Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : November 2nd 2014 Contents | PROFILES |
By Roslyn Carrington
"WE'RE NOT FASHIONISTAS," Philippa Talma tells me.
"We aren't all... 'Hi darling!'..." (Blows an ironic air-kiss.)
"We're very approachable, very down to earth." As I'm
whisked past the cool, tasteful display area of her shop
into the equally lovely back rooms and offered a drink
within moments of my arrival, I have no choice but to
agree. I imagine that shopping here for clothes --- an ac-
tivity which, for me, is slightly more pleasant than chew-
ing on light bulbs --- would be quite enjoyable indeed.
"I have a very unusual product," she explains, "luxury
plus-size." While most women in T&T don't conform to
European standards in dress size, it's probably even
more difficult when it comes to finding luxury goods at
the higher end of the market, since many top-tier de-
signers would rather produce size 0s and 2s than 18s
and 20s. "It's very much a niche market, and a huge need
The stores are the latest stop in a series of colourful ca-
reers. With a degree in psychology, Talma spent some
time teaching maths at local private schools, at one
time setting up her own math lab with simple, hands-
on teaching aids. "If we were learning about money, we
would set up a little shop and "buy and sell" things. It
was a lot of fun."
Then, after her divorce, she decided to set herself up in
business. Doing so required a great leap: "I'd thought
about that for some time, but there was the fear factor
to consider. Eventually, it was a case of economics." It
was far from easy. "My father, who is very conservative
with money, stood the loan. It freaked him out, but we
paid it off in two twos, and then he was able to sleep at
Quite a change from the academic background she
grew up in; her father being the late author, environmen-
talist, and independent senator, Professor Julian Kenny,
and her mother, a primary school principal. "In those
days, psychology was considered a pseudo-science, but
they had no problem with it."
Her love of experimentation also led her to try her hand
at being a flight attendant at Bee Wee for a while. "I
was an atrocious flight attendant. I spilled drinks on
people, fell asleep on the plane...." Unsurprisingly, that
gig only lasted about nine months.
It seems that her clothing stores, Philippa and Pippa K,
both located in Maraval, are the niche where she wants
to remain. Although she considers herself a loner, she
named her stores after herself so that her clients would
know who to come to when they need help. "They knew
who to call, from day one."
Her clients love her stores, not just because of the ex-
quisite designs, but also the layout and ambience, which
feels like the lounge of an exclusive hotel, where a
woman can enjoy coffee or tea, and be soothed. Her
goal is to make women feel both pampered and beauti-
ful in a stressed-out world. "No matter what happens,
what's going on in your life, you can still feel beautiful.
There's a lot of psychology in this; women leave feeling
good. My heart is in this shop."
Oddly enough, this goal is fuelled in part by her unspeak-
able kidnapping experience in 2008, just months after
opening her first store.
As we broach the sticky issue of her trauma, she admits
that this is the first time she has openly discussed her
experience with the media. Stepping out of her first
store, Philippa, one evening, she noticed a man loitering
near her car; immediately, alarm bells rang out. But, like
many women, she didn't want to seem rude, so didn't
turn back. That was her undoing. She was snatched,
bound, bartered for, and held for nine days.
"The problem was, I got kidnapped by amateurs," she
recalls with amazing equanimity, "if you have to get kid-
napped, you should get kidnapped by professionals."
She goes on to describe the brutal, bungled, and inept
treatment she received as her life was literally shopped
around to any bidder at all. She was released on
As I listen, I feel chills, but am thrown by her calm ac-
ceptance. "There is nothing like it. If I had been kid-
napped for three days, I'd be a real wreck, but after a
while there is a reckoning. You come to terms with your
own death. I'm just glad for the air in my lungs. I stayed
in Trinidad for about a week, then I went away and
started shopping for my store again."
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