HOW I STARTED PERMANENT MAKEUP MY STORY
When people ask me how I got into what I’m doing, it wasn’t something that I always dreamed about, it was more of a journey. So I’m going to start from the very beginning.
I want to tell you about a girl called Stavroulla. I find that really difficult to say because I don’t like that name. But that girl, if you don’t know already, Stavroulla is my real name. I’m going to tell you who Stavroulla is and where Renee came from. So let’s start from there.
So I’m Greek Cypriot. I was born here. My mum’s a dressmaker. My dad’s a barber. They came here very young. They worked very hard. At the age of around eight, my mum bought a knitting machine from D H Evans. Who remembers D H Evans? Anyway, so she bought this knitting machine and then she started these evening classes at a local college, Barnet College, so that she can learn machine knitting.
So she took me along with her and I sat behind her. The teacher, her name was Gladys. I basically was just there sitting behind my mum whilst she was learning how to knit.
So, cut a long story short, my mum packed the machine away as you do, forgot all about it. Couple of years later, I don’t know how I started, but I just started knitting. I remembered everything. My mum forgot everything, and I somehow picked it all up, and I just started knitting jumpers for my whole family. There was a blue jumper that I knitted for my dad and he wore it all the time, he loved it.
MY FIRST BUSINESS AT 10 YEARS OLD
So at the age of 10 I started selling bags in the playground. I was knitting bags, spotty ones, stripy ones, and I was selling them to my friends in the playground for a fiver. Then I went to secondary school, that was one of the worst times of my life because I was bullied. However, that shaped me as a person, toughened me up. But what was more important is, I found art. So what happened was, I was truanting, because I was getting bullied, I didn’t want to go to class.
There was an art teacher who was a helper when she noticed me, she really liked my work, and she really liked me, and the following year she became my art teacher. What she did was the most amazing thing that anyone’s probably ever done for me. She said to me, “Sit in my classroom instead of bunking school.” The art class was in an hut, it was separate from the rest of the building, and I’m sure she would have gotten in trouble, and the other teachers, they wouldn’t have allowed it, I would have had to go to all my other classes. But she said to me, “Sit in the back of my class and I won’t tell anyone. Just don’t bunk, don’t leave school, and stay there all day and do art.”
FAILED ALL GCSE’S BUT DID LEAVE WITH AN A* IN ART AND DESIGN
So because of Miss Kerridge, what happened was, I ended up failing everything, but I got an A* in art, which let me to go on to study art in further education. So thank you, Miss Kerridge. I went back to the school to find her a few years later to say thank you but she had left. I hope she didnt get into trouble!
I did retake my GCSEs later so that I can get into college and carry on studying. At college I did art and design, and everyone was mature students, so it was actually the best time of my life, I absolutely loved it, everyone was lovely.
About 17 to 18 years old was when I went to art college after school, and during that time a lot happened. I got married, I had a baby, I moved to Spitalfields where I was born. I was born in The Royal London. So I moved back to Spitalfields. I later went on to do foundation studies in art and design, which again, I absolutely loved, this was actually the best time of my life! Loved painting. During that time, I was divorced already. I became a single mum and I remember doing a whole art project drawing my son or creating art and it was all of him as a baby. He always did inspire me. I did pictures of him in all different mediums, chalk, crayon, pencil, scribbling, paint. And I have this amazing book of him as a baby, which I did during that time.
I also had started my own business, ‘Mum’s Dream’. So I was doing that alongside my education, and I call it Mum’s dream because it wasn’t my dream. My mum studied when she came to this country aged 13, she learnt to be a dressmaker, she did tailoring, she was amazing at what she did and I believed in her. She was always making wedding dresses and bridesmaids dresses for friends and family. Her reward was that I would be a bridesmaid for them, which to be honest, wasn’t really a reward, it was just extra work for my mum.
So I grew up watching my mum, she always said yes, and she shed many tears struggling to make those dresses, and I watched her and stayed up all night watching her crying over the sewing machine struggling to finish these dresses. I must have the world record for being a bridesmaid the most times. I was a bridesmaid so many times that I hated it. Anyway, so I was the frilliest little girl but I learnt first-hand how amazing… I saw how amazing my mum’s work was, and I believed in her.
So, her dream was to make wedding dresses. Her dream was actually to make dresses for royalty, and I believe that she is that good. And so I thought I would set her up. I was really young and I just thought it would be as simple as setting her up in a shop with a sewing machine and leaving her to it. But of course it wasn’t that simple, and I ended up running this business, and we ran it together, and it was called The Ivory Rose Collection. It started like this. We made a collection, The Ivory Rose Collection, it was a wedding dress and three bridesmaid which we put in the window of the shop. Someone walked past and bought the whole collection, put in an order and that was that. So that’s how we built it up. We sold a dress, we bought something for the shop, we sold another dress, and we bought something else for the shop, and it kind of grew like that.
But I was carrying on, if you can imagine, I’m a young single mum, I’m still studying art, I’m doing my thing, and I’m running this business at the same time, I also am going through a divorce, and I’ve got part-time jobs as well trying to support and keep everything going I’m also running this business. I don’t know how I did it. At first, I resented it a little bit, the dresses. I wasn’t happy. I felt a little bit stuck because it was my mum’s dream, and I didn’t really have no interest in wedding dresses.
However, I guess it influenced me, because I ended up specializing in fashion and going down that road. I went to London College of Fashion and I did fashion design and technology, I did a little bit of tailoring. I then went on to Saint Martin’s School of Art, and I was actually the first year to do knitwear. And that’s how the knitting machine ties in. ..I was already an expert at the knitting machine, and I absolutely loved it, and I ended up producing, for my final collection, a range of knitted bridal wear.
After that, of course, that’s when you started seeing pretty knits everywhere and knitwear took off, and there’s some really beautiful knitwear out there. I have a love and appreciation for knitwear because of my childhood as well and my knitting bags in the playground, my very first business at the age of 10.
I spent about nine years studying the arts and fashion, and I’ve never really talked about this stuff before because I didn’t think it was relevant. But my story starts there, and I am a creative, and it is important. So I’m sharing that with you.
So back to how Renée was born. So in 2004, it was the final year of my degree, and I had to write my thesis. My thesis was about… I still can’t pronounce this, by the way. ..’Haute’ couture. Let’s just say ‘high’ couture. So my thesis was a 5,000 word essay I chose to do on the subject of high couture, and there just happened to be an exhibition on high couture in New York at that time. Because my dad had got ill, he had cancer, and I was struggling with everything that was going on, I decided to go to New York for five days to get this done, so that I can get my degree.
I went to see my dad and he told me to go. I went to New York and I nailed it, I did my thesis, 5000 words. But while I was away… Let’s just say that I graduated in 2005. My dad died while I was away. The family didn’t tell me because my dad would have wanted me to finish and I was abroad on my own.
That’s where Renee was born, and I’ll explain why. I wrote this thesis about high couture, and of course, couture originates in Paris, and what we were doing was high couture, The Ivory Rose Collection. By this point the business had grown on me because older ladies would come to me and say, “Oh, you styled my sister’s dress, or you made my friends dress for her wedding, and I want you to do mine.” And that made me feel that I had a place of value. The business grew on me. And me and my mum, we made a really good team.
NICOLERENÉE COUTURE BRIDAL AND EVENINGWEAR
So after I was inspired by learning about couture, I tweaked our names. My mum is Niki and I tweaked her name to Nicole. And I tweaked my name, which I always hated because of obvious reasons. ..It’s the female version of Stavros, Stavroulla. It was kind of awkward anyway, trying to pronounce my name to people on the telephone etc. So I was quite happy to change my name. I tweaked my name to Renée and our label and new business name became NicoleRenee Couture. So that’s where Renée was born. I’ve become known as Renée. On all my certificates it says Stavroulla, and that is my real name. I am totally transparent about that, but I have been known as Renée for so long, since we did the wedding dresses for about 13 years. It was 2004 when my dad died, so it’s a good few years, and even my family call me Renée now.
As you get older you kind of want to show your parents that you appreciate the name that they gave you, and especially now my dad’s gone. So I sometimes wonder whether I should go back to my real name.
However, I associated Stavroulla with my past and bullying and I didn’t want to ever see those people again. But, hey, bullies, you made me who I am, you made me stronger, so thank you, and I found art and my journey.
If you did want to know more about my mum, the traditional dressmaker, there is a story about my mum written by the gentle author in Spitalfields Life, and it says a little bit more about my mum and her journey, a little bit about my dad and our family. It’s a really nice story. If you would like to know a little bit more about our history I have left a link bellow. I will also be putting the final Nicolerenee collection up for sale soon so if you are or you know anyone who is getting married and want something truly special, follow me to stay posted.
I still get emotional when talking about dad, we didnt expect him to go so soon.
Next time I’m going to tell you how exactly or why I transitioned from Nicolerenee Couture and the wedding dresses to cosmetic tattooing, which was then known as semi-permanent makeup. It was really a journey.