We meet ‘Jean Queen’ Donna Ida Thornton, the woman behind the eponymous Elizabeth Street boutique, to learn what inspires her mission to find every customer’s perfect jean.
When Donna Ida Thornton moved to London from Sydney in 1999, she took a shopping trip to Jaeger. Back then she couldn’t have imagined that, seven years later, she would be part of a collaboration with this iconic British brand.
At the time, she was working in sports marketing. So how did she go from an office job to become one of the world’s most trusted denim gurus, as Grazia has dubbed her?
“I wanted to start my own thing. I was looking at moving into fashion because I’d done styling for friends before,” says Donna. But it was in 2005, after growing tired of trawling through department stores searching for jeans that made her feel great, that she realised her calling. A year later she opened her first designer jean boutique in Chelsea and the famous Denim Clinic was born, providing a sanctuary for women on the hunt for jeans that flatter. Then, in 2010, Donna Ida set up shop in Elizabeth Street, Belgravia.
The acid test
“People can feel quite nervous about buying jeans,” explains Donna, “but the Denim Clinic creates an environment they feel comfortable in.” When a customer steps into the Denim Clinic, they get one-to-one attention from a stylist, who listens to what they want and advises what suits their body type. The stylist then searches through the store’s extensive selection to find the right look. “It only takes about 30 minutes and it always works really well,” says Donna, who counts many celebrities among her customers.
“I spend a lot of time on the shop floor myself and that’s really important. That’s what really informs the business – listening to customers, finding out what the gaps in the market are and spotting opportunities,” explains Donna.
After hearing so much about what women want in a pair of jeans, and getting lots of encouragement from her regulars, Donna was inspired to create her own collection. “A customer called Jeanie kept saying to me, ‘This is what I’m after, why don’t you just make it?’” At the time, it was the high-waisted jean that was in low supply. “Everyone was asking for it but we just didn’t have enough to offer, so we launched our own brand in Spring 2013,” she explains.
But denim isn’t all you’ll find at DONNA IDA. You can also buy cashmere, t-shirts, silk tops, jackets, scarves – anything to complete your denim look. “We’re really expanding our cashmere range because it sells really well and, when we can’t find the sort of things that we really want, we make it ourselves.”
DONNA IDA designs are always considerate of what makes women feel good. “That may be their shoulders, or their wrists, or their ankles, but it might not be their thighs or their upper arms, so I try and highlight the things they feel good about and cover the things they don’t feel good about.”
This philosophy means you’re unlikely to spot Donna at a fashion show. “We just design what we think is right for us and what we think is right for the customer.”
So what can we expect to see coming out of the DONNA IDA boutiques next? “We’re halfway through the design process for our second collaboration with Jaeger, which will be launching July next year.”
The ‘Dora’ jumpsuit and ‘Take me Anywhere’ leopard-print shirt that DONNA IDA designed for Jaeger’s Autumn/Winter collection was really popular. “You’ll see them again in a fresh Spring/Summer way, but there will be quite a bit of colour in there,” reveals Donna.
You can expect to see more colourful jeans next season too. “We’re trying to put a lot more colour back into the denim, as well as bringing out some fantastic new washes and working on the softness of the fabric.”
Being located at the heart of a global hub provides Donna with plenty of inspiration for her designs. “London is so international. You’re getting a lot of information from people who are travelling and coming in and out. For me, New York and London are the real centres of the universe.”
But it’s not all go. “People spend time in Belgravia,” says Donna, who enjoys indulging in the district’s many places to luxuriate, from blow dry bars to world-famous eateries.
“It’s a great community and I love seeing our customers out and about,” she says. “Once I was sitting in traffic, and I saw a woman on the street and thought, ‘Oh my god, I love her jeans – I wonder what she’s wearing?’ Then she walked past my car, so I looked closer – and they were ours!”
A decade after launching her first boutique, it’s clear that Donna Ida is living up to her Jean Queen nickname.
Head to 40 Elizabeth Street, Belgravia, or click here to see DONNA IDA's latest collection.