Mary-Ann Dunkley, head of design, Liberty Fabrics
Mary-Ann Dunkley, head of design, Liberty Fabrics © Charlie Bibby/FT

As most of us enjoy the run-up to Christmas, there are some people whose professional focus is always further ahead: these are the permanently unseasonal workers.

Mary-Ann Dunkley

Head of design, Liberty fabrics

The designers in the fabrics department work very far in advance. We are about to start our spring/summer 2021 collection. I used to work in fashion, so I am used to it. But it is challenging.

When the time comes to start work on a collection, having to work that little bit harder to imagine it because it is not that time of year actually helps us to come up with strong ideas. It is rare to be working on something that is relevant to what the weather is doing outside.

We start thinking about Christmas in May or June, so to help us get inspiration and focus on this, we will make sure that the previous December we go out and make notes, take pictures and create an archive. It helps to make a strong “story” for the collection.

Similarly, in the hot summer months when the team is thinking about Christmas, I try to make sure people go to the flower shows or a big show at a stately home to get photographs and have inspiration to go back to.

The beauty of being in London is that with the exhibitions, bookshops, even the palm houses at Kew’s Royal Botanic Gardens, you can transport yourself to any season at any time of year.

Although we are working so far ahead, there are daily deadlines, and as long as they are being achieved on time, you know that the long-term plan is going to work. Does working ahead make time go faster? Probably — time seems to be going incredibly quickly.

Working ahead means that we have to make sure our themes are long lasting. A collection must be a little bit more dreamy, so it can retain its charm. You can’t be too relevant to the moment.

When a collection does finally launch, you have a chance to reflect and respect the work that has gone into it.

Sharon Frame

Assistant store manager, Kuoni Travel

WAC - Unseasonal Workers - Portrait Sharon Frame who works for Kuoni (travel agency) at Peter Jones, 6th Floor Peter Jones, Sloane Square, Chelsea, London. For WAC. 12/12/18
Sharon Frame of Kuoni Travel: 'Even though we are not [on holiday] ourselves, it is really nice to talk about the destinations' © Anna Gordon/FT

To be advising people on their luxurious summer holidays in the middle of winter is very refreshing. It is like a break from the cold. Even though we are not there ourselves, it is really nice to talk about the destinations. It is escapism, really. And when it is so cold, customers love to discuss the places they can escape to. From my perspective it is part of the job, but I love it.

We get to plan our next holidays as well. We have been very fortunate with our jobs as we do get to travel and experience the destinations we sell to our customers.

December is definitely a time when people start thinking about their summer holiday. While people are Christmas shopping on the weekend they always pop up to take some brochures.

Our boutique shop is on the sixth floor of Peter Jones [a department store] in London’s Sloane Square. It has an adventure theme and we are surrounded by windows that allow you to see over the whole of London. It is a great place to work.

December is not the busiest time for sales, but it is definitely the busiest for brochure pick-up. People just getting ideas and browsing the brochures during their time off.

People start to book their holidays at the end of December, so our busiest time is December 27 to about February 18. That whole six or seven-week period is our main campaign season and no one takes leave. It is fun but it is crazy busy.

We are completely opposite to retail. We spend December getting ready for the post-Christmas mayhem, which is great.

Nicola Breen

Head of design, Caroline Gardner stationery and gifts

I oversee everything that’s visual, including greetings cards and gift wrap through to the shop window, the website and the catalogue, Facebook, Instagram and photography styling.

For our gift range — small accessories and stationery — we are already working on spring/summer 2020. When it is coming up to Christmas, you are thinking: “What are going to be the new colours? What trends will be around during that summer?” And working nearly two years ahead, that feels weird.

Because of the overlap of the seasons and the different products, it is constantly busy. We are a small business and we are always photographing something. Even now, we are making things look Christmassy for Instagram, but we have also just done our spring/summer 2019 catalogue.

The designing of greetings cards is constant because you are doing birthdays in between all the big occasions, such as Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Mothers’ Day. We have launches every two to three months. We start designing Christmas around the end of August.

We often have to start designing for Christmas before we actually know what has sold well. You have to just plough on and do what you think is right.

When working on the spring/summer season in the depths of winter, the colours you are choosing can look really bright. And when you get your samples, you end up dialling up the colours because you have done them in the darker light in winter and they look a bit dull when the sun starts shining again.

In the winter it is also much harder to do photography or approve colour samples on paper because you lose the light so early. Some of that work we can only do between 9am and 3pm. That’s the trickiest bit.

Sarah Metcalf

Hamper buyer, Fortnum & Mason

Sarah Metcalf, hamper buyer at Fortnum & Mason
Sarah Metcalf, hamper buyer at Fortnum & Mason © Anna Gordon/FT

Hampers are Fortnum’s calling card; they are best sellers all year round. But they are never in more demand than they are at Christmas. My job is to create and curate them.

We started planning this Christmas in September 2017. Other occasions that we plan are Valentine’s Day and Mothers’ Day, and Easter is a really big opportunity for us. In summer there is the celebration of picnics, so it is sometimes hard to do all that when you are looking out the window and seeing Christmas trees everywhere. You have to detach yourself slightly.

In order for me to plan a summer range when I am surrounded by festive decorations I note down and annotate everything that we see selling, and the trends that come up when we are trading in the summer. When it comes to formalising the summer hamper range, all the information that was in my head at that time of the year is there to remind me. Pictures are also vital, so I take photos of anything that will provide inspiration.

Fifteen months might seem like quite a long time when planning hampers, but it requires a huge amount of discipline. One slip-up at the beginning of the process could snowball and have a bigger effect down the line. Does it alter my concept of time? Yes and no, really. As I am often working a year ahead, I feel it is rather like when you start a new year and you write down the wrong year.

One of the nice things about hampers is that because they are made up of many products there is room to adapt them later on. If a trend comes suddenly in August, we have just got time to turn it round for the upcoming Christmas.

Cherish Finden

Creative development chef at Godiva Chocolatier

When you are living in one season, and your work is based around a completely different time of year, getting inspiration can definitely be tricky. During the summer when it is 25C outside I will be planning and working on Christmas. This is bizarre, and sometimes difficult. But I always enjoy the challenge of getting myself in a different mindset as it requires me to be more creative.

Depending on the collection and season, we work six months to a year ahead. Development is a journey, and can sometimes be a long process but is always an enjoyable one. Part of that journey is listening to consumers, thinking: ‘What do they want? What have they never tried before?’

Generally my day starts sitting down with my team and discussing the day ahead. We also discuss the previous day and the performance of Godiva stores. Once this is done, the fun starts. As creative development chef, the most important part of my role is coming up with new and innovative ideas, which involves research into the latest trends across the world. It is one of my favourite elements of my job.

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