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Behind The Designs: Matilda X Cath Kidston

Cath Kidston x MatildaCath Kidston x Matilda
Cath Kidston x MatildaCath Kidston x Matilda


Roald Dahl’s Matilda - one of the most iconic characters in literature and film - where her commitment to kindness and her unquenchable love of learning formed the creative heart of this special series of pieces and prints. ​

A partnership of creativity and storytelling, our design team immersed themselves in the world of Matilda. Our limited-edition prints bring the story and characters to life through our own hand-painted interpretations of this inspiring book, to create beautiful gifts across bags, clothing, home and kidswear. ​

Ahead of the collection launching, our Creative Director, Holly Marler sat down with Rebecca French, Head of Licencing at Roald Dahl to discuss the inspirations for the designs and favourite prints and pieces. As well as the process behind such a special collaboration between Roald Dahl’s iconic story and Cath Kidston, with our almost thirty years of print heritage. ​​

When it comes to collaborations between two iconic brands, where do you start​?

Holly: We start by making sure we share a creative point of view, that the brand’s story aligns with ours and we can do their amazing artwork justice. This often feels quite pressured though - to inspire a brand we feel a lot of passion for and have grown up with. This is why our loyal customers love our designs though, as they feel this personal link and can see the amount of work that has gone into the prints. ​

Rebecca: The key for us, is to consider alignment of the core Roald Dahl brand values and to consider our customer profile and fit. It’s important that any partner we work with fully understands the brand and feels inspired. It was very clear from the very first meeting that the team at Cath Kidston were super engaged with Matilda ‘s character and spirit!​​

What was it about Matilda that you felt aligned with our brand heritage and values? ​

I felt really aligned with Matilda for a few reasons. I believe as a print designer you are a raconteur, and here at Cath Kidston we always like to tell stories with our prints. Quentin Blake is an absolute legend, the BEST at this story telling through illustration, with such a loose and dynamic style but with real detail in the emotion of the stories and characters. We felt truly humbled to work with his drawings and Roald Dahl’s story telling.

I have two young daughters and to celebrate this amazing character felt really, really special. I love the quotes regarding Matilda being able to achieve anything; ‘We may be small but we’re quite tough’. This was so important, as we designed the collection in lockdown and the following quote felt really important to the younger generation during these current times; ‘The books transported her into new worlds and introduced her to amazing people who lived exciting lives’.

Rebecca: The story of Matilda celebrates bravery, inclusivity and the power and potential of young people. Those values resonated with audiences in 1988, when the title was originally published, and they remain incredibly relevant in 2022 - thus it comes as no surprise that Matilda has a highly engaged, multi-generational fan base! The story is adored by young people today and still holds a very special place in the hearts of many adults. Cath Kidston too has a multi-generational audience and you’re hugely respected for embracing your heritage, whilst championing the new – especially in your prints. From our very first meeting, your design team talked with such love for Matilda, that we were so excited to see how they would reflect Matilda’s spirit and the messages of the story whilst applying the Cath Kidston approach to design.​

When it comes to collaborations between two iconic brands, where do you start​?

We based each print on a different quote from Roald Dahl’s Matilda and decided to show different drawing and print styles in each one. This had to be very different to Quentin’s style, to try and replicate it would be impossible and also disrespectful. For the ‘Words went off like fireworks’ print we showed Matilda sitting in a floral vine reading books. The floral vine was hand painted in a botanical, painterly way so her original illustration and her bright red book was easily seen amongst the painterly florals and stood out as the fireworks burst from them. ‘The books transported her into new worlds’ print was based on some of our drawings from the archive. Very soft and detailed drawings of different scenes complemented her bold character and imagination. The ‘Be outrageous’ print was a lot bolder, we had to be brave with our florals and icons and make them stronger, just like Matilda.​ ​

Rebecca: We work with Quentin Blake’s team on all Roald Dahl products and typically we would not mix his illustrations with anyone else’s artwork. However, in this case, Quentin was happy to agree to this unique combination and felt that the prints had been created with taste and thought.​

“Each print has a narrative of its own, inspired by a quote from the book. How did you decide which quotes to focus on?

Holly: "The books transported her into new worlds" was really important to me, watching my children struggle at home in the lockdown. I felt a real affinity to this quote, and I thought, what an important message to portray through our prints. I also loved the quote that features on our Matilda backpack - "We may be small but we’re quite tough," - for this reason too. It was a joy to design our kidswear with this real and true sentiment, nostalgic, but also so important in current times.”

Tell us a little more about each of the prints. How did the characters, story and illustrations inspire them? ​

Holly:​ ‘Be outrageous‘ was really exciting to design, as was the print, that involved many more characters and some really exciting words from the book. We made our florals tougher and our icons appear harder by putting them into straight lines and graphic shapes. Normally our prints are more fluid and pretty. This was important as it made our print ‘cooler’ and more dynamic. This newer style complemented words such a ‘Miraculous’ and ‘Magic’ and characters like Miss Trunchball and the hilarious stories of the newt in her jug of water. It was important to show this strength and humour through this design.​

Did any of your own memories of Matilda contribute to the design process?​ ​​

​Holly:​ The design team and I have great memories of Matilda and loved being able to work with her amazing stories. We are all girls, we all love reading and we all love a strong female character, so to tell her story was incredible. My amazing creative copywriter even called her baby Matilda, born just after we finalised the collection. She had helped me a lot as I discussed so many of the quotes and storytelling with her. When Matilda was born and she sent me a picture, I wrote straight back ‘ We may be small but we’re quite tough’.​

Once the prints were created, how did you decide what products to feature them on? Tell us a little more about this process.​​ ​​

​Holly:​ We really enjoyed creating the adults’ collection, especially the dress and pyjamas. Adults love our collaborations as they feel a real infinity to the characters they have grown up with and enjoy revisiting them with their children, as I have done. We loved the soft waisted dress that we affectionally term the ‘Miss Honey’ dress, as it’s a new shape for us, with a trend-led hand painted floral design, but with the added excitement of featuring this amazing character. I also really loved placing the quotes onto the pieces. We have ‘the books transported us to new worlds’ embroidered onto the jersey collar, inside of the mug and on a book bag which would be perfect for Matilda. These details are really important to us.​

What product is at the top of your wish list once the collection has launched?​

Holly: The ‘New Worlds’ tripper. It is a great bag shape, super-tough in a heavy cotton canvas with loads of pockets. Perfect for travelling this spring, with beautiful illustrations of all those amazing places Matilda found herself in. I just love it and its sentiment.

Rebecca:​ I love the energy and fun of the ‘Be Outrageous’ print. For me it perfectly captures memorable moments from the story in a playful way! I shall be gifting the pyjamas to a particular lucky six year-old for sure! For myself though, one can never have too many bags, so the handy shopper with a beautiful hand drawn floral and ‘Words went off like Fireworks’ print will be a gift from me to me!​​

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