Chief Executive at Whistles, Jane Shepherdson is the figurehead of our brand. Originally from Bristol, she studied in London and worked as Brand Director at Topshop. With an uncanny ability to know what women want to wear, she has been working her magic at Whistles since 2008. Here, we find out a bit more about her world.
Can you describe what you do at Whistles?
The most important part of my role is to establish the direction, the aesthetic, and what the brand stands for. The designers and buying teams create each collection, and I keep checking in with them to ensure that we are all still working towards the same vision. They’re totally involved in what they are doing, but I can be objective, and from that position, I can see the shape of it – the big picture, as it were. The role also involves making decisions on where and when to open new stores, both in the UK, and abroad, and how best to invest for the future.
What would you say the Whistles aesthetic is, then?
It’s an effortless way of dressing. It is unique, there’s an insouciance to it, a sort of ‘I just threw it together and it worked’. That’s what we try to encapsulate. It is easy and laid back, but also luxurious.
Is that quite a modern way of dressing?
I think it is. We try to create collections that tell a story through design, fabric and colour, but also where each piece stands up on its own, and can be worn in a myriad of different ways. It isn’t too formulaic. Each season we decide what will be the most covetable pieces that anyone would want to own.
They’re pieces women can slot into their wardrobe…
Yes, that’s important – but we also want to provide solutions. Often, if women are going to some kind of event, they panic and buy something totally out of character. What we try to provide is a dress that is special but interesting and contemporary as well. It might be a purple lace number but it will have pockets or a big thick zip down the back. They’ll be something about it that will look cool rather than overdressed.
Have you seen women wearing Whistles on the street?
I increasingly see women in Whistles. I love it – I always want to say ‘I know where you got that.’ I was at an event recently and happened to notice the woman in front of me. Right from the shoes up, every single thing was Whistles. I tapped her on her shoulder and said ‘you like Whistles, then?’
Is it inspiring when you see real women wearing it?
Oh yes, I love to see how different women style our clothes, as it is a brand that can be worn in so many different ways. I love that each summer, I notice Whistles dresses from two or three years ago coming out. That means they weren’t just one season, trend-driven items. They stand up on their own and have a timeless quality.
How else do you keep up with what women want out of their clothes?
I spend a lot of time out visiting the stores seeing what they look like and experiencing what customers experience. Because however much you look at numbers or a sample on a rail, there’s no substitute for being in the shop and seeing it as the customer does. I watch people, I butt in, I start serving.
So you could be in a Whistles store and be served by Jane Shepherdson?
Definitely. There’s nothing I like more than asking people what they think of things.
Is there anyone you have in mind when thinking about the Whistles woman?
We love Sofia Coppola. She’s creative, intelligent, stylish, very understated, confident. You have to admit she is pretty cool! We always think of women who are creative and intelligent as well as being stylish. That’s quite important – Whistles is an intelligent choice. We’ve been described as 'the thinking woman’s fashion brand', and we quite like that.
How do you feel about being a role model to younger women in fashion?
Young women in this industry need female role models, so although it feels a little odd, if I can help more women to realise that they can achieve their ambitions, then it is worth it. This industry employs over 80% women, and yet in the boardrooms, they make up less than 10%. It’s women’s fashion – it just doesn’t make sense to me. I am always keen to talk to students, both to offer them advice, but also to hear things from their point of view.
Did you always know you wanted to work in fashion?
Yes, but I knew I couldn’t design. I think when I was about 14, my mother, who was a Biochemist, said one of her students was a buyer and described what it was. It really clicked with me, I had no idea that jobs like that existed. I thought ‘yes! that’s what I want to do!’ I was 22 when I got my first job in fashion. I had really short hair, and my favourite outfit was pair of DMs, black tights with a pair of brown velvet hotpants and a vintage jacket.
While your style may have changed, you still love fashion. What keeps it exciting for you?
I think it’s the ever changing nature of it, the way that trends develop and grow, that nothing is certain. Fashion is the thing that gets us up in the morning – interpreting trends and creating something unique that will work for a Whistles customer. That’s really exciting and that’s what I think is really intelligent design. I love that.