The moment that Rosie Wild (Hunt) had been dreaming about since growing up in rural Hampshire had finally arrived. On Friday 8th February 1991 the door to the fashion boutique that she had endlessly envisaged in her mind all those years ago was about to open for the first time. The rails were filled with the carefully hand-picked designer label dresses, tailored trousers, smart jackets and pretty blouses; sweaters neatly folded on shelves, a small selection of shoes ready to be tried on, with hats at the ready for weddings and other special occasions.
Outside snow swirled around amid freezing temperatures. But not even the ominous and unfavourable weather conditions could prevent a stream of inquisitive and excited women, clad in wellies and covered in snow from arriving, eager to discover what fashionable wares had arrived in Alresford’s newest boutique. It was the culmination of a plan she had nurtured for almost two decades, with months of hard work, planning and dedication, accompanied by fear and excitement, but the vision was now a reality. She was the owner, buyer and general factotum of her own fashion boutique.
Above: A helping hand with the extension from Rosie's Daughters!
Thirty years later she is still at the helm and the philosophy behind Moda Rosa remains unchanged. Rosie still does all the buying herself, her fashionable eye, as astute as ever. She retains the sense of youthful enthusiasm that helped her become such a success, constantly searching for new designer labels, subtly staying “fashion forward,” and yet staying in tune with her original customers and the hordes who have followed in their wake. One nostalgic constant, which will never change, is the logo, designed all those years ago by family friend Liz Kramers.
But, even she will admit that without the amazing staff who have been at the heart of Moda Rosa none of this would have been possible. They are her ‘fashion family” and as crucial to her success as buying the right brands. Many have stayed for ten years or more. Their fashion intuition, discerning understanding and perception are fundamental. Having started with just one assistant Rosie now has a team of four full time staff, supplemented by a seemingly never-ending supply of helpful and friendly part-timers. No long-term client could ever forget the inimitable presence of the legendary Patricia, who was always so impeccably dressed that many assumed she was the owner!
The boutique is now triple the size having expanded first into the shop next door, and then extended upwards to provide a rather special second floor where clients can discover the spectacular, glamorous evening gowns and special occasion outfits that Rosie has always been so marvellous at finding. Customers travel from far and wide to visit this tranquil shopping haven that is celebrated and lauded for its ability to discern and understand the art of dressing women of all ages for life’s most important special events. It’s the personal service, the extra touches, the understanding of a client’s needs that she and her knowledgeable team possess which is so vital. The professional alterations service has always been a fundamental part of the shopping experience. Rosie’s seamstress Judy is now retiring after 30 years, but has carefully selected her replacement to carry on the immaculate alterations.
Long time fashion stalwarts such as Paul Smith, Temperley London, Diane Von Furstenberg, Luisa Cerano, Fabiana Filippi, the quirky and colourful Vilagallo label and Cocoa cashmere, have more recently been joined by designers such as royal favourite, Suzannah London, known for her exquisite, elegant vintage-inspired designs, and the young British designer Hayley Menzies, who is adored for her bold, exotic and vibrant knits and silks. Other recent additions have been Cefinn, Sara Roka, Sfizio and Creenstone parkas. The Danish collections Pom and Charlotte Sparre are on trend for their easy to wear clothing and eye-catching prints.
As Rosie acknowledges it was a brave move to open a fashion boutique so soon after the recession in the late 80’s. But several forces worked in her favour: the location in the beautiful Georgian town of Alresford was a propitious choice and the women that lived in that part of Hampshire needed a shop like Moda Rosa to satisfy their lifestyle and fashion needs. Her discerning eye and intuitive relationship with that rapidly growing, loyal cohort of followers helped the business to flourish from the beginning.
From day one Rosie kept a handwritten leather log book, filled with each day’s takings, comments about what was selling really well, what customers were clamouring for and what had perhaps not been a good idea after all. Looking back over that first year the notes tell their own story: “need in-between weather affordable dresses”, “hats flying out in April,” “Charese came in and bombed out!” “short straight skirts needed!!” “June..summer arrived …brilliant first 2 days of sale,” “October..turned really cold …COATS and Knitwear! Second half party dresses!” It is not only a charming, at times heart-warming nostalgic historical record, but it denotes the utter determination and passion of one woman to succeed against the odds.
At this point you might wonder how Rosie went from being a young woman with a dream, to a successful boutique owner with a business that is so renowned and respected, that women will travel for miles to get there? Unsurprisingly, her fashion credentials are impeccable. She learnt to appreciate the finesse, quality and desirability of luxury designer labels when she joined “Simpsons of Piccadilly” as a trainee buyer. It was a store where personal service and old-fashioned politesse were standard.
After that she joined The Chelsea Design Company, owned and run by Catherine Walker, who had already begun to design for the young Princess Diana. This discerning and discreet establishment honed her fashion knowledge even further. A move to the wholesale division of the well-known Fenn Wright & Manson label gave her an insight into a different side of the fashion world. At 33, with a yearning to return to Hampshire, she was determined that the time was right for her to own and run her own boutique where she could connect with customers, who were as passionate about clothes as she was.
Rosie readily admits that her dream was: “to open a niche fashion shop, marriage and children, but not necessarily in that order.” At this point a serendipitous decision was to have lifelong consequences. While flicking through the “Yellow Pages” from Z to A, rather than the traditional order, searching for a builder able to refurbish the small property she had found in Alresford, she spied a building business called Wild Brothers. The amusing name struck a chord. Rosie met one of the brothers, Barton, who not only carried out the necessary building work, but also accompanied Rosie on her second buying trip to Paris. The two were married later that year in December 1991 and have two grown-up daughters.
The much-loved words from the 1989 film, Field of Dreams, “If you build it they will come,” is a truly apt description of Moda Rosa. Along the way, luck and fortuitous circumstances have continued to help. Their first write up was by Anna Rostand of Vogue, and it is no secret that both Carole Middleton and the Duchess of Cambridge have shopped here before and soon after the royal engagement. The rosta of loyal followers includes television presenters, celebrities and high-powered businesswomen. Over three decades this boutique has become a destination shop loved by women looking for something unique, affordable, and with friendly service. Rosie’s enthusiasm for identifying new and exciting brands that will take her customers through relaxed daywear to grand evening wear has never dimmed, and almost certainly never will.
Rosie and Vivien Sheriff at Royal Ascit 2019!
An added draw has been the very special personal appearances of renowned fashion names such as milliners to the royals and celebrities, Philip Treacy and Vivien Sheriff, Samantha Cameron, the designer behind the Cefinn label, luxury fashion designer Amanda Wakeley, and the much lauded, Alice Temperley. This October the shearling and cashmere designer, Dom Goor, will be the guest of honour.
Dom Goor Autumn Winter 2021
The Moda Rosa aesthetic is not easily encapsulated in a few words. Its appeal is rare and remarkable as it is not limited to one style dynamic or fashion tribe. Some items are utterly feminine; others like the Paul Smith tailoring are more gamine; exquisite Italian luxe casual outfits suit those who adore that stealth-wealth vibe; the sumptuous cashmeres are timeless and ageless; while the platform for special occasion dressing is a dream for the mother-of-the-bride or groom, or the wedding guest. This is not a shop where you will find rails of subdued colours and minimalism. Moda Rosa is a paean to the joy of colour.
Like every business, the pandemic and lockdown had an overwhelming effect on Moda Rosa. But even this created some positives. The lifestyle changes faced by the clientele triggered a swift change in the clothes on offer. What everyone desired at that time was a chic but sports casual vibe, while for once formal collections were less important. Whilst the shop was closed during lockdown, some of the team stayed working and speedily launched an online website which has allowed the business to reach a new generation of shoppers, whilst opening the virtual doors to those who live hundreds, if not thousands of miles away. It was even voted by The Times as one of ‘the best boutiques to shop online in lockdown’, for 2020 and 2021
In addition to running Moda Rosa, Rosie has organised many prestigious fashion shows held at spectacular venues like the Limewood Hotel, The Grange, Northington, and at the private homes of customers to raise funds for local charities such as Breast Cancer Haven, The Magpie Scanner Appeal, The Rainbow Trust and Home-Start. Each one has been joyously hosted by the well-known television broadcaster and journalist Alastair Stewart OBE, with celebrity hairdresser Guy Kremer on hand to ensure all the models all are beautifully coiffed. In recognition in 2015, Rosie was honoured with the role of as “President Alresford and District Agricultural Society.” She is a prime example of a successful local business that is enmeshed and immersed in the local community.
So, what is the secret of her success? The answer without doubt is: her ability to appeal to all ages and lifestyle sensibilities; her ingrained intuition, empathy, and natural instinct for what is right. When you marry these attributes to the ability to treat each person who walks through the door as special you have a winning combination. Her ability to spot talent, whether it is an up-and-coming designer or the right person to add to her team in the shop has played an important part. As any owner would testify you can only do so much yourself, having the winning team around you is crucial. And Rosie’s team over the years has been her winning card: knowledgeable about all aspects of fashion, cheerful, dynamic, enthusiastic, loyal and passionate about what they do.
As she says, “Our unique and loyal clientele know we are passionate about making them look and feel good. That’s why they return year after year. We want them to feel like these are clothes that they can keep for a lifetime. We take the time to remember their names, gradually learning what they love and need. It is this attention to detail that encourages loyalty, always driven by quality and value.”
Those loyal customers who first turned up in their wellies still shop there, and so do their daughters and granddaughters. And hopefully, many more generations.
Written by Gail Rolfe, Former Daily Mail Fashion editor and author of Vogue Essentials: High Heels. Instagram: @myageisirrelevant