Why lingerie empress turned interiors guru Michelle Mone is an entrepreneurial force to be reckoned with
“I always knew I had to succeed,” says Baroness Mone of Mayfair. “The fear of failure has always driven me.” Having established one of the country’s most successful lingerie brands in 1996 with her company Ultimo, it wasn’t long before Lady Michelle Mone had proved herself as one of Scotland’s most valuable exports.
A serial entrepreneur, she is also on the board of directors for The Prince’s Trust and was given a Life Peerage in 2015, after being asked by the then-Prime Minister David Cameron and the former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, to conduct The Mone Review, to give insight into helping start-up businesses in deprived areas.
“I’ve always wanted to achieve great things, from my first business to now,” says Mone. “The drive for success is inside me. I’ve worked very hard and feel fortunate that I can now pass on my learning and experiences to young entrepreneurs and those starting out, whether that’s through my role in parliament, through my books, speaking at events or through social media.”
With Ultimo’s aquisition by global lingerie giant MAS Holdings – which has a $1.4 billion turnover and 63,000 employees – in 2014, Mone’s is a truly impressive story, the highs and lows of which she revealed in her autobiography My Fight to the Top. Hailing from Glasgow’s East End, life for the Baroness hasn’t always been edged in gilt.
When at the age of 15 her father became ill and was no longer able to work, the young Mone was forced to leave school and get a job without any qualifications. She attributes this to sparking her “instinct for entrepreneurship”. By the age of just 22, she was already excelling in sales and marketing for the Glasgow-based Labatt Brewing Company.
“My parents were my role models,” she says fondly. “They taught me a lot and I wouldn’t be where I am today without them. They taught me my values and the importance of hard work… dream, work hard, never give up and you will get there in the end.”
In October 2005, Lady Mone attended a speaking event with former US president Bill Clinton and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, which led to her involvement in setting up the Women’s Enterprise Project in the Middle East. It was then that she realised how her experiences could inspire others in the face of adversity.
“It’s a really great thing to see women making such important moves within business,” she says. “It has changed and is changing for the better. I’m really looking forward to seeing a new generation of exciting female talent in business.”
Receiving an OBE and becoming a lifetime member of the House of Lords were also special achievements for Mone. “I feel very honoured to be recognised on this level considering my humble Glaswegian background. It means a lot to me and my family. For me though, this is for all the young children and young adults who don’t have hope.”
I ask if she sees herself as an inspiration for other working women, to which she replies coyly: “It’s great to hear that working women – and men – see me as a role model. I love meeting them, speaking to them, and hearing their stories... often stories I can really relate to, whether that’s dealing with the highs and lows of managing a start-up to running a business and having children to look after.” As well as juggling a multitude of careers, she is also a devoted mother to her three children: Rebecca, 24, Declan, 21, and Bethany, 17.
Conversation turns to her latest venture: interiors. “Design and interiors have long been a part of my life,” says Mone. “From the intricate design of the perfect bra with Ultimo and my own bestselling jewellery range with QVC, to renovating my own homes to an exceptionally high standard. My own luxury interiors company was always the next step.”
The move sees Mone collaborate with designer Julie Chapman, who will take up the position as head designer for Michelle Mone Interiors, a smart move considering the competitive market. “Although there will always be the established traditional greats in the industry, it’s always changing and evolving,” says Mone.
“I love the class, elegance and location of Mayfair"
“That’s what makes it so exciting – new materials, concepts, architectural changes. My personal interior design and flair has remained consistent: British inspired elegance, with a contemporary design twist and functionality that is created from the highest quality materials.”
While most of the time, home is the Isle of Man with her husband, businessman Doug Barrowman, she has a number of other properties, including one in Scotland. But as her title suggests, she also spends a lot of time in her Mayfair abode.
“I love the class, elegance and location of Mayfair,” Mone enthuses. “I’ve had many wonderful years living here. My official title suggests how fond I am of the area. There’s a lively blend of old and new when it comes to shops and restaurants. I spend a lot of time in The Dorchester for meetings, food and drink – it’s my favourite hotel in London.”
The décor of her main residence is remarkable and when I press to know more, she describes the “hand-embossed silk wallpapers, bespoke furniture by talented craftsman and a soft grey and cream colour palette”. On top of this, pieces by Picasso, Dalí and Chagall hang from the walls thanks to Barrowman’s passion for art, while the spa was actually blessed by a priest. “I’m quite religious and something just didn’t seem to click in the space,” Mone muses.
The grounds, sculptures and vegetable patch are equally cherished. “We spend a lot of time in the garden. It’s very relaxing and I come up with some great business ideas there.” The majority of Mone’s interior design is focused on residential and commercial properties in London and around the UK, but international commissions in the Middle East and Caribbean take her all over the world. So she really appreciates the time spent at home with her family.
I ask her how, with seven children between her and Barrowman, she achieves the balance. “When you love what you do,” she answers, “it doesn’t feel like hard work.”