Cath Kidston Padgham is wild about geraniums...
Gardens, greenhouses & growing a wellness brand...
Cath Kidston is a household name yet Catherine Kidston Padgham MBE, the woman behind the fame remains humble about her enormous success and true to her love of home, colour, print and pattern which now extends to her country garden, inspiring a launch collection of geranium-leaf products.
"Scented geraniums take me straight back to my childhood", explains Cath. "My mother grew them outside our kitchen door so I learnt the magic trick of rubbing their leaves to extract the scent when I was tiny."
From her Gloucestershire greenhouse garden, Cath has recently launched an ever-expanding collection of scented geranium bath and wellness products, called C.Atherley (named after her grandmother's maiden name), which perfectly captures the post-pandemic mood of nurturing through nature. This appears to be the signature Cath Kidston Padgham move - finding joy in the everyday and sharing it at the right moment for British women to embrace and share the world over.
Having grown up in the countryside with crafty and entrepreneurial aspirations founded at country fêtes with her sisters, Cath has come full circle with a move to the Cotswolds when she sold her eponymous business five years ago. While still connected to London, it is in her country garden that Cath now finds the inspiration for her new business venture.
Here we chat with Cath about her wellness launch, coming back to the countryside, her favourite geraniums and why her greenhouse is her happy place...
Cath in her greenhouse where the geranium magic happens. Photo: Gem Hall.
Your new launch, C.Atherley, is a departure into wellness yet has your signature British creativity to it. How did it come about?
It came about because of my love of all the different varieties of scented geraniums in my greenhouse at home. I have some great friends with a skincare manufacturing business called Leslie and Denis Aaronson, We began by hatching an idea to create something special and it went from there.
Please tell us about the name C.Atherley?
Atherley was my grandmother's maiden name that has died out in our side of the family. I used it in memory of her and the other women in my family who loved gardening and flowers. I then prefixed it with C to leave my mark.
We love the British 'grown and made' story - from greenhouse to bottle, Gloucestershire to Somerset, can you expand on the product process and why this element was so important to you?
It was a slow process starting by ordering plug plants of lots of varieties of scented geraniums to decide which to base the first fragrance on. Once I’d chosen the Radens fragrance with its very clear uplifting scent we cultivated enough plants so I could take them to our perfumer in the West Country. He then created the fragrance directly from the leaves of the plant. Meanwhile, there was endless time spent in the studio developing artwork and packaging again drawing straight from the plants. Luckily my partners are very experienced in all the logistics of the project and the testing and trials so we ended up maintaining the standards we set out to achieve.
Why did you choose geranium as the first scent? What memories does it evoke for you?
Scented geraniums take me straight back to my childhood. My mother grew them outside our kitchen door so I learnt the magic trick of rubbing their leaves to extract the scent when I was tiny.
What’s your favourite product in the range?
I absolutely love the bubble bath.
What are your top 3 geraniums?
1. Radens for its delicate leaves, flowers and fragrance.
2. Tomentesum, again for its fragrance and the way its huge leaves spread out.
3. Lara Sunshine which has the most lovely shocking pink flowers and is very useful to pick for the house. It’s sadly not scented.
Can you give us a hint as to what might come next in the range?
We are waiting on bars of soap which have proved really tricky to make to standard and have just signed off our top-secret Geranium No2 fragrance.
Cath working on C.Atherley, inspired by geraniums in her greenhouse at home. Photos: Gem Hall.
Atherley was my grandmother's maiden name that has died out on our side of the family. I used it in memory of her and the other women in my family who loved gardening and flowers. I then prefixed it with C to leave my mark.
Please tell us about your upbringing and early aspirations
I lived in the countryside so I spent lots of time playing outside with my elder sister, riding our ponies etc and yes making things- My highlight of the year was the village fete and entering as many competitions as possible: the best miniature flower arrangement, animal made of a vegetable etc. I also adored playing shop selling my other’s store cupboard back to her.
One of your earliest jobs was working with Nicky Haslam. What did this teach you about being bold with colour and design?
So much. Nicky is very clever at creating an atmosphere in a room which is such an art and looking at the colour and scale within that.
You spent 20 years building the wonderfully distinctive British Cath Kidston retail brand from a standalone store to a global empire - what did you learn most during this chapter?
It was a huge chapter. I remember being very daunted when I started out so my biggest take is I am proud I look the risk and went along for the ride, despite feeling I would be found out at every juncture.
Since selling the retail company, you’ve launched the creative studio Joy of Print - a design and strategy studio working with other brands. What do you love most about the collaborative design process?
I really love working within specific boundaries and challenges as it gives projects a focus. It's great to have a creative outlet again and also wonderful to be working with a young team of talented people.
Over 5 years ago, you bought and renovated a house in the Cotswolds, and in time made it your permanent home. Tell us about your love of country living and keeping your London connection…
I do love primarily love being in the country but now and then have a craving for ‘pavement’ and love the feeling of culture and the bustle of the city too.
A Place Called Home, your most recent book which we love, feels like a full circle since your early interior design career. Tell us more about your love of home…
I am definitely a home maker. Our house is a never-ending project and I’m always editing and changing things. Usually small things like a new tablecloth in the kitchen - it can be a bit exhausting being never satisfied!
In your country house, you’re a keen gardener. Can you talk us through your seasonal highlights in the garden and greenhouse?
I am not a very good gardener but I love designing the garden and trying new things each year. We have one border at home that I find so challenging. I have a terrace which I am pleased with that is planted with fennel, verbena, verbascum, and erigeron. My favourite place to be is with my scented geraniums in the greenhouse.
Cath at home in the countryside where she loves to decorate with colour, pattern and print and is constantly inspired by the garden. Top photos: Cath's own. Bottom photo: Christopher Sykes.
How do you unwind? What’s your favourite thing to do when not ‘working’? Do you regularly feel the need to ‘create’?
I am happiest when I have a creative project but I do love to walk our dogs, go antique shopping and above all to be able to spend time with friends and family.
Have you ever had a mentor in business or in life?
Yes - A wonderful friend in Paris called Marie France Cohen. She and her husband Bernard founded Bonpoint and went on to create the beautiful Paris store Merci. Her advice is invaluable.
What’s next for Cath Kidston Padgham MBE?
It’s early days but hopefully C.Atherley will have the impetus to enable me to keep working and developing the range. I also hope to continue running my Joy of Print studio developing print for other companies.
I do love primarily being in the country but now and then have a craving for ‘pavement’ and love the feeling of culture and the bustle of the city too.
Cath at her in her Gloucestershire garden. Photos: Gem Hall.
Lets Play Favourites - Cath Kidston Padgham
Flower – geranium
Artist – Ellsworth Kelly
Interior Designer – Rita Konig
Scent / Fragrance – geranium
Travel destination – Greece
Place in England – the Stroud valleys
Book – Pride and Prejudice
Podcast – The rest is politics
TV series – Call my Agent
Film - Catch me if you Can
Wellness ritual – 12 minutes stretching every morning
Colour – Red
Beauty product essentials – Rosewater and glycerine
Make-up must-have/s – a grey eye pencil
Fashion label –Bergfabel
Wardrobe essentials – Dark jeans
Music or soundtrack – Bob Dylan
Season – Spring
Restaurant or Meal – Rajput, Indian on Goldhawk Road
Muse – Marie France Cohen
Era or decade – 70s
Guaranteed laugh – My sister
Time of day – 7.15 am
Day of the week – Saturday
Quote – 'Always look on the bright side of life'