How Annabel Astor is catering for the middle classes
The solution to a lot of our current dissatisfactions must surely be to become a lot more like Clan Cameron.
Dave and Sam have an appeal beyond the mere electable. It suggests what we used to call lifestyle a sense of ease and organised pandora charms new houses. OKA (pronounced as in OK AYE, yah, not that they'd like you to say that), the interiors dynasty founded by Annabel Astor, Sam's mother, is spreading like wildfire, bringing upper class taste to the Middle Masses.
Next month, the store that can make a faux aristo out of Mrs Average gets what the staff reverentially call a "flagship" opening in the Fulham Road, to join stores in Notting Hill, Hammersmith and Chelsea, inter alia.
Plans for the new store are under wraps but insiders say its scale will exceed anything OKA has done on the high street before and move it to the Premier League of interiors shops.
The blurring of the boundaries between the middle and upper class is what OKA is all about and it's right on the zeitgeist. That's something David Cameron has also been peddling this summer, describing his Etonian education as "middle class" (ha!) and referring to his "middle class sharp elbows". From schools to elbows, of course, the Camerons and Sam's family aren't middle class in the ordinary sense of the word but properly upper crust.
Anyway, posh lite is what Dave's mum in law's business retails to the nation. The brand's spiritual home is the Home Counties: Berks, Surrey and Wiltshire (it does the well heeled North only Harrogate and Edinburgh) and it has now set foot in Essex: the Saffron Walden bit.
The catalogue comes in two different blue and red covers, possibly for politically assigned shopper, though where that leaves Nick Clegg, who can say?
I feel about OKA the way we used to get excited by Boden. It's the way we live now. Or the way we'd like to, with its mixture of grandeur and careful cosiness, avoiding the Laura Ashley twee.
A while ago, I bumped into Annabel at a party with her friend Nicky Haslam and she was friendly and a bit hippyish, mildly mocking of Dave's new found earnestness. She has the same long Modigliani face and wide smile as Sam and I readily confided that some of my interiors are a mess. "You can do a lot quickly with cushions and lamps," she says pandora bracelet on sale comfortingly.
We discuss the optics of putting a console behind the sofa with lamps on it, which Annabel says is "classy". She then wafts away in a purple kaftan dress, looking disgracefully young and carefree for a grandmother with a son in law now running the country.
Ease is the intangible product on sale at OKA, not least at a time when we feel we are running harder to get anywhere.
But can a London stress bunny with a messy house really be turned into OKA woman? Hand painted wide stripe walls and a functioning umbrella stand are beyond me. Let alone a pristine Indian parasol in the garden.
Cards on the carefully turned side table: I used to hate OKA. I thought it was the preserve of the more prissy sort of Sloane who had a rattan TV console and a mock Chesterfield and wore a Tiffany bean pendant.
When my friend, the designer Ginny Howard, suggested politely that I "upgrade" my tableware with OKA glasses, how I sneered that it was not "my sort of thing".
But OKA has outgrown its Sloaney roots.
It is to the Noughties what Heals was to the 1990s: the purveyor of an aesthetic that is attainable but a bit smarter than most of us could muster unaided.
How to you recognise OKA woman? By her quality linens, neat but not naff side tables, big lampshades and a kind of imitative poshness which enables any of us to live just a little bit like the Astors and Camerons. Or at least to pretend to.
You need a reasonable amount to shop here but not a trust fund.
Julie, a pretty manager from the Sloane Street store, has bravely offered to OKA ise me. She leads me past console tables galore, which we can shoehorn into ordinary spaces rather smaller than baronial halls. I ask what the point of a console table is and there is a perplexed silence.
There are three sizes of dog basket, including the magisterial Mattaban pet bed at 265. "That's for a Labrador," says Julie. I thought you could get a whole golden retriever for that, with change for the collar.
In this interiors Big Society though, grand house classics have been cleverly scaled down for the bourgeoisie, with linen cupboards and cream rattan beds, oval mirrors and card lampshades
"Some of our clients are buying for their second homes," says Julie. You bet, and we've all paid for some of them.
OKA was beloved of Tory MPs on expenses, not least Michael Gove, who spent a third of the cost of furnishing his constituency home at his leader's mother in law's, and is strangely prone to Manchu cabinets and elephant lamps. Mr Cameron's mate and suave culture minister Ed Vaizey was similarly taken with OKA on expenses, spending 2,000 on his refurbishment there.
"I can't comment on that," says poor Julie with a fleeting look of panic.
She tells me some clients furnish a London and a country house from the range, just in different styles, and eastern Europe and Russia are growing markets.
We're in bland, cream and beige heaven here, but enlivened by carefully nuanced primary colours. There are detractors.
The Times property section acidly notes: "They pigeonhole the owner, screaming two kids and a black Labrador'. Then there are the occasional lapses cheap real pandora charms in the OKA repertoire, in the form of the posh ethnic artefacts "
Reading that, I expect the trendy interiors fraternity to be a bit snotty. Yet when I show Wiggs Woodall (Trinny's sought after designer sister) my Hyacinth Bucket problem sitting room, she says firmly, "Stop fretting and get the lot delivered from OKA: it always works."
Indeed, the second home quandary is the essence of OKA: Annabel guilelessly admits that the idea came to her while she was having trouble furnishing her holiday home in Florida.
That was in 1999, and Annabel and two partners have grown the company since to a value, according to City sources, approaching 50 million.
She wants to create a 100 milllion company and on the present rate of advance two new stores a year, even in the recession, and a thriving mail order business there's no reason to think she won't. The company, being privately run, is shop pandora bracelets online commercially secretive. I ask what the average spend is and am told it's confidential information.
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