While Seraphina's Fiona Hodges career has taken her to Vogue and Anouska Hempel, her greatest passion has always been for fabric. And let's just say, it shows.
As she says, “It all started with one kaftan in the heat of Delhi when I was in my 30s. I bought some fabric in the market and found a one-man-band to make it. He took my fabric up to his roof terrace where he sat with a simple sewing machine and views of the city. He made my idea become a reality. The joy of seeing the fabric turn into the design, overseeing that process, gave me a huge thrill. I guess I’ve been hooked on the magic ever since. I can’t believe l now design collections.”
Having grown up on her father’s tea plantation in Darjeeling, Fiona has always loved India, and it was this love that drew her back to the country that shaped her childhood. Captivated by the colours, textures and beauty of the fabrics, she was inspired to create her own easy-to-wear modern clothing brand, and we are so glad she did.
Seraphina’s range provides a fresh take on resort and loungewear, using the finest fabrics in divine prints that are all designed in-house. We were delighted to speak to and visit Fiona in her home in Somerset, where we found out about her design process, her life in the country and what it’s taken to build this impressive brand.
Tell us a little about Seraphina.
Seraphina’s journey started with one kaftan in the heat of Delhi when I was in my 30’s buying some extraordinarily beautiful fabric in the marketplace and finding a one-man band to make a sample! We are now producing two resort and loungewear collections a year, with a particular emphasis on “Mummy and Me”, all of which are designed in house at our factory in Delhi. I still pinch myself at how far we have come since those early days!
We adore your wearable, relaxed pieces. How do you go about the design process?
Thank you! The design process will start with mood boards in the office and anything that I love – be it a colour of a plate to the shape of shell – is immediately pinned. We then decide on colour themes, fabrics and prints which is a challenge as there is always far too much choice! Once we have worked on the styles, our factory gets to work on the toiles which go to and from the factory to perfect the fit. Our in-house design team in the meantime work on fabric strike-offs and colour lab dips. The whole process can take up to eight months. Always at the front of my mind is that is has got to be easy to wear with a bit of fun thrown in too!
What inspires you when designing a collection?
Inspiration comes in many forms but India offers so much and it is where I feel at my most relaxed and able to take in the beauty around me. I love trawling the many markets in Delhi, visiting ancient palaces in Rajasthan, to rambling on the remote beaches of Goa. The patterns, colours, shapes and textures are breathtaking. Nature has a funny way of providing the necessary inspiration. I always return to the office buzzing with ideas.
Your children's pieces are equally gorgeous. What prompted you to create a collection for both women and children?
It is quite often our clients who come up with the best ideas! I had repeated requests for matching outfits, particularly from the States, to design matching outfits for mummy and me. They were an immediate sell-out and since then we have increased the size of the mother and daughter collection. It always brings a huge smile to my face receiving the happy holiday photos sent to us.
Do you subscribe to a particular personal style?
Easy and relaxed most of the time. At home in Somerset it is a well-cut pair of jeans and chunky cashmere in the winter, replaced by a lighter cashmere or shirt in the summer. On my weekly work trips to London during the colder months, it’s a blazer, silk shirt and jeans. In India, light cotton voiles, seersucker and silks are the order of the day with a comfortable pair of slides or sandals – I am loving Carrie Forbes and Le Monde Beryl at the moment.
Who and where do you look to for style inspiration?
I love the Italian jewellery designer, Carolina Bucci’s style – chic but laid back with a bit of fun thrown in. Her fabulous Forte Bead necklace is a great addition to any of our summer pieces. I love the fact you can change the colours of the beads to match your mood. I have my eye on the Florentine Finish Cuore Pendant to add to the necklace! Style inspiration comes from images, colours and textures, especially when travelling and seeing different cultures.
What did your career involve prior to Seraphina?
I started my working life at Conde Nast in Hanover Square and after a couple of years was posted to Sydney to work with the infamous June McCallum, the then Editor-in-Chief of VOGUE and VOGUE LIVING in Sydney. I loved my time there. It was such an exciting time working on the other side of the world and I loved my time there. After returning to the UK, I worked for Anouska Hempel at her couture shop in Pond Place before marrying and having my two children. Having made the move to Somerset from London, I felt very isolated not knowing anyone and not working for the first time in a very long time, I took on a job working with Roger Saul (the founder of Mulberry).
Tell us about moving back to the country and how this has influenced not only your lifestyle, but your career?
Moving back to the country was pretty nerve-racking as I naively thought London was the only place to be to work. How wrong was I? Moving to the country has helped me achieve a much better work/life balance and I find I am far more productive. Having said that, I still spend 2-3 days in London most weeks.
What does a typical day look like for you?
When I am working from my office here in Somerset, I try to begin the day with an early morning swim at Babington House which we are lucky enough to have on our doorstep. If not, it’s yoga. I try to be at my desk by 8.30am/9.00am when I speak to my partner in Delhi to catch up with production for Seraphina, as well as our clients who we manufacture for. I always try to tackle the toughest priorities first thing as it is definitely when I am at my best! The rest of the day will be spent in meetings, catching up on emails and calls. I try to spend at least one day a week in London visiting our clients.
You also manage production for established and start-up fashion and homeware brands. How did this come about?
This side of the business happened when we started to wholesale and were asked by a large high street retailer to produce a collection for them under their own label. The quantities ran into the thousands so it was absolutely terrifying and exciting at the same time. I don’t think I slept much from the time of the order to delivery but it all went surprisingly smoothly! Soon after this, the factory and I formed a partnership and we together manage production for high street retailers, established designers and fashion and homeware start-ups in the UK, USA, India and New Zealand. All our clients have come to us by recommendation.
What have been some of your greatest career highlights thus far?
Without doubt, winning a mentorship award from The Brand Me Collective (a supportive network for female founders building their brands). I am lucky enough to have Georgie Coleridge Cole, the founder of Sheerluxe as my mentor. She is one seriously inspirational women and always there to offer advice or run ideas by. I think any woman running their own business will say how lonely it can be and having Georgie at the other end of the phone has made all the difference.