Pamela Harper: Luxurious job for a West End shopper

A Day in the Life: Pamela Harper loves shopping, which is just as well for the head of the jewellery brand Theo Fennell
Click to follow
The Independent Online


"You just can't keep me out of shops," says Theo Fennell's chief executive, Pamela Harper,before she adds with a smile: "The staff at our Harrods concession probably regret that I live close by for that reason. Harrods is effectively my corner store and I'm always dropping in at the weekends to see how things are going. But it's great to be there, to share in their success when they make a big sale."

A plus point of living in that part of London, as far as Mrs Harper is concerned if not her Harrods-based staff, is that she can walk to work. The Harper household has two alarms set within 15 minutes of each other to ensure there is no slacking in the morning and she likes to be out within an hour, when she makes a beeline to her favourite local coffee shop. Mrs Harper is well known to the staff, and a typically effusive and friendly Italian welcome is guaranteed: "I find it's a nice, light way to start the day, and gives me a bit of time to look at emails and think things over," she says.

"I'll head to the office from there, if I'm not going to the gym, where I have a personal trainer."

Having arrived at the headquarters of the society jeweller – whose wares have adorned the likes of Elton John, Joan Collins, and the Beckhams – she will spend the early part of the day reading up on company reports and dealing with more emails before the first meeting.


The company's retail managers are in, so Mrs Harper can catch up on how sales are going and what promotional activity is planned for the coming weeks.

There are five UK outlets, including concessions in Harrods and Selfridges, and the managers of all of them are in attendance.

"We talk about what is doing well, and any particular sales of note. We also have the marketing team in to brief the retail team on what is going on, and any events that are planned."

Mrs Harper says her team are "cautiously optimistic" about trading at the moment, despite the gloom elsewhere on the high street. The issues causing concern to most of us – falling house prices, the end of cheap mortgage deals and the sharp rise in the price of food and fuel – can probably largely be shrugged off by those wealthy enough to be able to afford Theo Fennell's prices. But falls in City bonuses and widespread job losses in the Square Mile might just have an impact, and she admits that the company is "closely monitoring" the economic climate.


Mrs Harper drops in to see Richard Northcott, the company's chairman. "He's very active and very involved in the business, which I like," says Mrs Harper. "We speak nearly every day, and I like to stop by his office two or three times a week. He has a great understanding of the business, and I find it very helpful to have on board someone who understands what we do so well and is so committed."

Theo Fennell is expanding rapidly away from being a boutique, with aspirations to become a genuinely global luxury brand. It has moved into Russia, the Middle East and South-east Asia, and is looking to add its first US stores.

This expansion is what led to the appointment of Mrs Harper, a shrewd businesswoman with experience of taking big-name brands around the world – her CV is littered with famous names, include Burberry, Escada and Jaeger. Theo Fennell himself has stepped away from running the business to focus on his designs.

"We all have our particular skills and Theo is a wonderful designer," says Mrs Harper. "That is what he wanted to do, and the business needs him. What we are here to do is establish and develop the brand."


Mrs Harper heads to the West End to visit the company's real-estate agents. "We are looking for a site on Bond Street and so we walk the street, seeing who is opening, who is moving, taking a view on where may be the best site for us. For a luxury jeweller, if you think London, you think Bond Street, but of course the person who shops on Bond Street is a very different sort of customer to one who shops in Sloane Square or Brompton Cross. We need to be in both areas."

From there she will head to lunch: "I try to make my day as efficient as possible, so if I'm in the West End I will try and meet someone there."

In this case her companion will be the glamorous German jeweller Tamara Comolli, who owns and operates the eponymous brand. "We will be launching Tamara Comolli into the UK in July, and we chat about the planned press launch, putting flesh on the bones of what we are going to do, as well as talking business," says Mrs Harper. The meal is short and businesslike, lasting no more than 45 minutes.

Inevitably, before heading back to the office, Mrs Harper will head off to a shop, in this case the nearby Selfridges concession. "It's just to pop in, and see how things are going, check that the store looks good and talk about what stock they might need. I just love the shops and I like to keep in touch with them."


Back at the office it is time for a product meeting with the design team, including Theo. "We will play out new products coming through, look at the designs and review some of the individual and one-off pieces." These are from the much sought after – and highly expensive – couture range, and each one is given a great deal of individual attention, with the team first considering the piece and if it needs any work done to it, before going on to discuss which of the company's outlets would be the best place for it to be displayed. Such products will be reviewed several times during their development before getting to this stage.

The team will also spend some time reviewing the overall collection. "This will be the longest meeting of the day," says Mrs Harper. "Product is really what is at the heart of our business, and I get very involved."


Having gone through the range, Mrs Harper now has to look at new places in which it can be marketed. She has the company's commercial director in to review a potential partnership agreement for a new market that is being targeted.

Then she moves on to meet with two of the company's brand managers who look after the watches and jewellery sold in Theo Fennell's stores but made by other jewellers. "We need to discuss what has done well and what needs some extra help," she says.

With more papers to review and emails to attend to she won't leave the office until at least 8pm, when she will finally get to see her husband. "We do a lot of entertaining at home, and we will either meet there or at a favourite restaurant," she says. "He's a cancer doctor who works as badly as me in terms of time."

The CV

Name: Pamela Harper

Age: 51

Job: Chief executive, Theo Fennell

Educated: County High School, Macclesfield

University of Bristol (modern languages)


2006-present: Chief executive, Theo Fennell

1998-2006: Burberry: managing director, Europe; then senior vice-president, accessories and shoes, worldwide; then president, business processes, worldwide

1993-1998: Escada and Hermes GB, managing director of UKsubsidiaries

1984-1993: Alfred Dunhill, rising to general manager of accessories

1979-1984: Jaeger, graduate trainee