Isabella and Samantha Dodge at The Circus in Sherborne
PUBLISHED: 15:45 12 January 2016 | UPDATED: 15:45 12 January 2016
By naming their new lifestyle boutique after the ‘Greatest Show On Earth’ creative cousins, Isabella and Samantha Dodge, hope The Circus will bring something special to town, as Liz Burt discovers
Back in 1846 when William Dodge first opened a riding boots and clothing shop in what is now the Abbey Book Shop in Cheap Street Sherborne, it’s unlikely he imagined that six generations later the family would still be opening new shops in town. The Circus lifestyle boutique is the creation of Isabella and Samantha Dodge, cousins born into a family with historic links to retail in Sherborne; their predecessors having traded everything from riding accessories to antique books, furniture and most recently interior furnishings.
Victorian posters from the real life circuses of William Dodge’s day would have promised ‘wonder’ and ‘amazement’ with colourful entertainment and unique acts from far flung corners of the earth. In that respect, he would probably feel right at home in The Circus – from its trademark starry staircase, whimsical walls and shimmering lights to the bright colours of designer and artisan products personally sourced from around the world.
“Having a family with a long line of successful retailers behind you doesn’t necessary make for an easy start,” says Isabella. “It’s a steep learning curve, and then there’s added interest because we are the first girls in the family to take on the retail mantle.” The signs are already good with customers bowled over by the carefully considered displays laid out on two impressive floors linked by an enticing, signature pink staircase.
Isabella went to Sherborne Girls and was then a chalet girl at Val d’Isère, where skiing and ski fashion-wear influenced her early tastes, and reflected in the styles she still loves to buy today. Her first Sherborne business venture was Isabella Dodge at Home. After three years high street experience, Isabella decided the time was right to re-brand and grow within the existing, beautiful listed building on Cheap Street where she had enjoyed her small beginnings.
That’s where her cousin Samantha came in; a Leweston girl who attended Inchbald School of Design in Chelsea, Samantha subsequently enjoyed a 20 year career in interior design (as well as becoming mum to two young boys). In between she too was a chalet girl, at St. Anton, and studied with Leiths for a year to further a passion for all things cooking and baking. Samantha’s interior design know-how has helped shape the distinctive style of the new shop.
The cousins are also great friends and, when growing up, enjoyed frequent shopping trips to Bath and London, flicking through the latest Vogue magazine or sharing ideas for making beautiful homes. They are naturals when it comes to buying and encourage each other to make bold retail decisions.
Inspired to name the shop The Circus by a quote from the book The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, Isabella says: “We love finding unusual things for the shop that we haven’t seen before. From cashmere to candles, we stock an eclectic mix of brands we admire.” The impressive collection of home accessories, ceramics, glass, textiles, gifts and jewellery features downstairs while the first floor is home to designer clothes, boots, shoes and bags.
Sourcing products with local connections is also important to them and latest local discoveries include The Dorset Soap Company, Portland men’s grooming products inspired by yachting off the Portland Peninsula, Miranda Berrow Ceramics of Symondsbury near Bridport and a range of furniture custom-made in the county. Of course the shop wouldn’t be complete without the jewellery range designed by Samantha’s talented sister, Charlie Dodge; each piece is unique and handmade with semi-precious stones, pearls, glass and ceramic beads. A current best-seller is a gold-plated longhorn pendant which is very on-trend.
Dorset girls through and through, when they are not busy at The Circus, Isabella and Samantha love family walks on Bulbarrow Hill or visiting Corfe Castle. The Jurassic Coast is where you might find them blowing away the cobwebs at weekends, but both girls admit nothing feels more like home than their beloved Sherborne.
The girls’ combined skill and knowledge has definitely created something very special in Sherborne. “We want to take people on an exciting journey”, says Samantha, “this is why The Circus was so apt for us. We believe independent shops like ours create interest on the high street and encourage visitors to the town for everyone’s benefit. We could never have imagined doing something we love so much, and the thrill we both get from it is enormous.”
Brands you will find at The Circus
• Accessories & Gifts: Mary Temperley Skin Care and Jewellery; True Grace Candles and Diffusers; Miller Harris Perfumes and Candles; Bob & Blossom Children’s clothes; Maileg Toys; Miranda Berrow Ceramics; Portland Grooming; The Dorset Soap Co; Charlie Dodge Jewellery
• Boots, shoes & handbags: Penelope Chilvers; Ash; Candice Cooper
• Designer Clothing: Poppy London; 360 Cashmere; Duffy; American Vintage; Bella Freud; Chinti and Parker; J Brand; Mes Demoiselles; Helen Moor; Custommade