As in-house style designer, Charlotte Barrett is working to transform Soho House uniforms so that our people can feel just as confident as our members
When I meet Charlotte Barrett in London she claims to be nursing a hangover after hard-hat drinks at the new support office in The Strand, but her bright face suggests otherwise. We’re here to talk about her work as in-house style designer, a newly created role that will see her transform Soho House uniforms – and she’s visibly excited about it.
“Our onsite teams are the face of our business,” she says. “Our customers only have contact with them, so for me they’re key and I want them to feel great.”
After four years at Topshop, Charlotte came on board after our inclusion committee raised concerns over the look and feel of many of our current uniforms. Her initial focus groups explored the problems in detail, from shirt stains to small sizes. “Our Houses and members are really stylish and it was clear that the uniforms were making a lot of people feel like they didn’t belong,” she says. “One guy said to me, ‘I just want to feel like I own the House. I want to walk into work and feel like this is my house: come in. Welcome!’ He wants to host.”
Women in particular were increasingly uncomfortable wearing short skirts and tiny dresses – an issue that Charlotte has already tackled at 40 Greek Street. “The female floor staff were on the roof in short-sleeved dresses and skin-coloured tights.They were given jumpers to make them warmer but they felt like grannies and their legs were freezing so I’ve changed them into jumpsuits. They were running around with absolute joy!’
Now she’s finalising the first in-house designed Soho House uniform, which should be ready in time for the openings in Downtown LA and Hong Kong next quarter. It’ll take the form of a capsule collection of signature pieces, like House shirts and chinos, that can be built on and added to depending on the style of each site.
“My plan is to establish a handwriting that gives us our identity for the label, and then to have personality drops that go in on top,” she says. “So for example, our Paris House is coming at the end of 2019 and is absolutely stunning; very glamorous. That will need something to be created for its own identity. In Greek Street I think it’s nice to keep it smart, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they have to wear a tie. If you’re going into Shoreditch it’s always going to be casual. Different people hang out in different places and it’s all about the feeling in the Houses and the vibe.’
It’s important to Charlotte that the new look is both gender fluid and sustainable. “I’m passionate about sustainability and I feel like I’ve hit the jackpot because I’ve come into a business where the top bosses really want to make a difference across all departments,” she says. “What we’re doing [with uniforms] is mass production, I can’t get away from it, but I can definitely try and make it a better situation. For example, I’m looking at stuff like seaweed jersey, which I’ve become obsessed with. What is amazing about Soho House is that it doesn’t feel like there are any boundaries.”
And will we ever see guys working at Soho House in dresses? “Before I was even given the job, Nick knew exactly where I stood. He knew that I don’t agree with this gender image that we’ve all been force fed. I said to him, ‘This is me, this is where I stand, this is all that I stand for. If you employ me, men will be able to wear dresses, and that’s it’. I’ll just be clever in the way I design it; I’m not going to be designing bodycons any time soon. That’s how things are now and it’s exciting.”