Maureen Doherty obituary – The Guardian

Kinnerton Street in Belgravia, central London, was built as a mews to service grand houses, with stables for horses and poky rooms for servants upstairs. Despite a century of conversion of the low rows into very desirable residences, the street retains some original facades with wooden doors wide enough for carriages, opening to the pavementless road for ease of mucking-out.
In 1994, Maureen Doherty, who has died unexpectedly aged 70, chose one of these, No 36, a former dairy depot, the walls inside lined with blue tiles, for her shop Egg – without a capital letter for design and trading purposes. It looked more like an art gallery – Doherty later opened an actual art gallery along the street – and its clothes were pricey, durable and generously non-body-conscious.
Doherty said she began to design and sell at Egg because she had had enough of fashion shows with their “perfume that smells of accountants and exclusivity deals”. Her label-free collections used natural textiles amply cut into layerable garments with only minimal changes between decades.
She also sold genuine workwear – a Smithfield butcher’s smock, a French gardener’s jacket – long before that became a fashion genre, plus the creations of unknown, often young, designers.
Her wearers were creatives: Tilda Swinton, Emma Thompson, Diane Keaton, Meryl Streep, Donna Karan, or had other powers – Theresa May posed for US Vogue in an Egg coat. Doherty also dressed her friend Maggie Smith for her role in the Alan Bennett film The Lady in the Van (2015).
Naturally rebellious, Doherty had little interest in large-scale manufacture, in advertising (before the internet, she sent photographs of seasonal arrivals to clients individually) or in selling her creations beyond Egg. She did accept an invitation for Egg to guest in Dover Street Market in London and the Comme des Garçons Trading Museum in Tokyo, but only after their founder, Rei Kawakubo, arrived, bearing flowers, to beg her presence.
The Doherty influence on shops has been considerable over decades. Stock for sale was never crammed into Egg, just a few ensembles hanging, complete with shoes on the floor beneath, and room left for Doherty to display her passions for books and especially ceramics. Edmund de Waal had his first major show there in 1998, and Keiko Hasegawa took a year to make 1,000 pots to set out on its floors.
With inherited decor, real fire and natural light, worn furniture and personally chosen things such as soap or kilt-pins, little Egg would have seemed less remarkable in Tokyo or Paris, but its feeling of reality was a surprise to the London-New York retail world. Egg-led ideas went on to percolate as far as the Oliver Bonas chain, putting pots, books and chairs beside clothes on UK high streets.
Doherty was born in London, the youngest of three daughters of Elizabeth and James Doherty, and claimed that before her 18th birthday she had never had an outfit that was not hand-me-down or homemade. Her father, a structural engineer, plonked a hard hat and boots on her before taking her off to see his tunnels and bridges; he also loved archaeology, and two pots from Ur he gave her for her 21st birthday launched her interest in ceramics.
In her teens Maureen studied pattern cutting at what became the London College of Fashion, and temped as a runner for the film director David Lean, intending to be a costume designer.
In 1970, she worked with the Swedish designer Hans Metzen, which led to a career as buying director and setter-up of shops, starting with Elle in Sloane Street, an independent boutique that boldly chose stock from small ready-to-wear labels, and for the next decade she helped create other stores in London, including for Fiorucci and Valentino. When prospecting the first Japanese designers showing in Paris, she immediately became friends with, as well as bought from, Issey Miyake.
Doherty wearied of the air-kissing and accountancy that increasingly dominated the business by the late 1970s. In 1982, she fled to India, returning after a year to pick up her life.
Miyake persuaded her, despite initial refusals, to run his operations in Europe with total operational freedom, project by project: she worked on exhibitions, and the beginnings of his radical perfume L’Eau D’Issey, and offered the architect David Chipperfield his first store commission, a Miyake shop in London.
Doherty introduced Miyake to her mentor, the potter Lucie Rie, on whose recommendation she moved to Paris to study ceramics with Annie Fourmanoir. She left Miyake in 1985 and opened a tiny, unsatisfying and, she said, much-burgled, shop.
Back in London in 1992, she became head of design for Jigsaw before finding premises for Egg. Doherty’s own homes were as instinctual yet thought-through as her retail – in Egg’s early years she lived with her daughter, Jessica, in a minute flat over the shop, and would re-dress its windows in the wee hours, to the alarm of passing police. She returned in 2017 to live in Kinnerton Street, where the architect Jonathan Tuckey reworked and redesigned the spaces around Egg, notably the next-door ex-stable, at No 34, to suit her unique style of minimalism, which was the result of letting many things go.
She is survived by Jessy, the daughter of her marriage to Brian Walker, a fashion buyer, which ended in divorce, and her grandsons, Noah and Matteo.
Maureen Doherty, designer and shopkeeper, born 10 December 1951; died 18 November 2022