text CLAUDIA CROFT
Hair and make-up CAROLYN GALLYER at CLM using YSL Beauty and Bumble and bumble
Fashion assistants HELENA FLETCHER and EMILY KEOGH