Strike a Match
Ruth and Tom Chapman have never been afraid to blaze a trail. In 1987, when they opened their first clothing boutique, Matches, in Wimbledon, the leafy London suburb was known almost exclusively for its tennis club. But after the Chapmans, in quick succession, added a Max Mara store, a men’s wear shop, and the first Diane von Furstenberg boutique outside the United States to their mini retail empire, the village—which they still call home—emerged as a true shopping destination. “We’ve always thought first about our customers,” Ruth says. “And we knew that we’d have customers in Wimbledon, because that’s where we lived and what we knew. The rest happened pretty organically.” In 1999, the couple debuted a second, bigger Matches, in central London, and it quickly became the place to shop. More locales, plus an online store, followed. The first retailer in the U.K. to carry Prada, Matches pioneered the idea of mixing pieces by young, edgy, often unknown designers with more classic ones by the big names.
Though they regularly host dinners for visiting designers—Adam Lippes was a recent guest of honor—the Chapmans’ large 1836 Victorian house is more family home than showpiece. They bought the place—which they share with their three children and two often-underfoot dogs—in 2005, because they loved its garden, which unfortunately fell victim to renovations. Happily, the grounds are now back in bloom thanks to Chris Beardshaw, one of Britain’s most acclaimed landscape designers. Inside, the rooms are filled with Ruth and Tom’s ever-expanding trove of treasures. Both are magpie-esque collectors: Tom takes what he describes as a “passionate and nerdish approach” to midcentury furniture, having bought Gio Ponti tables, chairs by Gabriella Crespi, and a unique Vladimir Kagan prototype. Ruth, meanwhile, is attracted to everything from seashells to aboriginal artifacts. “I’d describe it as push and pull,” she says of merging their aesthetics. A modern étagère, for example, is filled with Greek and Roman artifacts, while 1960s Sputnik lights illuminate works by Chris Ofili. They recently hired an interior designer, Tom says, “to make sure it doesn’t look like a car crash of stuff.”
Arbiter of Style
Ruth, the eye behind the Matches look, is famously stylish herself. At 53, she is tall and willowy, with a mane of distinctive gray hair. “I can go quite masculine,” she says of her wardrobe. “I love a shirt, trouser, and blazer. On holiday and during downtime, I’ll feminine up. I’m evolving and adapting my look as I get older.” Figuring things out, sartorially, is the Chapmans’ speciality. They recently became chairs of the company and rechristened the whole operation Matchesfashion.com—website and brick-and-mortar stores alike. They often collaborate directly with designers on exclusives, like the Mary Katrantzou alphabet tote that became a must-have last year. Online, they stock more than 400 designers, including Raey, their own brand of luxurious basics. They’ve even enlisted stylists, who are available on the site to help customers navigate the many choices. The goal, Tom says, is to create a truly global business—albeit one that remains firmly grounded in Wimbledon.