Imagine, if you will, that you are driving through a pretty North Yorkshire village when you spot a small but enticing fashion shop. You park up, push open the door and step in to find an absolute treasure trove, rails and rails of gorgeous clothes, not your usual boutique fare but featuring chic twists of detail and easy, wearable shapes, plus stacks and tables full of lovely shoes and boots and scarves and bags and jewellery galore. Best of all, the prices are affordable.
So, do you tell all your friends, or do you keep it a secret, just for you?
Best Kept Secret Clothing is the place. It’s just off Main Street in Kirkby Overblow, a picturesque and well-heeled village in the golden Harrogate-Leeds-Wetherby triangle. Fairy lights and a hanging willow heart adorn the shop front, guaranteed to intrigue the magpie in many of us.
Inside, owner Fiona Martin is as welcoming and as effortlessly stylish as her shop. Her passion for fashion is infectious. “Look at that,” she says, picking up a dinky, chain-embellished, grey, suede-soft bag. “I’m a little bit in love with this one. It’s £21 ... happy days.”
It’s a small store, undeniably, but well organised and easy to browse, with much of the clothing arranged in colour stories, greys and navys and blacks and pale pinks. It has been based in the former farm deli beside the Shoulder of Mutton for just short of two years, after Kate Deacon, the pub landlady, suggested Fiona try it out for her fashion business. “She’s been very supportive. I love being here – it’s such a nice space,” Fiona says.
Best Kept Secret Clothing is not open every day, although always on a Saturday, 10.30am-4pm. It’s open many other days too, depending on Fiona’s fashion show schedule (of which more later) and times are sent out to those on a database, as well as via social media and the website. “I always try to open at least an evening a month because some people say to me, ‘I work during the week and I can’t get to you’,” adds Fiona.
The stock comes from Italy and France, and there’s a new Australian range of floral maxi dresses, plus casual day-to-evening wear from Portugal. Fiona is always on the lookout for new suppliers so she can surprise her loyal customers with new lines. “I’ve got a fabulous new beachwear range with pom poms and tassels coming from France,” she says. “There’s always something new coming in, keeping it fresh.”
Her key customer, she says, is probably “someone my kind of age, who doesn’t want to buy an outfit for two, three, four hundred pounds for a night out with their husband or their girlfriends, so they can buy a nice little top or a whole outfit. And if you get bored of it, it doesn’t matter, because the price point is good.”
There are Best Kept Secret (BKS) jeans, too – flattering and high waisted, in sizes 6-18, and costing £34.
Fiona loves finding the clothes and accessories. “I think, when you are buying, you visualise people. You can think of certain customers. And I always try to buy for all ages and sizes.
“I very much wanted it to be an affordable price range of stylish clothes, if you were going to the pub on a Friday night and you just wanted a nice little top with some new jeans and boots, but felt that you were dressed up,” she says, adding that she has an average price point of £30-35.
“It’s not the same as from the High Street and I think one of my unique selling points is that I have something for everybody. I dress ladies in their 20s, people my age – 40-odd and 50s – and their daughters and their mothers. The number of times I dress three generations is quite amazing.”
In the 1980s and ’90s, Fiona ran a celebrity booking agency based in Leeds. She was brought up not far from Kirkby Overblow at Sicklinghall, where she still lives with her husband, Roger Martin, who works in tech, and daughter Betsy, 13. Fiona also has two older boys, Henry, 29, and Charlie, 25. Her parents, May and Colin, live close by.
To celebrate Mother’s Day across the generations, Fiona is modelling pieces from Best Kept Secret Clothing’s new spring range, with the help of May and Betsy. The location is in and around the Shoulder of Mutton, which will be welcoming mums and their offspring on Mother’s Day tomorrow.
Charity fundraising is an important aspect of Best Kept Secret Clothing, inextricably linked through the fashion shows that Fiona stages across Yorkshire, in venues from churches and parish halls to pubs, hotels and shops. “The charity chooses the venue, chooses friends to model, and so ticket sales go, as family and friends come to watch,” she adds.
“I do the commentary and I dress six to eight ladies of varying ages and sizes with three to four outfits each, and I also have a pop-up shop there, so people can see the clothing, buy what they see there, and I give 10 per cent of all sales to the charity of that evening, and also raffle prizes.”
In 2002, Fiona set up her own charity, Friends of Alfie Martin, following the death of her baby son, soon after his birth, due in part to a long delay while waiting for a suitably equipped ambulance to transfer him from Harrogate Hospital to Leeds General Infirmary.
“In truth, I didn’t leave the house for two years,” she says. Now she works with nine other committee members, helping to raise money for neonatal care across Yorkshire, working closely with specialist hospital units to identify and provide much-needed equipment. So far the charity has raised more than half a million pounds.
Alfie would have been 16 last month. “It’s something positive in his name, and making a big difference to the care of critically sick babies across Yorkshire. Alfie’s charity is a massive part of my life,” says Fiona.
Best Kept Secret Clothing has also found much local support, and Fiona has been nominated for two categories of the Yorkshire Choice Awards – new starter business and business woman of the year. “I have been very touched by how supportive people have been, family, friends and customers,” she says. “I think they like the idea that you can park outside, it’s hassle-free, you can have a tea and a coffee and it’s a nice, relaxed atmosphere. I’d like to think that people never find me pushy, because I want them to come back. Often they go across to the pub and have a bit of lunch and make it a nice girly event.”
Fiona and Betsy share a love of the horses they own, and weekends are often spent riding. “It is such a double life,” Fiona says. “I think that’s where my style fits in. It’s just an easy, stylish range. I’m loving what I do. It suits me and my lifestyle.”
So, if you find yourself in and around Kirkby Overblow, Best Kept Secret Clothing is well worth a visit. Just between us.
For details of the Friends of Alfie Martin, go to www.thefriendsofalfiemartin.com. There will be a Ladies Lunch for the charity at the Old Swan in Harrogate on March 16 and a Charity Golf Day at Cookridge Hall Golf Club in Leeds on June 15.
CREDITS: All clothes and accessories from Best Kept Secret Clothing, Kirkby Overblow. Open every Saturday 10.30am to 4pm and at other times during the week – details on www.bestkeptsecretclothing.co.uk. Models: Fiona Martin, May Hayes, Betsy Martin. Venue: Kirkby Overblow, near Harrogate, with thanks to the Shoulder of Mutton pub, www.shoulderofmuttonharrogate.co.uk