Donna Ida – It’s in her jeans

From Sydney to Belgravia, with a lightning-bolt moment in between, Australian-born denim addict Donna Ida Thornton tells Lorna Davies how her love affair with jeans began.

“Are you ready? I’m ready.” It’s not the way most people greet Twitter on an unseasonably gloomy summer Monday morning. But then self-confessed denim addict and renowned ‘queen of jeans’ Donna Ida Thornton is not most people. The brains behind multi-brand denim store Donna Ida exudes the same passion and enthusiasm when I meet her later that day at her boutique on Elizabeth Street.
Donna launched her first shop in Chelsea’s Draycott Avenue in 2006, stocking an edit of the top brands from across the globe. Three more boutiques quickly followed: The Village in Westfield London, Swan Lane in Guildford and, in 2008, Elizabeth Street, which is where the Donna Ida head office is now based.
“When I first came to London and read about Elizabeth Street, I fell in love with it – it is really high-end, specialist and quite unique in what it does. There is so much good stuff in the area; Oliveto across the road from the shop does the best pizza in London, but you can’t get in there – you have to book!” she exclaims.
Donna is also a fan of pretty pink bakery Peggy Porschen on Ebury Street, not that you would know it from her petite figure, clad (naturally) in fitted jeans and a sharp jacket.
She is tanned and relaxed after arriving back in London from Barbados (where she celebrated her three-year anniversary with her husband, whom she calls “Bobby Dazzler”) and talks animatedly about the shop and future plans.
Donna grew up in Sydney with her mother, father and sister and first visited London on a trip to Europe in 1997. She fell in love with the city and moved here in 1999, taking advantage of the working holiday visa that was available to Australians – “It felt like my ticket to freedom and fashion,” she says.
“I have always loved wearing jeans; they’re an easy modern-day essential. After I moved to the UK, I worked in a big marketing company and one day I went to a department store to look at a pair of jeans I’d seen online. When I got there, I didn’t get the help or advice I was looking for. That’s when a friend said to me: ‘You should open up a store that just sells jeans.’ It was my lightning-bolt moment, and Donna Ida was born.”
The difficulty of finding that perfect pair of jeans to suit different shapes and sizes is a complaint often voiced by friends and colleagues, and Donna Ida boutiques aim to erase these concerns. The “denim clinic” available at each shop (and now online) has become famous, with a wealth of celebrity fans. According to Donna, she and the girls in any of the shops simply have to look at you to see what type of jeans you’d suit.
“It’s all about individual body shape and the fit and fabrication of the jeans,” says Donna.
“There is a style to suit each figure. Most people can wear skinny jeans, but a pear shape might like a high-rise to really nip them in at the waist, as it is the smallest part of their body, and an apple shape would prefer a mid-rise pair of jeans for a more comfortable fit.”
Since launching seven years ago, Donna has gained a reputation as one of the capital’s premiere denim stylists and now, as well as stocking denim labels such as J Brand, Frame Denim, Rag & Bone and Rich & Skinny, Donna Ida has its own range. Launched in January after Donna saw a gap in the market, IDA is a collection of true-waisted jeans with tees and blouses, because she wanted to present “the whole denim look”.
“We have a regular customer called Jeanie who has shopped with us since the day we opened, and she’d come in asking for high-waisted jeans. She would always be clear about what she wanted, and if we didn’t have it, she’d say, ‘Well, why not?’ I felt I was letting her down when I didn’t have a good enough selection, and certainly nothing outside of the basic washes, so I thought, ‘All right, Jeanie, we’ll create a brand for you.’ I’ve named the cigarette leg after her, because that’s what she wants to wear.”
Donna kept her customers in mind throughout the design process, imagining each pair of jeans as a real character.
“Cool, old-fashioned girls sitting around drinking gin from tea cups. It’s a gang I’d like to be in. Jeanie, a high-waisted cigarette leg, joins a collection of eight styles: Ivy, the skinny; Mabel, a crop; Bobby Dazzler, the boyfriend; Audrey, an ankle-zip skinny; Mona, the bootcut; Mercedes, a legging, and Martha, a flare.”
This season, Donna says, the denim trends are high-waisted, velvet, corduroy and leather (look out for her pick of the trends for autumn on page 28) – and I would take the queen of jeans’ word for it.
Now a designer herself, who does Donna look up to in the fashion world?
“I think Céline and Saint Laurent are having their moment – everything they create is an instant hit. They’re elegant, classic and fashion forward. I also admire Isabel Marant as a businesswoman who has managed to create a brand that is desired by almost every woman at the moment.”
For denim, Donna certainly fits the mould of designers like Marant, single-handedly forging a strong brand in gloomy economic times. The denim-devotee is here to stay.