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My First Break

Damask Contemporary Classics for the Home was started in 1987 by Carolyn Dunn with a vision to create an exclusive English lifestyle for the Home.

Carolyn’s background was in fashion; having worked for companies including French Connection and Monsoon, sourcing products in the Far East. As a result of this experience the Indian Handloom Export Council paid for her to spend a month travelling around Southern India by train visiting handloom mills. The mills were mainly run the people who had never travelled outside of India and had no idea what the western market wanted. Indian domestic taste for home furnishings was for bright colours, and those exporters who did travel outside of India, usually arrived to see buyers with a suitcase full of all the samples they had ever made. Carolyn’s job was to advise the Council how they could tailor their offer to appeal to the Western market.

With £2000 profit from this trip, and the knowledge she had gained of the home textile and clothing markets, she set about starting her own business sourcing products from the companies she had met in India, many of which were run by women who had a better understanding of the textile business.

The company name was decided upon after a brain storming session with a group of friends and the strap line was added a couple of years later to reflect the ethos of the company.

The History...

Back in 1987 the Victorian heirloom look was very popular for nightwear and bedrooms. The first line sold were a range of delicately embroidered white cushions offered by mail order The Financial Times. As an outlet had to be found for surplus stock, the wholesale business was started with a trade stand at “Top Drawer”- a trade exhibition for design led gifts and home wares. At this point a range of antique inspired patchwork quilts and white nightwear was added, which were an instant hit, and they were inundated with orders.

For the first year the business was run from her two bedroom flat which was not big enough to house a washing machine. Her partner was roped in to take wash loads of white linen to the launderette and then help iron it. At night they would have to climb over the boxes of stock all over the floor to get into bed. Fortunately their local Council Hammersmith & Fulham, had just completed a development of start-up business united and they were one of the first occupants.

Over the years the company has built up a loyal following for its cotton night wear including members of the royal family. Each style is given a girl’s name to suit it, a customer purchased a “Lolita” to wear as a wedding dress on a beach in Antigua, and a photograph of “Desiree” in The Daily Telegraph brought a flood of men wanting to buy it for their wives.

When Carolyn had her children, she discovered how practical the night dresses were for maternity and added a range of children’s night wear featuring embroideries of favourite pastimes and nursery rhymes. Grandparents and parents still like to see their offspring wearing demure white nighties with delicate embroidery. Favourites include “Bo Peep” and “Pixie” a fairy embroidered nightdress with a matching tooth pillow. Boys get to choose from more robust themes, popular styles currently are “Biggles” and “Buster” based on old aeroplanes, or “Tom” and “Buzz” featuring space rockets & astronauts.

Along the way they have had a few disasters including a shipment of needlepoint cushions from China which were meant to feature cats but somehow received King Charles Spaniels on a lurid green background. Several months later the supplier wanted to ship the correct goods, but on arrival the shipment contained yet more King Charles Spaniels. In the end they were so desperate to sell them a club for dog lovers was approached who agreed to feature it in a newsletter, which proves you can find an outlet for anything if you try.

In the early years after one trip to India, Carolyn ended up in hospital with a suspected tropical disease the doctors could not identify. As an important trade fair was looming, she had to get the doctors to agree to discharge her in order to set up the stand display as in those days they could not afford to employ people to do it for them.

The company opened its’ first shop in 1995 in the New Kings Road and was one of the first stores to offer a lifestyle brand. Everybody thought the location was dreadful because it was on a busy stretch of road by a set of traffic lights. However, it had a great frontage which allowed for good window displays and a captive audience caught by the traffics lights. The shop had a loyal customer base as well as a French and American clientele and many celebrities who saw it as a quintessentially English range.

In 2005, Carolyn took the decision to close the retail outlets and concentrate on an online shop. The website was recently updated to reflect the move towards online shopping and features the most popular ladies and children’s nightwear and a selection of quilts. A vintage clothing section has been added to reflect her continuing interest in fashion, vintage clothes and accessories.

TIMELINE

  • 1988 - First Brochure
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    Damask produced their first colour brochures in 1988 illustrating their classic white embroidered nightwear designs together with their first range of patchwork quilts.

  • 1988 - Prints
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    Flowers and nature are a consistent theme in Damask’s prints and embroideries and reflect the ethos of Damask design.

  • 1990 - Expanding Range
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    Damask continued to expand the range and their products started to be sold in top end stores including Harrods, Fortnum & Mason, Libertys, Trotters childrens stores, as well as many independent retailers around the country and abroad. Damask also started making nightwear and quilts for magazine offers including womens magazines and home interest magazines including ‘Homes & Gardens’ and ‘Period Living’.

  • 1992 - Children Nightwear
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    In 1992 Damask introduced its’ first range of childrens nightwear and exhibited this at the Premier Childrenswear trade show where it won the ‘Best Stand’ award.

  • 1994 - First Store Opening
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    In 1994, Damask opened its’ first store in the New Kings road in London and it was an immediate success, selling the Damask range together with vintage and antique furniture and accessories sourced at antiques fairs as well as trade fairs including ‘Top Drawer’.

  • 1998 - Royal Visit
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    In 1998, HRH the Princess Royal in her capacity as patron of the British Knitting & Clothing Export Council paid a visit to the Damask shop.

  • 2001 - Christmas Edition
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    In 2001, Jerry Hall and two of her young children were photographed for the Christmas edition of ‘Tatler’ magazine wearing Damask childrens nightwear.

  • 2003 - Website Article
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    In 2003, ‘Skills for Business’ had a special feature on Damask under the title ‘Lady of Luxury’ talking about how Damask was embracing new technology and used this to develop their first website.