“We were kind of living together and spending lots of time together, newly in LA and discovering the city,” says 26-year-old model/actress Suki Waterhouse of her best friend Poppy Jamie. “Our collaboration came out from finding the right relationship… It’s really about cultivating that. It’s hard to come by.”
It’s the stuff that LA dreams are made of: two young Brits, both blonde, beautiful and bursting with ideas, launch a bag and accessories brand with immediate celebrity cachet. Cara Delevingne, Georgia May Jagger and Paris Hilton – today’s fashion/social-media royalty – partied at the launch in a classic American diner filled with pink lights, balloons and champagne.
“We managed to have quite a wild night, which doesn’t actually happen in LA a lot,” says Waterhouse, smiling, as we chat in a 1930s Spanish-style house in West Hollywood, then later on location in Venice Beach. “We took over Mel’s Diner and luckily both of us had loads of friends from London over. It was a magic, magic evening!”
In the midst of hair and make-up, the pair recall how Waterhouse, Britain’s model du jour, was wearing a pink Emilia Wickstead outfit the night that she met Jamie in LA. The colour has since become the base hue of their Pop & Suki brand, which launches this month in China at Shanghai Fashion Week.
“Suki and I met over dinner, but where we properly met and bonded was on the dance floor in the nightclub,” says fast-talking, sparkly eyed Jamie. “I saw this girl whipping out some great dance moves, and thought, ‘We have to be friends.’ We danced together the entire night. It was like meeting your soulmate. At the end it was like, ‘So, see you tomorrow?’”
Both were darting between Los Angeles and London regularly, but had made a commitment to LA at the same time. What became a really close friendship would lead to non-stop chats about similar ideas they’d had – and a business together seemed the natural step. Common friend Leo Seigal stepped in as CEO and co-founder, and their direct-to-consumer, millennial-targeted accessories brand was born.
As self-described vintage fiends, Waterhouse and Jamie love flea markets and their bag collection inspired some of the signature shapes they would use. Hinged on fun, playful, versatile shapes and customisation, the Pop & Suki concept is described as “a love note to your best friend”. Monograms, add-on charms and changeable straps – these youthful styles that bring in tech and personalisation have hit a nerve with their customers. The likes of Jessica Alba, Lady Gaga and Lena Dunham have already been seen carrying the bags.
“The Pop & Suki thing is more of a community than just a brand. We’re girl power to our core,” Jamie explains.
Clearly these are not your average young entrepreneurs. The megawatt celebrity of Waterhouse is an undeniable boost in that “community”. She started modelling at 16 after being discovered in a London pub, but shot to fame as the face of Mark & Spencer’s lingerie campaign, later fronting campaigns for Burberry, Redken and the Salvatore Ferragamo perfume Amo, alongside acting roles. She’s walked the runways for Miu Miu, Burberry, Alexander Wang and Balenciaga, and is a front-row regular at fashion weeks.
As Waterhouse’s star rose, so came the acting career and a string of magazine covers and editorials: Vogue, Elle, L’Officiel, Marie Claire, Love, French Grazia and 1883 Magazine. A slew of Hollywood film roles followed, including Insurgent (2015), The Bad Batch (2016), The Girl Who Invented Kissing (2017) and Billionaire Boys Club (2018).
She plays one of the leads in just-released thriller Assassination Nation, after it was picked up – reportedly for US$10 million – at the Sundance Film Festival by distributors Neon and AGBO. There’s also a role (alongside Ryan Reynolds) in the Pokémon: Detective Pikachu movie to be released next May.
“With every new job you get to have a new experience, and my confidence grows, which is really exciting,” says the doe-eyed actress, looking up from behind her fluffy blonde fringe. “But with each new role that develops, it’s honestly so much to do with the people I’m working with and about a quality project, rather than about the scale… it’s also about how much you can enjoy the creative experience.
“I do like to focus on the simple stuff,” she says. “When I’m trying to write a song, or when I’m acting, sometimes it’s about getting to the core of something.”
Media-savvy Jamie, who studied at the London School of Economics, brings a knack for retail, tech and wooing investors. She presented on Snapchat’s first TV show at a time “when tech had kind of flipped the media and television industry”, and has since launched an accessible mindfulness app called Happy Not Perfect.
Clocking on to how tech has also flipped fashion, the newbie businesswomen harness the power of Instagram (and celebrity friends) and the agility that comes with a direct-to-consumer model for their business.
“I think with the first Camera bag, deciding on a basic staple was hard because you have every idea under the sun,” says Waterhouse. “I’m so excited by the elevation in coming collections though … we’re always trying to doing something that hasn’t been done before.”
Starting a fashion and retail business for the first time can be daunting, and Jamie and Waterhouse admit to moments of terror and doubt at the beginning. But what was a gamble has turned into a huge learning curve and the most rewarding experience – partly because “we have a team of great people who believe in us”.
“I would also say that the women’s movement that’s happened in the last 12 months has been amazing,” adds Jamie. “I couldn’t be more grateful to the women who’ve led this empowerment, and in business it’s helped us build something and have people take us seriously.”
They’ve also learned about “communicating with empathy … being kind to one another when people make mistakes”, and following their instincts to say no even when there’s pressure as young women to be affable, says Waterhouse. The cool thing is that “we all have different strong suits in the team. We’re all very different, but something about it just works.”
Photography Zach Gold at Bloc Productions
Styling Alexandra Cronan at AlexandraConan
Make-up Silver Bramham
Production Michael Powers