With years of experience styling private clients and an encyclopaedic knowledge of refined fashion, Ann Campbell launched Olivia May as a way of showcasing those niche designers who create the unconventional. Launched in 2013 on Little Clarendon Street, Olivia May selects designers who create an element of difference either through their designs, fabrics or both. In each case, Ann gets to know the individual designers themselves, understands their passions and motivations and really gets to know the creative process behind each of their collections, enabling her to compile a truly unique offering for the Olivia May boutique.
Whilst the selection of clothing stocked at Olivia May is certainly distinctive, it’s Ann’s attitude to building outfits that truly separates her service from that of other boutiques
Her styling approach has always been to focus on the individual, so her items are handpicked to create a completely unique look. Whether it’s a top or dress from one designer or the trousers from another, the complete look will always be the priority. To support this, her eye for detail and customer service aims to enable customers to get the best out of their purchases, allowing her to remember your style and previous choices to offer you a personalised service, making the most of your wardrobe.
As Ann lives in Cheshire, it might seem surprising that she chose to launch the boutique in Oxford.
“When we talked about opening the shop, I thought ‘I want to go to Oxford’ which raised a lot of eyebrows, but I felt that there was a need for this kind of thing”, Ann explains. “When I lived in Warwick, Oxford would be my shopping destination, but I’d come here to shop and I’d walk home with nothing”.
It’s a common complaint for fashion-focused Oxford residents. “But when I launched here, that meant I could buy all the designers I wanted and it wouldn't interfere with anyone else’s business, so I had the freedom to get the experience of selling those designers and seeing how people were responding to it”.
It isn’t just location that sets Olivia May apart from the crowd, as Ann has a particular attitude to outfits that doesn’t require the wearer to be a particular age. “The pieces we stock are totally ageless. You can tone it whichever way you like. We look to designers who take risk and experiment, creating ready to wear collections that appeal to a broad range of customers. Being able to link clothes across the different collections is also critical in shaping our offering to create eye catching outfits. Rundholz is a good example, because I think it's the most outward brand in terms of the avant-garde look.
I think the age is moving and the gap is closing, because when I was growing up, 50 or 60 was old, but now it’s starting to disappear and style is moving up the ages.”
This may be true, but not everyone has the confidence to attempt new styles past a certain age. What should Ann say to someone who feels that trying out new types of outfits isn’t their thing?
“Come and have a play. I think of it was being an opportunity to dress up like you did as a kid. Come and have a go and try different pieces on to see how you can adapt your style. I try to advise customer’s in a way that matches what they wear currently, but recommend what I think looks the best. Often, it’s about finding a statement piece that you really love and building your outfit around it. If a client is drawn to a velvet fabric and looking for a special jacket we will suggest ways that the jacket can be integrated into their everyday style by wearing it over a plain dress, either with a skirt or over jeans perhaps. It is about gently giving your client the confidence to begin to create a new look with one piece but transforming their look by choosing a piece that is beautifully created. More importantly, though, it’s about enjoying the experience”.
Olivia May’s collections of European designers all have very distinct styles. I wondered how they were chosen in the first place. Anne enlightened me. ”These were my preferred brands as a stylist and also my personal choice, but convincing the brands to allow me to represent them was not an easy task, initially. After all, so much investment and creativity goes into their collections, so they needed to be sure that Olivia May was the right choice for them. Perhaps because I’m not industry trained or a fashion graduate, my approach was fresh and different, and thankfully our partnerships began. They have such a strong identity and because it’s such a niche look, this needs to be adapted each season, but still keeping its core.
“Empathy and customer service. Whether purchases are made online or instore we support our customers as much as we possibly can. They've bought an item, or items at investment prices and when to put an outfit together you would spend upwards of £1000 the customer deserves advice and guidance and you want them also to be able to match and link with the items they've bought in previous seasons. Also the customer having the confidence to know that if it doesn't fit or it doesn't work, immediate refund. So maybe the secret is empathy, customer service and trust."
Finally, on asking Ann whose individual fashion style inspires her, she gave me a surprising answer. I’d expected someone famous, but true to her passion for her own designers Anne told us “In the public eye there's nobody in particular. Mine is definitely the girls that work at Rundholz. They're just astonishing.”
And quite honestly, as my credit card can qualify, so are the Olivia May collections.