If you love our range of clothing and interiors then you’re probably wondering where these brilliant ideas come from – do we have a team of Mamas & Papas Elves that work their magic on all our creations? Sort of, only they’re not elves, they’re people. And they’re not magic, just very talented.
You may wonder who the Santa Claus figure is in this scenario. Well, it’s a man called Richard Harris. Richard is definitely our Santa as not only does he oversee everything but he has also a beard and wears bright colours. It’s fair to say he has a look that is all his own, so no wonder he was the inspiration for our Pixie and Finch characters.
When he isn’t modelling for plush toy designs, he heads up our crack team of clothing and interior designers, helping to create bold and beautiful patterns, as well as delicate and dapper outfits. He is Mamas & Papas’ very own Karl Lagerfeld, although he still has to queue for his morning coffee like everyone else.
With the new Autumn/Winter 2014 range coming in, we sat down with Richard to chat about his creative inspirations, plans for the future of the Mamas & Papas range, and how it feels to be immortalised in felt.
Richard, lovely to see you.
Can you explain a little bit about your role at Mamas & Papas?
Certainly, I’m the Fashion Director at Mamas & Papas and that involves overseeing the buying and designing of all clothing ranges and soft goods. So, I look after all toys, bedding, nursery interiors and clothing from maternity through to children’s. It’s a bridge between the creative element and merchandising. I help to shape the designs of our products, whilst keeping an eye on current trends and also, what it is parents want from their children’s clothing.
Quite a lot of responsibility then.
Yes it is, but I’m comfortable with that level of responsibility. I’ve been doing this for 20 years and know what it is that customers want, as well as being able to find the best patterns and products.
How did you get into fashion? Did you have a Devil Wears Prada-style rise to the top?
Not at all! I initially studied history at university which has very little to do with fashion whatsoever. The idea was to train as a lawyer but that never happened.
Was it because of the funny wigs you have to wear? That would put us off too.
No, I fell into fashion through a Saturday job I had at a shop, while studying at university. I worked there every weekend and, eventually, an administrative role came up. It really appealed to me so I went for the job and got it. I’ve since worked my way up to this position.
How long have you been with Mamas & Papas?
Just over two years now.
And what is it that you like about working here?
I love the creative freedom. I’ve been doing this a long time and when I started here Luisa and David were very brave in letting me rejuvenate the clothing ranges. I haven’t found that freedom in any other job.
Do you feel you’re bringing in changes, then?
Absolutely. Popular collections like Limited Edition and Welcome to the World have always been strong, but we wanted to bring those styles up to date, incorporating some modern trends, whilst remaining true to the Mamas & Papas values parents have come to expect. We’re still evolving some of those styles, but we’ve certainly come a long way over the last couple of years.
How easy is it to do, creating new ideas whilst keeping those traditional Mamas & Papas principles?
Very easy, actually. The core values of the company focus on thinking differently and providing quality products that put families first – those types of rules are easy to follow because that’s how I work. I’m never going to produce something I’m not proud of, so by keeping those core guidelines there, you know you’re creating good products parents will love. It doesn’t impact on the purchases they make; to them it will seem like an evolution of what was already there, whereas inside it’s been more of a revolution.
A big factor in Children’s clothing is practicality and comfort but, for you, how important is style?
The design team and I keep a very close eye on what’s popular, and work hard to incorporate that into our clothing range. I’m always on the lookout for new styles or colours, taking inspiration where I can. That’s why I decided to introduce an older range; our range currently goes up to four and the reason for that is because I wanted us to be there for parents throughout their child’s development. There’s no reason we should stop providing clothing their little ones will love, just because they’ve turned two.
Where do you find inspiration?
I take it wherever I can. Quite often it comes from seeing what people are wearing on the street. Sometimes certain colours or patterns suggest themselves and sometimes it’s guess work. We’re currently working on Autumn/Winter 2015 so we’re at least a year ahead – it can’t be very daunting creating items that won’t be seen for another 12months.
That’s part of the enjoyment of it though, creating new styles and designs and seeing if they work. I couldn’t do this job without my team of buyers and designers; we work so hard to make sure every product we create is something parents will love.
How can you be sure it is something parents and children will want to wear?
You can’t, that’s the difficulty; there’s always a chance you’ll get it wrong. Designing is not an exact science, you have to trust your instincts. A big part of the process is making mistakes – I try to create an atmosphere where the designers feel they can be brave in the ideas they suggest because they know that it’s OK to make mistakes. If an idea works then great but if not, we haven’t lost anything – it’s just back to the drawing board. You have to strike the balance between pushing your ideas into new territories and not going too far with it. The Patternology range, for example, was one of our success stories that came from that approach.
Well, seeing as you brought it up, can you tell us a little bit about the idea behind Patternology?
Sure. In the past, parents would buy a full nursery range from one store’s collection – all bedding, furniture and wallpaper would be part of one set, whereas nowadays people like to mix and match, compiling their own eclectic mix of styles. We wanted to create something that would help them to do that and we came up with the Patternology range.
When we started we didn’t know what we wanted it to be, we just knew what we didn’t want. It took three or four attempts to finally settle on a range that worked – finding different colours and designs that could be co-ordinated without feeling overly contrived – but if it wasn’t for that experimental process, we wouldn’t have come up with a range that is as popular as Patternology is. We’ve just won the Loved By Parents award and that is a real seal of approval.
Congratulations! It must be nice to know the things you create are loved.
It is. The biggest compliment we can get is when we see a child wearing a Mamas & Papas outfit. It’s the same with any of our products – if you see a parent using a Mamas & Papas pushchair you know they must trust us enough to spend their hard earned money on the things we make.
What are the differences to your approach when you’re looking at soft goods as opposed to clothing?
There is no difference. I approach them both in the same way – which is creating quality products. I came from a clothing background, so for me toys and interiors were a whole new thing, but I didn’t want that to faze me. It’s all about having an eye for the right product and I like to think I have that, so whether it’s an outfit for a 2 year old, a new range of nursery patterns, or a cuddly toy, it’s about finding the designs that are exciting and that parents and babies will love.
You mentioned cuddly toys just then, so we have to ask about Finch, of Pixie and Finch. Is it true that you were the inspiration for the design?
(Laughs) So I’m told! Some of designers decided to try it without letting me know and then when it was presented to me, I was told they’d based the look on me.
How does it feel to be immortalised like that?
Do you know, it’s the highlight of my career. When I’m 70 years old I can look at that little bear, sat on my window ledge, and know it was based on me. I know it’s silly but it’s a real honour.
It really is! We’d love for someone to make a cuddly toy of us! It probably wouldn’t sell very well, though. So, before we let you get back to it, can we press you for some exclusives about what you have in store?
Well, I’ve very excited about the Autumn/Winter ‘14 range. I think some of the designs are the best we’ve done, there are some really lovely pieces that I think parents will love. Welcome to the World and Patternology, especially.
And how about beyond that? Any sneak peeks?
We have some very exciting collaborations coming up in 2015, but I can’t say any more than that!
Fair enough. Richard Harris, thank you very much.
For our full range of clothing and soft goods, visit our website.