Entrepreneur of the Year, Lynsey Le Keux, is profiting from the past by making the retro look chic for Brummie guys and dolls
Lynsey Le Keux is living the dream. A committed fan of all things vintage and retro, she gave up a promising corporate career to pursue her passion for Fifties fashion. Out went project management and efficiency reports and in came Polka dot swing skirts, beehive hairdos and pink Cadillacs with white wall tyres! After finding it almost impossible to plan her retro-style wedding in 2007, Lynsey decided to set up her own vintage events business. “It was just crazy how hard it was to locate vintage wedding suppliers, and I thought that there must be a gap here in the market. I had lots of friends just like me, and they had the same problem.”
At first Lynsey, who lives in Rugby, ran her fledgling business part-time in the evenings while she carried on with her day job in corporate management. She provided themed events, from weddings to charity and hen nights as well as vintage photo-shoots and started building up a collection of Marilyn Monroe-inspired dresses and accessories from eBay. “I also went on the Internet and taught myself how to style vintage hair – I thought ‘If I’m going to do this properly, I need to be able to do everything about vintage, including the hair and make-up’.” Lynsey explained. In 2010, Lynsey felt confident enough to quit her day job and opened The Vintage Salon in Birmingham’s Custard Factory. (Today, she also runs a similar salon for men in the complex, “except all the girly pinks and pastels of the ladies’ salon have been replaced with lots of more masculine red, blacks and chrome,” she says.) She also has a team of 35 freelance stylists nationwide – all recruited by Lynsey and then trained in the Birmingham salon – who offer the Le Keux ‘experience’ across the country
Importantly, the beginning of 2014 marks the opening of a new salon, dance and photo studios in Leeds, and Lynsey is looking to do the same within the next 18 months in the South West of England. Two months ago, Le Keux Cosmetics was launched – a complete range of vintage make-up developed and designed by Lynsey and her team and produced right here in the UK. “The business as a whole is really ready to expand,” Lynsey says. “I know Leeds is going to be a success because of the contacts and amount of business we already have in the area.” In March last year, Lynsey spent a month fact-finding on America’s West Coast and has plans in the pipeline to open for business across the pond in 2015. “I did a lot of research while I was there and identified lots of gaps in the market,” she says. “Here in Britain, we offer the US diner theme. But in the States, I’d change that completely. US vintage and retro experiences are ten-a-penny over there. The vintage experience the Americans want is all about the English. So, it’s the unique English tearoom themes that would work and where we need to aim.” Lynsey’s eye for identifying the right opportunity at the right time has earned her a growing reputation in the region’s business community, which saw her win the Entrepreneur of the Year title at the recent West Midlands Women of the Year Awards.
DRIVE A MUSTANG
For someone who – despite her eye-catching pencil skirt and victory rolls hairdo – prefers to remain in the background, it was confirmation of how far she’s come in just six years. “I grew up with parents who were really into their Sixties music, Motown and Soul. So, going back to that period and beyond is normal for me. I really got interested in vintage and retro in my early twenties. I live the lifestyle, twenty-four-seven. My home is all vintage and I drive a 1964 Mustang car. Yes, I guess you could say it’s an addiction! “But one thing’s for sure – when I started the business I had no idea at all it would turn into quite such a big thing.”