Pamela Shiffer, doyenne of the Primrose Hill fashion scene, is celebrating a milestone this year. Her eponymous boutique on Regent’s Park Road is about to reach its 25-year anniversary.
For seventeen of those years, Pamela’s chic yet friendly fashion store has sat plumb at the centre of the shops in Primrose Hill, having moved over from Murray Street in Camden Town, and it must surely be one of the longest-serving shops in the village. Independent shops have never seemed more under threat than now, with rent hikes and the encroachment of large brands, so this little boutique clearly has something special going on to have thrived for a quarter of a century – and counting. Over coffee at the Greenberry Cafe, Pamela shared with me some insight into the staying-power of her business, and chief among those reasons is her “wonderful mixture” of customers:
“We have people of all ages, lifestyles, sizes, all wanting to be fashionable, to be on-trend, but to have something that’s a bit more unique, certainly something that’s not on the high street. They can come to us and get fantastic service, and from there we’ve built loyalty. We bring in new collections and are always on the look-out for what’s new and exciting. We keep the windows fresh, and we keep it all under the Pamela Shiffer umbrella. There’s always something new coming in, and I’d like to think we’ve got something for everybody.”
In setting up her shop Pamela was able to put to good effect her love of fashion and her experience in the business:
“I’ve always worked in fashion. I used to be a model, and when I came to the end of that element of my life, I realised I had to grow up and get a job! I moved away from my home town, Leeds, came to London, and started working in wholesale, which I did for five years. I enjoyed it and met some great people, but the main thing was that I also learnt so much. Then I went into retail and learnt about that aspect of the business as well, while working for other people, managing stores, doing some buying. Then I realised that I wanted to do it for myself. I felt I’d had enough experience on both sides of the business that I was able to give it a shot. I thought that if I stayed in business a year that would be amazing; if I stayed in business two years that would be brilliant, and here we are, a long time later. I didn’t foresee that that would be the case!”
But success depends on passion and hard work as well as experience. “If you’re in business, and wanting to stay in business, you really have to love what you do. For me it’s a passion, a 24/7 thing. If I’m not physically in the store, I’m working on other areas of the business, so there’s never a time that I can actually say I’m not looking, or thinking, or discovering something new for the store. The store has to be kept fresh, it has to feel alive, and the only way of doing that is working hard at it from behind the scenes.”
What are the challenges of running a fashion shop?
“Staff. If something goes wrong in the shop, it’s always because of not having enough, or having the wrong staff. I’ve been lucky and had the most fantastic staff for a long time now.”
Favourite brands in the shop include Oui, Amazing Woman Jeans – designed for real women – and Almost Famous, supplemented by Pamela’s burgeoning own-label, now in its third season.
So how did Pamela find Primrose Hill when she set up shop here seventeen years ago?
“It was a very different place. Still an amazing location, right on the edge of everything really: the edge of town, but without feeling like you’re in town, the edge of the park, which is fantastic, and this whole eclectic mix of independent stores that made it special.”
Pamela clearly still adores Primrose Hill; what is it that makes it special to her?
“I think it’s just one of those islands, with a sense of community, that holds people here, and gives us the feeling that we are in a village. There are so few places left like this in London, that it’s almost becoming unique, to have all the life that’s here, a mixture of great shops, great restaurants, great cafes, lovely pubs, and all the other things in between that make it what it is. The people, the personalities, everyone gets involved. To me, it’s key that we keep that mix going, because that’s what makes it so special.”
And if she were mayor of Primrose Hill for the day? Pamela’s response is emphatic:
“I would introduce free parking!”
She might not be mayor, but Pamela is certainly Queen of the Primrose Hill shops, and, the result of her passion for her business and her skill in creating her niche, the twenty-fifth anniversary of her boutique is a milestone to be immensely proud of.
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