Here is an extract from Behind the Counter, a series of articles written by “Lindfield Life” looking at the inner workings of Lindfield’s most-loved shops, and getting to know the people who run them. In a recent edition, they featured Nicola O’Rourke – the founder of Mathilda Rose and mastermind behind the famous window displays fondly known as #thewindowat62 :
Nicola was born and bred in Lindfield and educated locally both at Great Walstead School and Ardingly College before moving to London to study Textile Design. “I started at Chelsea College of Art and Design to complete my foundational year,” Nicola explained, “before getting a prestigious place on a degree course at Central Saint Martins School of Art.”
If you want to be well-known in any form of art, Central Saint Martins is the place to be with courses that are incredibly sought after and incredibly competitive to get in to. Included in the eight studying with Nicola was Alice Temperely, now MBE, and once described by American Vogue as ‘the designer making the biggest waves in British fashion’.
After attending CSM, Nicola started work in the commercial world by accepting a job at Marks and Spencers Head Office. She gained experience across a variety of departments and then settled as a Buyer – a role she stayed in for over ten years before founding Mathilda Rose.
Having never worked with wedding dresses before, the bridal boutique was a whole new enterprise for her. “If you’re a good Buyer, you have transferrable skills into any area of retail,” she explained. “The principals are the same: truly understand your customer; only buy high quality; create a commercially balanced range; have a good selection of price points.” Through her store Nicola wanted to combine her expertise in sourcing products behind the scenes, with interacting with her customers to make sure they received only the best experience from start to finish.
“There was a real gap in the wedding dress market,” Nicola shared, “and it’s a huge passion for me. I still get emotional sometimes as I see brides walk out the door, having worked with me for a year, with their perfect dress in hand.”
The doors to Mathilda Rose opened eight years ago and was recently year named ‘Best Bridal Retailer’ at the 2019 Wedding Industry Awards. It also holds a Gold accreditation from leading wedding dress designer Maggie Sottero.
The way wedding dresses are purchased has evolved since the store’s 2011 beginnings. Initially customers would book an appointment to try sample dresses on in store. Brides now also seek Mathilda Rose online from all over, with regular online purchases from women in New Zealand, Dubai, Paris and New York.
Mathilda Rose is open by appointment only because, other than a team of seamstresses, Nicola does everything else for her clients herself. Her role as manager ranges from fitting, ordering and designing to mediating and counselling. “My job isn’t just about finding a dress that’s perfect, it’s about making the bride feel perfect, and wedding preparation can be stressful” she said smiling.
#thewindowat62 is famous worldwide on social media. It was also featured on Channel 4’s Extreme Cake Makers in 2017 for a partnership with Michelle Sugar Art to create a life-sized cake of a wedding dress on a mannequin. The idea for the hashtag first came about for the shop’s opening in 2011. Preparation for this year’s Christmas window has already started and it’s sure to be magical.
“Customer experience is the most important thing to me,” Nicola told me. “I’m also so grateful to my incredible team of seamstresses, without whom I wouldn’t be here. We’ve had brides order a size eight dress, before coming in for a fitting just weeks before their wedding with a sixteen-week bump. While I re- assure the bride, my team of seamstresses make it work! Life as a small business owner comes with many challenges, but seeing the brides walk out beaming makes it worth it.”
With a ten-year lease freshly signed and a new contract to be one of only five UK stockists for an exclusive high-end Greek designer, the boutique and its famous window, is set to grace Lindfield High Street for many more years to come.
Written by Joe Wayte for September 2019 issue of Lindfield Life. (https://www.lindfieldlife.co.uk)