From Sedgefield with Love
“A MAN. It’s always a man!” laughed Elena Degnan when asked what brought her from Russia to North-East England more than 20 years ago.
As the owner of Jayne, a fashion boutique with a rich 60-year history in the pretty town of Sedgefield, she is updating the wardrobes of her loyal clientele with her sharp eye for colour and attention to detail.
After meeting her husband, in her native St Petersburg, she moved back with him and her five-year-old daughter, Katya (known as Kat), to Darlington.
When her little girl settled at school Elena, who had only basic English decided she had to get out and meet people so worked as a cashier at Iceland for three years before becoming a supervisor on the fashion floors at the town’s House of Fraser where she stayed for a decade.
Over coffee with a friend one day in Sedgefield, they decided to pop into Jayne’s where they heard that the owner was looking to retire.
“It was total serendipity,” said Elena in her soft Russian accent. Jayne was opened in 1955 by Hazel Taylor, followed by Mavis Wayman who was at the helm for 31 years until Elena took it over 18 months ago.
She knew that, with such devoted customers, she had to turn to them for direction on what they wanted her to dress them in.
“I have very lovely customers, some have become friends and some of my friends have become customers. I am trying to appeal to the people who shop here often but also offer something different for younger people too.
“When I place orders I have certain pieces in mind for certain people. I know what they are looking for – quality, something special that will make them feel great and get compliments.”
Jayne’s following of fans span a 30 mile radius but Elena is reaching out to new customers through social media and networking groups. “I have to let people know where we are and why we are good. I say “I am brilliant and you guys do not know what you are missing”.
“It’s very hard to change people’s perceptions, we are appealing to 25-year-olds like my daughter as much as older women.”
The community has embraced Elena and she has also played her part in joining in with local life.
“I never wanted to be thought of as an outsider because I’m a foreigner so I as well as changing my window display every week I incorporate local events into it, like the Medieval Festival and Sedgefield Scarecrow Festival.
“I also host fashion shows, recently we did one to celebrate the shop’s 60th anniversary so showed vintage fashions over the last 60 years as well as some of the latest looks I have in, which was something a bit different but went down really well.”
Elena also has a diploma in image consultancy and can advise shoppers on what colours best suit them to get the most out of their clothes and feel the best they can with fresh new looks delivered every two weeks.
Stockists based in London, Denmark and Italy provide her with favourites at the moment including riding boots, sheepskin bags with oversized pompoms and candy-coloured scarves made from goat hair and silk from Russia which look gossamer light but are super-strong and faux fur wraps which have a glamorous touch of Doctor Zhivago about them.
“It’s all about quality, older people are after something that’s unique, that will last and is different to what’s on the high street, I say that in order to be irreplaceable one must always be different,” she added.
“People want investment pieces and are prepared to pay a little bit more for them. I am searching the internet for new brands all the time and would like to introduce a couple of sophisticated French names.”
Although Elena is now firmly settled in the North-East there is one thing, after two decades, she still can’t get used to – the cold – despite coming from Russia which is not exactly known for its warm climate.
“It’s a different type of cold,” she shuddered. “Here it’s a damp cold but there it’s a dry cold. My heating bills are huge.”
With new stock arriving every two weeks she still has her winter orders to arrive, among which is a sumptuous white coat which she will be able to model to perfection – while still keeping nice and warm.
Jayne Ladies Boutique, 41 Front Street, Sedgefield, TS21 3AT