Toff: Boden founder and creative director Johnnie Boden
Johnnie Boden. The mere mention of his name is enough to conjure up wholesome images of yummy mummies on Cornish beaches, children sploshing through muddy fields or slobbery labradors beside a warm Aga.
He is the creator of those brightly coloured togs from slush-filled catalogues which at one point would drop through our letterboxes more frequently than takeaway menus.
Fans of his designs – which have mumsyish names such as ‘hotchpotch dresses’ and ‘ditsy print tops’ – include such Middle England style icons as Kirstie Allsopp, SamCam, ‘the lovely Jools’ Oliver, well, you get the picture.
Quirky yet inoffensive with mass cross-generational appeal, if Boden clothing were a rock band it would be Coldplay.
The brand is, in many ways, a reflection of the man himself. Sunny with a hint of self-deprecation, carrot-topped Johnnie is a honking great Hooray.
He went to Eton, was a member of Oxford’s raucous Bullingdon Club and used to hunt in a bowler hat. To old acquaintances, he’s known as Bodger.
He started the firm as a menswear brand in 1991 out of a small flat in west London. He took the photos himself, enlisting society friends as models.
A pre-miseryguts Hugh Grant, an old pal from Oxford, agreed to appear but cried off with a hangover. Today, Boden boasts sales of more than £300million with its founder still very much at the fore.
He maintains the title of creative director (management isn’t really his thing) and has clung on to over 60 per cent of the business. The recent Sunday Times Rich List puts his wealth at £375million.
He was always a fashionista. Pictures from Vogue decorated his walls at school, where he cultivated an image as a dandy.
Weekends were spent scouring Carnaby Street and Portobello Road for fancy waistcoats and velvet loon pants.
His father, a retired Army officer who became a parent at the relatively late age of 45, considered his son’s creative flair, shall we say, unmanly. When Johnnie, aged 16, was asked to edit the teenage section of Harpers & Queen, the news was met at home with predictable scowls. ‘A bloody stupid job,’ were Colonel Boden’s precise words.
So, after leaving Oxford he did what most boys armed with the best education that money could buy were expected to do. He entered the City.
‘Bodger’: Boden founder Johnnie Boden, pictured with wife Sophie, went to Eton, was a member of Oxford’s raucous Bullingdon Club
He worked as a broker, first at Barclays then Warburg. Pretty much every stock he recommended went down.
He loathed it. He left to run a couple of pubs before teaching for a while at Prince Charles’s pre-prep school, Hill House. Now 28, and with most of his friends flourishing, life was swiftly passing him by.
Good fortune arrived in the form of a deceased uncle, who left Johnnie a six-figure sum. During a brief stint on Wall Street, Boden had observed successful mail order businesses such as J Crew, which made preppy, unfussy clothes, and wondered if he should start a similar business in the UK.
He mentioned the idea to girlfriend Sophie, then an advertising executive. Tiring of her husband-to-be’s dithering, she provided the push his life required. ‘Get on with it,’ she said. ‘Or I’ll leave you.’
Three years after the launch, a womenswear line arrived. By 2000, Boden’s quaint designs had become as much a staple at school gates in affluent neighbourhoods as gas-guzzling Chelsea tractors.
Incidents brought him close to the brink: two recessions; a tricky investor; a major burglary.
He’s on sounder footing these days. He and Sophie and their three daughters occupy their own Bodenworld between homes in Dorset and Hammersmith. But the anxiety remains. Three nights a week, he claims, he wakes up at 4am in a panic over his next collection.
Not that cheery Johnnie complains. He just thanks his stars he isn’t still hunched over a computer terminal in the City.