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By Emma-Louise Boynton
en years on from launching her eponymous luxury loungewear brand at London Fashion Week, Newcastle-born designer Olivia von Halle’s trademark silk pyjamas and cashmere tracksuits are stocked in 13 countries around the world.
The 38-year-old lives in Notting Hill with her husband Hugo (who works as her company’s Director of Finance and Operations), Boxer dog Bathtub and two children Hiero (four) and Chaos (one). Now pregnant with her third child, she leads a hectic life, crediting power naps and her gut instinct with helping make key decisions at work. And from the moment she is woken up by her children, Von Halle has to make every moment count.
But my one-year-old and a four-year-old are my alarm. Usually, I wake up with a start at the sound of my one-year-old launching himself out of his cot and landing on the floor. I jump up, thinking: “Oh no, has he broken his arm?” That’s how my day begins. Then I get a series of really intense questions from my four-year-old about God. As soon as I get up, it’s straight into hardcore parenting. I don’t check my phone right away because of the age of my kids. But when I do get a second, I’ll check my email, and see what’s come in overnight. Then I’ll have a look at WhatsApp and glance at the news.
While one of my husband and I is getting dressed and ready for the day, the other is getting the kids ready and giving them breakfast. For breakfast, I just eat the food that my children reject: soggy bowls of Shreddies, half-eaten bits of toast, a bit of a pear. That kind of thing. Otherwise, they just waste so much food. That’s a bit gross, isn’t it? At some point, we kind of seamlessly swap so the other can get dressed. Eventually, at 9 am, our nanny arrives. That’s when I start work.
Sitting in front of my computer. To me, that’s like the weekend has started, because when you’re a parent looking after children, especially young children, it’s physically and mentally so full-on. You’re dealing with all of their emotions and have no time or space at all to be yourself – you’re just purely there for them, for everything. At the end of the weekend someone might say: “How are you?” and I’m like: “Me? Do I exist? Do I have a personality?” You can become quite corroded.
I’m a tea person, and drink an awful lot of Earl Grey throughout the day – always with the tea bag left in so it’s super-strong. I have one coffee a day, a latte from Pret at 11 am. Then before bed, it’s a Pukka tea.
With modern technology, I can completely cope with doing my own schedule and, to be honest, I like the control. I start my work day by checking my Google Calendar and seeing what my day is like, then I begin on emails – the starred ones first. I don’t make a plan for the day, but tend to get the easy things done first, then just take the day as it comes. Because I’m occupying more of a CEO role now within the company, there isn’t a huge amount that I actually have to do myself, it’s more that I have to sign off on other people’s work and keep steering the ship.
I have no one to answer to. So if I want to take the afternoon off, I do.
And have as many as three a day. I can fall asleep anywhere and will often have a quick nap in the corner of a meeting – ten minutes and then I’m completely revived. I’ve also got a sofa in my office and if I’m struggling with a big problem at work, I’ll lie down for a bit. When I wake up, I have the answer.
He used to work in film, but as the company grew, we needed someone who could do all the finances full-time. He studied maths at University so came on board to do all the logistics, sales, that type of thing, while I focus on the brand design and marketing. We have a really beautiful office – a Georgian townhouse in Bedford Square, just off Tottenham Court Road, and our offices are attached. I’ve got a massive, egotistical office and he’s got a little secretary’s antechamber. We can’t see each other, but we can talk, which is perfect.
I was working right up until 8:30 pm the night before he was due by planned C-section, and I was back on email the following afternoon as there was something I had to finish. But having children has changed me immeasurably. It’s made me realise my priorities, and actually, my having a few months off for maternity leave gave my team the chance to grow. The company went into profit for the first time ever during that period, as everyone began to flourish in their roles.
So we leave the office at 5:15 pm every day and get home at 6 pm to take over from the nanny. Also, I only work four days a week so that I can have every Friday with them too. It’s really important to me to have this balance, and I’m a huge proponent of a four-day week anyway. At our offices we do 10 am to 6 pm, so that everyone can have a life outside of work. Starting at 10 am means that if you’re a person who likes to get up early, then you can go to a gym class, whereas if you’re more of an evening person, you can go to dinner parties, stay till 1 am and still get eight hours’ sleep.
But I’m not a gym bunny at all. Instead, I have dance parties a few times a week with my husband and children. In the evenings, once the kids have eaten, we turn off all the lights in the playroom, put on the disco lights and just dance. We’ve got a little ottoman the kids treat as their podium and then my brother’s a DJ, so he makes amazing house music tapes which we sometimes put on, although the kids’ music taste is seriously dodgy and right now Gangnam Style is their favourite song. They love eating sweets before our dance parties, so I’m a bit nervous we’re raising a little army of ravers who in ten years’ time will be off their faces. It’s going to be all my fault when it goes wrong. After that, it’s bath and bedtime for the kids.
Unless it’s really cold. I wear pyjamas a lot – like when I get home from work or from a party with friends, I’ll put them on – but I don’t really sleep in them unless it’s really, really freezing.
And there’s something very depressing about it. You make a transition from where you’re madly entangled together each night to suddenly lying next to each other reading. But I am reading a great book at the moment: The Hungover Games by Sophie Heawood. It’s really funny, so that’s cheering me up in lockdown.
I always say: “Don’t listen to advice.” Listen to your gut. Your brain thinks one thing, your heart another… but you can really trust your gut. I’m generally a very intuitive, instinctive person, and do everything according to my gut. Some people talk about this interior monologue they’ve got going on in their head, but I really don’t have that. I’m not a worrier. Early on in the business, if there was anything we couldn’t make a decision on I’d say: “I don’t know why but I just feel… this,” and the team would go with it. It became more and more apparent that my instincts were pretty spot-on, so they’ve become a respected decision-making tool in the business.
Lead image courtesy of: Olivia Von Halle
Whether it be taking power naps at work or dancing with your kids instead of hitting the gym, the best way to start and end your day is by trusting your gut.
By Emma-Louise Boynton