Wednesday, 1 May 2013

60 SECOND INTERVIEW: Nicola Kathrens

OVER the past 15 years former actress Nicola Kathrens has grown a one-woman clothing business in Coombe Street, Lyme Regis, into one of the town’s must-see shopping attractions. Her unique designs of rare knitwear are tirelessly hand-made and it takes Nicola many hours to create each item. The results are sought by women visiting from all over the world.

HOW long have you lived in Lyme and why did you come here? 
In 1997, under the cover of night, I detonated an old life in London and as it was burning I quickly packed the two cats and as many belongings as could squeeze into my Mini and I hightailed it out of there in the direction of Lyme Regis, to re-invent myself and begin a new life by the sea. I enjoyed a busy life in the theatre - I was constantly performing nationally and internationally, living on adrenaline, applause, parties, alcohol and very little sleep. It was a blast but after 15 years I was tired and in need of a rest and a change of scene.

WHY did you set up your shop?
I have always hankered after doing a-one woman show. This is it.

WHAT is special about your creations?
The sneering contempt of my grammar school needlework teacher, Miss Johnson, instilled in me an abject terror of anything to do with sewing and sewing machines. The fact that I earn my living this way makes everything I produce special. In fact it makes it miraculous.

OF WHICH creations are you most proud?
It has taken me countless years for me to recognise my skills and feel proud of what I do. Perhaps being brought up a Catholic had some influence. The sin of being proud of one’s self would surely send me ricocheting into the fires of hell and eternal damnation? However, as I am now over that, I couldn’t and wouldn’t single out any one of  “my girls” over another. I am proud of everything I make whether intricately laden with stitching and beading or jaw droppingly simple and understated.

TELL us about your customers.
My customers are women. Collectors of rare wearable beauty. They come from all over the world and from all walks of life. I am a serendipitous discovery for some. For others I am a destination to return to again and again.

WHAT is your price range?
My prices are from £165 to £2,500. My sizing is from Fairy to Rubensesque. I have a one off range of clothes that are rare and unrepeatable. I have a hand knitted range. It’s like a limited-edition print run. I provide a made to measure service on these styles.

YOU were an actress before a seamstress, of which production are you most proud?
In the 1980s I worked with Common Stock Theatre Company running a show called Getting Through, a musical for teenagers challenging the stereotyping of young girls going through school. We were invited to be ambassadors of our dear Queen, twice at the world festival of children’s theatre in Toronto. I had never witnessed such knee-buckling, awe-inspiring, never to be forgotten, mouth-drying, heart-racing, funny, moving, huge, clever, challenging, brilliant, loud unforgettable and dangerous theatre ever. Or since. It was spoken and sung in languages from all over the world and I was part of that.

WHAT do you most like about living here?
I hear the sea, smell the sea and see the sea every single day.

HOW do you spend your time when you are not working?
Mostly, I stare into middle distance and practise the art of doing very little - with lie by the fire laziness and a cold glass of prosecco in hand.

WHO would be your ideal guests for a dinner party?
Patsy from Absolutely Fabulous, David Attenborough, Imelda Staunton, Sandy Toksvig, Kathy Burke and Bill Bailey - intelligent funny outrageous eloquent company.

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