Smoking a cigarette, scrolling through Instagram and wearing a cap embroidered with the words ‘out of office’ across the top, Chelsea Power, a Senior Buyer at Matchesfashion.com, seems completely unphased by the prospect of being interviewed. “So what do you want to know?” she asks in her loud and direct London drawl.
The old farmhouse owned by Chelsea’s mother serves as the backdrop to our inaugural interview. It is nestled in a quiet valley in the village of Andratx. It is calm and impossibly quiet, a faraway world from the life Chelsea lives in London where she is responsible for discovering, sourcing and delivering some of the most covetable items in fashion and homeware for one of the biggest luxury e-commerce websites in the world.
Today, she manages a spending pot worth tens of millions of pounds across accessories, leisurewear, lingerie and ski wear. No small task for someone still in their twenties.
“When I first joined Matches as Assistant Buyer they were growing aggressively and I had to keep pace,” Chelsea explains when I ask how, in just over five years, she has risen so quickly up the ladder. “I learnt to say ‘yes’ to any task I was asked to do and would figure out how to do it afterwards. No one told me to stay in my lane so I didn’t. I took on as much as I possibly could and people noticed that.” Today, she manages a spending pot of tens of millions of pounds across accessories, leisurewear, resortwear, lingerie, ski wear and home accessories. No mean feat for someone still in their twenties.
Fashion was never a definite career trajectory for Chelsea. When we met at Nottingham University, she was studying History of Art and considering a graduate job in a museum or gallery. “I soon realised from doing internships at auction houses and contemporary galleries, this was not for me. There was too much standing around. I wanted more.”
Following an unenjoyable six months as an assistant at a Russian concierge company, Chelsea interviewed to become buying intern on the international team at Matchesfashion.com and was selected for the role. It paid £18k a year. “I wasn’t desperate to do anything else and this seemed like a good opportunity to see what fashion was all about,” she remarks.
While her interest was moderate at the start, her job fast became all-encompassing. “When I started to realise that this could be a good fit for me and when people were telling me I was doing a good job, I made a concerted effort to be the first in the office and the last one out at night. For the first two years, I didn’t come up for air.”
Take a peek into her enormous canvas Balenciaga tote, and you will find an explosion of items each which tell their own story of her infinite work ethic.
If anything, Chelsea now commits even more to her work and exists in a constant state of organised chaos. Take a peek into her enormous canvas Balenciaga tote, and you will find an explosion of items each which tell their own story of her infinite work ethic.
In her current work survival kit, curated over years of intense travel, is a mouse which allows her to spend hours at her laptop completing order sheets, a Glossier zip lock bag with her travel toiletries already packed, two iPhone wires and an eye mask and earplugs for the many nights spent in hotel rooms. Her schedule is arranged minute by minute by her assistant and includes a level of detail comparable to a military operation.
“When I first started as an assistant, I wouldn’t understand when the buyers in market complained if I had missed a detail on their plan but now I understand why it’s so important. If you don’t have the door code for a supplier, or your plane time is wrong, it can completely derail a whole trip and you can lose out on potential business.”
“It can be really intimidating to go into an office where the women appear so flawless, but actually I have found most of the women I worked with have been infinitely patient and prepared to invest in my development.”
Chelsea credits the support of other women, both junior and senior, as a key component for her success. “It can be really intimidating to go into an office where the women appear so flawless, but actually I have found most of the women I worked with have been infinitely patient and prepared to invest in my development. It was women who showed me how to navigate Excel spreadsheets and told me to always be overdressed rather than underdressed for appointments.”
Today, Chelsea invests in pieces that will work for seasons to come and is committed to buying from more sustainable designers such as Mara Hoffman. She prefers block colour palettes in beige, navy, red and black and current favourite designers include Bottega Veneta and Jil Sander. In her phone, she has lists of hundreds of outfit combinations based on the weather so she can quickly put together a look without having to think. She will send a picture to her mum first of almost every new piece she buys.
Chantal Brenninkmeyer, Chelsea’s mother, comes from the Dutch family who founded the C&A clothing store chain. She remains at the table throughout this somewhat dysfunctional interview adding nuggets of history which help explain Chelsea’s somewhat assertive approach. Chantal’s mother, Chelsea’s Grandmother, came from an aristocratic background, and would often say to her husband, “You can’t speak to me like that, you’re the farmer,” referring to the ‘meyer’ in Brenninkmeyer which translates to farmer.
When we begin to talk more about her family, the seemingly invisible forces that manoeuvred Chelsea to a career in fashion become abundantly clear.
Oma, as Chelsea calls her grandmother, was known for her impeccable style, as is Chantal, who during our conversation wears a khaki Once Milano linen dressing gown, sourced by Chelsea for Matches. When we begin to talk more about her family, the seemingly invisible forces that manoeuvred Chelsea to a career in fashion become abundantly clear. A sense of style has clearly trickled down through the generations.
“My mother came from blue blood and was very well trained in how to present herself,” Chantal comments when I ask how she viewed her mother’s style. “She was hugely elegant, always wearing well-cut clothes in beige and neutrals. She loved accessories and complained about how the Dutch didn’t understand true luxury. She used to fly to London and Paris to buy all of her clothes.”
Flying for fashion is something Chelsea knows all too well. On average, she will do 30 trips a year to New York, Paris, Miami, Milan and any other destinations where her suppliers may be. This doesn’t lend itself to a balanced personal life, but Chelsea has been almost militant in ensuring she sees her friends and family enough. Her latest project is the proposed renovation of a huge barn in the countryside as a second home for her and her green-fingered boyfriend, Dom.
I suggest to her that she is a good example of how you can become the architect of your own life if you put enough energy and focus into it (she has since used this phrase back at me on several occasions as if she is fashion’s Sheryl Sandberg). In reality, while her job looks glamorous, the logistics are exhausting. Combined with the demanding schedule are the tiresome sexist response remarks including the question “When are you going to get a real job?”
“Of course these comments bother me, but it’s ignorance, nothing more,” Chelsea dismisses. “The UK fashion industry is worth £28billion and I’m privileged to be a part of it. For now, at least I’m happy.” She puts out her cigarette leaving me with the impression next summer a follow-up interview may be in order.