Swapping fans for the fashion pack – Muddy meets Louise Aiken
She was one of the UK's first female DJs, toured the world with Betty Boo (remember her!), and has just opened Stroud's hippest new boutique. Muddy tracked down Louise Aiken to chat about how she went from Smash Hits to leading the fashion pack.
When we heard that a slice of Notting Hill was coming to Stroud in the shape of new boutique Sub Couture, our Muddy cool-o-meter went into overdrive.
The fashion emporium has been one of Notting Hill’s best loved boutiques for 25 years and is beloved by celebs and fashionistas alike. But we were beyond excited when we learnt Louise (who co-owns it with husband Derek) also has a serious pop pedigree of her own. Prepare for a Smash Hits blast from the past!
Muddy caught up with Louise (whilst trying to keep the embarrassing fangirling under control).
Hello Louise … tell us a bit about yourself?
My life ethos is party hard and work hard. It’s something my husband and business partner Derek and I live by. We’ve been together 27 years and owned Sub Couture for 25 of those. Derek has a 38-year-old daughter Stacy and two grandsons. We have Poppy 18 and Beau, 8 together; Derek’s ex wife Karen is godmother. You could call us a modern family!
We live in London with our cat Mittens and my identical twin Jacqui lives in the next street with her husband Ed, there is never a dull moment, but at present we are living between Stroud and London.
Excuse us whilst we take a moment … so you hung out with Boy George and Kylie in the 80s and 90s?
Yes! Derek and I actually met in Steve Strange’s famous club in London. I had got my first job aged 18, as one of the UK’s first female DJs just as the whole club scene was exploding in Britain. It was a really exciting time and you would get such a mix of stars hanging out in the clubs.
We regularly hung out with Boy George and designer John Galliano who were always hanging around, I dj-ed for Sade and Bryan Ferry and with Jeremy Healy too. Jason Donovan, Kylie and Kate Moss were regulars at Choice Club so we’d see thema lot.
One time I found out Brad Pitt was coming to the Billion Dollar Babe where I worked every week. I’d never noticed him before so I asked someone to introduce us. I was totally surprised to find an average Joe of a man having fun dancing on the floor. And my handsome husband was swanning around with Seal back then too … the list goes on. But of course no one had an iphone then so the stars didn’t mine partying with mere mortals like us.
You were one of the first UK female DJs, what was it like to trailblaze that?
I was lucky enough to be mentored by Paul Oakenfold. We were basically hanging with the Beastie Boys and Run Dmc – can you imagine. So I have the most amazing white label collection (promo records) because I would always get dibs on them, but it was hard to be taken seriously as a female DJ.
The second ‘Summer of Love’ came along in 1988 and I began playing the big warehouse scene working huge crowds in venues like Ministry of Sound. I’d often see people nudging their friends and pointing at me, I was a curiosity. Derek would haul my heavy records boxes through the crowds and get slapped on the back and told ‘great set mate’. I’d be walking behind him with the headphones still wrapped around my neck and just roll my eyes!
As if it could get any pop-kitsch cooler, you were then pop rap star Betty Boo’s backing DJ?
Yes, I took a year out to tour Europe with her as a backing DJ. I’d been dj-ing at the Wag Club and Alison (her real name) was looking for a DJ, someone told her there was a girl that looked like her and that was it. She is half Malaysian and I am half Singaporean, so both being Eurasian we had similar looks. Within a week I was shipped off to do Hit Man and Her with her and the rest is history. I was going through a bad break up at the time so this brand new glamorous life was amazingly appealing.
We eventually became best buds, she is a fabulous lady. We toured around Europe for a year with MTV and it was crazy, we’d literally fly into a city, drop our bags, go to a TV set, perform, go to bed and fly out the next morning.
It was a whirlwind time in my life – waving at screaming fans from pink Cadillacs and sometimes being pinned to the ground by them. There were highs and lows and we all missed our homes and families on bad days. But when I was with them Betty Boo won the Best Female Artist with Smash Hits and Best Newcomer at the Brits! It was an amazing time.
It was a incredible experience but I had had more than my 15 minutes, by the end I just wanted my old life back without the pressure. I wanted to hangout anonymously with my pals and see my family. I didn’t want to sign scraps of paper in Sainsburys, I never felt famous, it was like looking into a secret world.
What prompted your leap from superstar dj to shop owner?
When I got back, ever the entrepreneur, I joined forces with club promoter Graham Ball and launched a set of club nights such as Quiet Storm and Hollywood Babylon, each iconic and glamorous, heralding a new era of stylish clubbing in the capital with residencies at many of London’s top nightspots including Wag Club, Browns and Supperclub.
But I wanted something more secure than the club scene, djing wasn’t going to last forever. I stopped djing for ages when techno became the norm and I became a mother.
I started the shop as a small fashion label during the early 90’s, showcasing in the iconic Hyper Hyper store on Kensington High Street alongside designers including John Galliano. Within two years we were stocked by over a hundred shops worldwide including Harrods and a concession in Selfridges. It grew from there into our store in Notting Hill in 1994.
I still DJ at private functions like the Kennels in Goodwood, lots of 50th birthday bashes and I have been asked to play an old school ’90s set for the late night shopping evening at the Stroud Five Valley Shopping Centre over the Christmas period so I’ll see you there.
Which celebs have you had through Sub Couture’s Notting Hill doors?
Angelica Houston is my favourite and so down to earth. Jodie Kidd has the longest legs, as does her sister Gemma. Another is Julia Bradbury with her son and twin girls. Charlotte Tilbury always pays us a visit when in town as do Jodie Kidd and Tess Daley.
Fabiana Flosi and Bernie Eccleston often pop in when they are eating in the area and Julian McDonald was in the other day buying up clothes for his mother and sister. Half the time we don’t realise they are famous and everyone gets treated the same.
I’ve dressed so many rock star’s wives and when their husband bring in their clothes to be tailored it’s only when I write their names on the tailoring docket is when we clock who they are (Keith Richards, Daniel Day Lewis and so on.)
It’s so exciting to have you in Stroud. Tell us why you chose this corner of the Cotswolds?
We were approached by Dransfield properties developing the Five Valleys Shopping Centre; they wanted to find unique, boutique shops.
They showed us all the plans and what their vision was. ‘Stroud is Notting Hill with wellies’ Mark Dransfield told us. Notting Hill is very village-like and yes there are similarities to old Notting Hill which was full of artists and musicians, antiques and quirky, colourful people. Stroud is very bohemian and friendly and it reminded us of Notting Hill. Someone recently asked us in Stroud if we were hippies, we said we were old ravers and they told us we’d fit in fine.
Describe the vibe of the Stroud boutique?
Friendly, eclectic and boho. All of the shop fittings are second hand and if it’s not moving it’s for sale. The clothes, artwork, antiques and upcycled furniture by Bella’s Gone Home and even the plants, as well as the photo artwork by celebrity photographer Richard Young on the walls; so we sell his limited edition photos on our walls if you’d like to own a Bowie, Freddie Mercury, Bob Marley or Marvin Gaye which are regularly updated with our film stars and supermodels series.
What elements will be the same or different to Notting Hill?
Great service will be the same. That’s what you get from small independents and if you are shopping you should be served, not told to fend for yourself. We think that’s what’s kept us going all these years. Our personal touch is what people have come to expect from us, we like to treat our customers like friends.
What can customers expect?
A big hello and a smile. We love making sure you find the perfect outfit for that special occasion or event. Or if you’re looking for a few key pieces to refresh your wardrobe. Once you enter the changing room the personal shopper experience begins with our amazing team bringing you the correct size and other suggestions you may not have considered. Or just pop in for a chat, we will tell you what’s been going on, what’s new, where to eat and what you should be wearing.
New season labels we have include French label Five Jeans, Dream Clothing from Greece, Vilagallo from Spain and Suzy D from the UK. As well as existing labels such as Rails Clothing, Patrizia Pepe, Rino & Pelle, Inoa, Bl^nk, Victoria Plimsolls and Sophie Harley Jewellery.
How does being a husband and wife work team work irl?
Derek is in charge of the financial side of the business and keeps an eye on making sure I don’t get carried away and overspend on collections. We do all the buying together and if we don’t agree we don’t buy it or we ask the team for their opinion.
Where will we find you hanging out in your spare time?
The new Five Valleys Shopping Centre street food stalls have amazing food – I love it there.
The Woolpack Inn in Slad is another favourite, a traditional pub with local fayre and amazing views across the valley.
And of course hanging with the girls at Galgos Restaurant for the best cocktails in Stroud, real Latin fun.
Louise Aiken’s Quickies
What’s in your handbag? A tape measure, a little black notebook and a pen.
What’s on your Spotify playlist? We use mixcloud because you get podcasts from all the best DJs. I upload all my mixed playlists. Check out the Sub Couture boutique sounds here.
Most used emoji? The scream, and crying with laughter.
Fave podcast? This is going to hurt, Red Dwarf , Micky Flanagan – we love comedy.
Fave designer? Ossie Clark and his colourful 70’s boho glamour.
Texting or talking? Put the phone down! Talking the old fashion way.
Cocktail, wine or beer? Tequila! Margaritas and Montrachet for me and Derek will turn his nose up at a Rothschild for a pulled pint.
Dream getaway? Thailand and its best keep secret, the garden riverside oasis in Bangkok. We love the people and their incredible history.
How do you start your day? Trying to wake up, then eggs – boiled, fried or poached – and tea. Always Yorkshire tea.
Heels or flats? In the summer it’s a no-lace plimsoll by Victoria for day and wedges in the evening. Heeled black boots in winter.
Item you most covet? Antique furniture, I love popping into Griffin Mill antiques emporium for a nose around.
Guilty pleasure? Sci-fi films, films, films, my late father Tom Chantrell is the most prolific poster artist in this country and created the Star Wars poster, so going to the movies is part and parcel of my life. My favourite film is JoJo Rabbit.
If you could raid one woman’s wardrobe, whose would it be? Grace Jones, she is fierce and powerful. Or, Marianne Faithfull her styles include biker girl, boho and French chic, she’s an inspiration.
Head over to Sub Couture’s brand spanking new website for a festive 20% off all items.
Sub Couture, Five Valleys Shopping Centre, 23 King St, Stroud GL5 3BX