The story of John and Monique Davidson is one of romance, adventure and discovery. They met on a Spanish beach in 1969 and, a week later, John persuaded Monique to drive back to England with him. They have been exploring the world ever since, collecting treasures that have inspired the bags, belts and clothes of their 30-year-old brand.
After a three-week sejour in London, Monique returned to France. She and John continued to write letters to each other over the course of four years, before John arrived in Paris and asked her to move to the UK with him.
At the time, John was working as a photographer and Monique was a designer. In 1984 J&M Davidson was born after Monique picked up a studded dog collar and remarked that it would look good as a belt. They tracked down the factory and started making belts in bridle leather. Handbags and wallets followed, with ready-to-wear launched in 1994.
The couple have now been married for over 40 years, have stores in Japan and London, two daughters, and still regularly hit the road in search of inspiration.
Q&A with John and Monique
John Davidson I kidnapped her, basically.
Monique Davidson It was quite a crazy thing to do. I was just 20, and un peu provençale. I wrote a bunch of letters in advance and gave them to a friend of mine to post, one a week, to my parents in Lille.
JD When she arrived at Victoria Station four years later in 1973, she was carrying all her belongings, tied up with string. Even her electric gramophone. We were always interested in clothing. I was a mod in those days and wore button-down Ben Sherman shirts and 501 jeans that I’d jump in the sea to shrink. Monique used to wear this trench coat tied up with a man’s belt. She had her own chic Parisian style.
MD We’ve always been quite innovative in the way we wore clothes, and people always loved it and would ask us to make things for them. We started designing around the kitchen table and would have informal business meetings over breakfast. Among our first customers were Joseph and Margaret Howell. Then we started doing bags. Barneys, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman... they all came to our house in Chiswick to buy the bags.
JD We decided to buy this house the moment we walked in. We loved the original red marble fireplaces. Bedford Park is an area in West London I didn’t know much about when we moved here in 1983. It was designed by Richard Norman Shaw in 1877 and is considered to be the first garden suburb in the world. At the time it offered cheap rent for artists.
MD Camille Pissarro used to live in the area, as did WB Yeats, and the houses are all in the Queen Anne style.
JD The house is our laboratory of ideas. We have accumulated a lot of things from our travels over the years. We have bone china teacups from St Petersburg, chandeliers from Lille, cushions made from fabric bought in India, two Chinese wedding wardrobes, Navajo rugs from New Mexico...
MD We have an ostrich egg that was given to me by a Masai while we were on safari in Kenya.
JD We had a beautiful kilim rug from Istanbul that we cut up to make a bag once. That was a bit sacrilegious.
MD It was so beautiful! In cream and black. Then we had to have a 30-metre roll of new kilim just like it woven in Turkey to complete the order. Travelling for us is really important. You have to go away; if you always stay in the same place, how can you get inspiration? We’ve always been especially passionate about America’s west coast.
JD We’ve been on lots of road trips in this part of the world. Jack Kerouac’s On The Road has always been a big inspiration for me. I just love the freedom of it and we’re always picking up things on the way like cowboy boots, turquoise jewellery, Mexican tiles, fabrics, and Navajo rugs.
MD We would get inspired on these trips; we’d come back and we had done the new collection.
JD Wherever we go on holiday, we’re always looking out for things that inspire us. Once we went to Crete and bought a few metres of beautiful mattress ticking tape in multi-coloured stripes from an old mattress maker in Chania. We made a few sample bags and Joseph ordered 500 of them. So we had to go back to Greece. We thought we’d be able to find it easily in Athens but it was all synthetic there. So we flew back to Crete, got in a taxi to Chania, went round all the shops that we’d seen selling the ticking, kept the meter running, and bought everything we could find. We took the lot, flew back to Athens that night, then brought it all back to London – there were no luggage weight restrictions in those days. It was so exciting. Of course, things are much more organised now.