At first, things didn't go smoothly. "I'd always wanted my own business and started off with this guy, selling button covers - you clip them over the buttons on your jacket or blouse. I got loads of orders - pounds 48,000 worth in a week, once - but when we got them into the stores we found no one knew how to use them. People thought they were buttons and you had to sew them on. I was so naive; the guy I was working with pulled out and left me with huge debts. My sister Marygrace had come over from Washington and was working with me, but we were so broke I had to get in a lodger, so her whole life was in the living room. We went through hell. I got myself a lawyer and I was crying in this huge boardroom, saying: 'What am I going to tell Dad?' I was scared to tell my parents - I'd always been such a sensible kid!"
After a "horrible, messy business break-up", Maryrose, now 36, emerged only slightly daunted ("I've always thought of failure as a way to develop my sense of humour") and started up Johnny Loves Rosie from her living room. The business gradually took over her flat; open any cupboard or drawer and something desirable falls out - perhaps a sackful of tartan or towelling or printed scrunchies, or a heap of cunning key fobs, or a bundle of emery boards decorated with flowers and fruit, or a tangle of delicate silver bracelets. The living room is now the packing room, full of racks of bright artificial flowers on hairclips and pony-tail bands, button covers, boxes of jewellery wittily fashioned from laminated liquorice sweets or popcorn, water bottle holders that sling over the shoulder (one of the next big things, says Maryrose), or frame chains so you don't have to perch your sunglasses on your head.
Maryrose has to clamber over sackfuls of fake roses and boxes of umbrellas to get to her room. Recently, she scattily set some of her stock on fire when a lighted candle tipped over. "It's been five years now and I can only bear it because I know the end is in sight. We're moving. The most essential thing about our new factory in Brick Lane is that it has a big patio, so we can lounge outside."
These days, glossy magazines are constantly on the phone - Johnny Loves Rosie is much in demand. The company is best known for its signature flamboyant artificial-flower hair accessories. For the summer, they have brought in huge shaggy dahlias; delicate roses and big bright sunflowers are also bestsellers. "We started the flowers four years ago, and they are still big," says Maryrose. "I brought over samples from the States. Marygrace, who has no fashion sense, hated them and said they'd never sell, but, in fact, they've never stopped selling." "It was my only mistake!" chips in Marygrace, hurrying past with a stack of papers.
They are currently branching out into handbags and umbrellas; tough but chic nylon shoppers and smart wooden brollies printed with cow-skin patterns or film stills or Elvis. At pounds 32.99, the umbrellas are the most expensive items from Johnny Loves Rosie; large hairslides are around pounds 10.95, small clips from pounds 3.50 to pounds 4.95, water-bottle holders pounds 12.95. Affordable, certainly - cheap and nasty, definitely not. "I want people to be able to afford Johnny Loves Rosie," says Maryrose. "In this country there are extremes; it's either crap, or really expensive stuff. We fall between. There has to be a design element to everything we do, but anyone can buy it. I love the idea that Nicole Kidman buys our stuff and so does a little girl in Merseyside."
Having a name that stands out does no harm in the fashion world. So, who are Johnny and Rosie? Pop stars, bohemian artists, style gurus? It turns out that they are Maryrose's parents. "My mom and dad are the cutest, cutest people. They are great parents. They will have been married 40 years in August, but they aren't celebrating their 40th year of marriage, they're celebrating their 500th month - my dad knows to the week how long they've been married. Hey, they're coming over next week. You've got to meet them!"
And it turns out that some of the hippest accessories on the market take their names from two cultured, old-fashionedly, courtly and charming Americans from Milwaukee. Their conversation over breakfast ranged from favourite cathedrals, historical buildings and gardens, to Fergie and Di, to Martha Stewart, the American etiquette doyenne, to the Clintons. "We were quite shocked, but flattered, too, when Maryrose told us the name," says Rosie proudly. "We have great faith in her. Ever since she was a little girl, she's been very focused and we always knew she would make a success of whatever she did." Then Johnny and Rosie hurried off to morning service at St Paul's Cathedral, before heading out with Maryrose and a picnic to explore a new stately home.
Johnny Loves Rosie, tel 0171 435 0089.Reuse content