Lady Colefax began decorating in 1930. She was well-connected and also ahead of her time: her circle of friends and acquaintances provided her with clients and she became a very successful businesswoman. British diplomat Harold Nicholson wrote in his diary: ‘Lunch with Sibyl Colefax at Boulestin. She tells me that she has made £2,000 last year by her own efforts. She gets up by candle-light and fusses till midnight. A brave woman’.
Sibyl’s talent for creating comfortable interiors that were stylish but never pretentious was the secret of her appeal to her influential clients. She was friendly with royalty, including the Duke of Windsor and Wallis Simpson, with entertainers such as Charlie Chaplin and Cole Porter, and with much of the British aristocracy. When, in 1938, her services were so in demand that she needed to expand, she asked a rising young star of interior decorating, John Fowler, to join her in her business at Bruton Street in Mayfair. In 1939, the company name was changed to Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler.
David Green was appointed Chief Executive of Colefax and Fowler in 1986 and became Chairman a decade later, on Tom Parr’s retirement in 1996. His arrival heralded a period of great expansion for the company as it extended its global reach and was listed on the London Stock Exchange.
Under David Green’s guidance, Colefax and Fowler acquired the US textile firms Cowtan and Tout (a brand sold only in the US, founded in 1924 and acquired in 1988), the British textile brand, Jane Churchill (founded in 1982 and acquired in 1989), Jack Lenor Larsen (founded in 1952 and acquired in 1997), the French fabric house Manuel Canovas (founded in 1963 and acquired in 1998), and the British furniture maker Kingcome Sofas (founded in 1971 and acquired in 1989).
The interior decorating business continues to flourish, reverting to its original trading name of Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler in the 1990s.
The number of staff of the small company founded by Lady Colefax, which had totalled 19 when Nancy Lancaster bought it and reached 70 by 1984, today exceeds 300. In keeping with its heritage, the company’s head office remains in the heart of Mayfair.