Eva Karayiannis, founder of Caramel, recently took Smallable on a tour of her favourite haunts in Notting Hill. The quintessentially British brand is based in London and has two flagship boutiques situated on Notting Hill’s iconic Ledbury Road. From Hyde Park to the perfect brunch spot, Eva shows us the very best of Notting Hill and spoke to us about Caramel.
HYDE PARK - CENTRAL LONDON
For me, Hyde Park is the centre of London. Always buzzing with children, the Princess Diana Memorial Playground is the best in London, complete with a huge wooden pirate ship and inspired by the stories of Peter Pan. The serpentine Gallery is a must see for modern art lovers, and I highly recommend stopping off at Zaha Hadid’s architectural masterpiece which hosts Chucs Café Serpentine; the perfect spot for Brunch.
PHOENIX – VINTAGE BOUTIQUE - 67 GOLBORNE ROAD
Golborne Road’s best kept secret is Phoenix, a beautifully curated antique shop with a hidden vintage clothing selection downstairs. The owner has great taste, and is constantly refreshing what is on offer, all of which is very reasonably priced.
PORTOBELLO ROAD - NOTTING HILL
A much-loved pastime of mine is strolling down Portobello Road market with my daughter, seeking out one off vintage pieces and antique trinkets. The creative energy still resonates throughout the market after all these years, and as you go from stall to stall, there is an overwhelming sense of British eccentricity.
PEDLARS - 128 TALBORD ROAD
If you are in search of a fun vintage gift and a good cup of roasted coffee, look no further than Pedlars; a vibrant store/café just off Portobello Road. The carefully considered selection of clothing and homeware means I always find something unusual to take home with me.
PIZZA EAST - 310 PORTOBELLO ROAD
A popular spot amongst Notting Hill Residents is Pizza East, which occupies a restored Georgian pub at the Northern end of Portobello. Serving Italian classics such as wood oven pizzas and my personal favourite, the salt baked Salmon, there is something for the whole family.
THE TIN SHED CAFÉ - 33 ALL SAINTS ROAD
This cafe needs no introduction…The perfect brunch spot.
Tell us about your design approach and process?
We always aim to design things that have purpose, beauty, longevity and are worth making. Each part of the process - from print design, fabric development, pattern cutting fitting and grading until the final garment reaches the consumer - is equally important. Every person and his/her skills matter and are respected by us. We are fortunate to design for a small number of customers who share our ethos of slow fashion of designing, creating and buying garments for quality and longevity. We don’t feel the pressure to produce multiple wasteful collections and many styles. Our customers are not looking for fast fashion and are satisfied with what we do, which gives us the confidence to work in this way. It is when the designers and consumers take joint responsibility for sustainable and ethical practices that we will see a progress on this issue.
What inspires your collections and where do you see fashion going?
I draw inspiration from the way people used to make and wear garments. They had a healthy approach to clothing, where clothes had a meaning. Today clothes don’t mean anything, people buy them because they like to buy. In the past people would make a garment for work or a wedding or church etc. and every piece was unique and expressed the owner’s personality and served their lifestyle. What happened to authenticity and creativity? What happened to our intellectual property? What happened to self-respect? In the last 20 years with production moving to Asia for cheaper labour and European factories and ateliers with years of know how closed down. Consumers were encouraged to buy a lot and cheaply which caused over production and the influx of unlimited fashion. This made it less special, not respected. Intellectual property laws have also been weakened. The copy culture found ways to over-ride and as a consequence the brands stop fighting the copies. Creativity has suffered but this has also caused overproduction which is what is causing damage to the planet. If people change the way they buy and start buying what they really need, you will see a significant progress.
Why did you choose to open Caramel’s flagship boutiques in Notting Hill?
I always want to open shops in neighbourhoods rather than the high-street. I want to create spaces where people feel the warmth and where they like to spend time and talk about things. I love the idea that brick and mortar shops still have a human element that you don’t experience when you shop online. Not everybody has luxury of time, as we are busy modern families, but it is nice that there are shops that can provide a personal and tactile experience.
Clouds are floating the sky, but there is no hint of rain as we walk along King’s Road, a charming street filled with boutiques in West London, on the way to Caramel’s headquarters. Eva Karayiannis, the brand’s founder, welcomes us on the first floor of the building dressed extremely elegantly in head-to-toe Caramel. Her style is as distinctive and unique as her brand, which captures the magic of childhood and a vintage English charm in handcrafted pieces created with exquisite attention to detail. Eva believes it is possible to run a successful business driven by intuition, creativity and passion. We speak with her about the brand’s identity, her sources of inspiration, family life and her secret spots in London.
Who’s HIDING behind Caramel and what is your role in the company?
[Laughs] No one is hiding behind Caramel. Caramel is filled with talented people who love the process of making Caramel. The love for the brand is contagious. My job is to make sure we are pushing the brand forward to create better designs every year and give people the best there is. I try to fill the studio with creative and exciting material, which will allow us to start the creative process of each collection.
When and how did you decide to work in the fashion industry? Do you remember a moment as a child, or an anecdote that pushed you towards this industry?
I was one of those girls who loved their baby dolls, from Sindy to Barbie, I was dressing dollies all day long and when I had a piece of paper I was drawing clothes for them. I was playing with them until I was 12, which sounds a bit strange. And then I was dressing me. I’ve always loved clothes and fashion. I sat in on many fittings as my mother had many of her clothes made-to-measure. She would pick up the fabric and the style, and a seamstress would make the pattern and the garment. My first dress was an Alaia one. I used to buy a few pieces, but they were special and very considered. The relationship my generation had with clothes is a totally different to the one that today’s generation has with clothes. We had an appreciation of the craftsmanship and the design. That is what I want people to experience with my clothes, to remember how it feels to wear those clothes.
What was your desire when you first created your own brand?
I was looking to give children's fashion the design and the quality it lacked. I treated it the way you might womenswear, that is to use amazing fabrics and stop the taboo of colour and fabric.
WHERE DOES THE BRAND'S NAME COME FROM?
Caramel is something that is at the same sweet, but strong, and can even be quite addictive sometimes. I felt like the brand resembled all those things.
What is the identity of the brand? how would you describe it?
I knew the minute that I opened my shop that I had created something new, that people reacted to it. That gave me the strength and the encouragement to develop and grown my brand.
what and who are the places, designers, photographers and musicians that inspire you today?
I love putting chaos into order and I like cities that have chaotic elements to them, and I bring bits of them back to London and put them into order. I love New Delhi, Marrakesh, New York, Athens and Milan. Musicians that I love are Shuggie Otis and Sade. Photographers that I admire are Paolo Roversi, Stephen Meisel and Jamie Hawkesworth, who has just photographed the new Loewe campaign. Our childrenswear has also just been called in for a Bruce Weber shoot for W magazine, so I'm curious to see how that looks.
You grew up in Greece. have you kept any Greek family traditions?
I believe I have kept most of them. I am close to my parents, my children and I celebrate religious traditions and I have come to accept that I can’t be me, happy and complete without those references and traditions.
What do you do to balance your work and family life?
After years of looking to find the balance I feel that now, I have found it. I know I can’t be happy with just work or just family life so I give them both the time and dedication they require and it is a wonderful feeling balancing both. I am no longer one or the other, I am both the working and family person.
What are your brand’s day-to-day challenges?
We are still a small brand next to the mega brands and in order to compete we need to produce excellence every day. We don’t take anything for granted and this means working hard every day.
Can you tell us about some of your current and upcoming projects?
Womenswear was a big project, it is not something you put out there lightheartedly. It needs a lot of attention and is in an area we needed to educate ourselves, understand fabrics, shapes etc.
How do you spend your time when you are not working?
I have a young boy, who I play football with and read stories to. On the other hand, I have older daughters, who I share my love for flea markets, lazy Sunday lunches and delicious cocktails. I also love my 'me' time in bed reading or relaxing. I enjoy being at home or watching a movie with my husband.
Best activity to do with kids in London?
London has the best parks in the world. Aris [Eva's son] loves the pirate ship in Kensington Gardens and Battersea Park. We also have a communal garden, something unique to London and we frequently go to ours on the weekend.
Could you share with us SOME of YOUR FAVOURITE secret spots in London?
The Greek Agia Sofia church for mediation [Address: St. Sophia's Greek Orthodox Cathedral, Moscow Road, Bayswater].
Howe in Pimlico for great English vintage pieces [Address: 93 Pimlico Road].
The shops near Alfie's Antiques for great Persian Tribal Sumac carpets [Address: 13-25 Church Street, Marylebone].
Dinner at 5, Hertford Street [in Mayfair] or Scotts [Address: 20 Mount Street, Mayfair].
What do you like most about smallable?
I see them growing their brand in a similar way, patiently and I admire their integrity.
PHOTOS & TEXT by YASMINA PEREZ