When the Bursteins bought the shop at 27 South Molton Street from Sir William Pigott-Brown, naming it in his honour, Mrs B was committed to showcasing the height of fashion – always with an element of fun. “We wanted to create an ambience that would make everybody happy,” she says. “I think we achieved that.”
The future big names she imported included not only Klein but also Donna Karan, Ralph Lauren (when she approached and offered to open a store, describing the success she’d had with Klein, “He said, ‘I’d love to, but I’m not known like Calvin.’ ”), Giorgio Armani, Jil Sander and Comme des Garçons – all titans today, to a degree that makes it astonishing to realise that one woman was responsible for introducing them to the UK.
“Of course I fell in love with Sonia Rykiel’s collections. They epitomised everything about how I wanted people to look, how they should feel about fashion, how they should feel about themselves…” She remembers wearing one of the French designer’s knitted, striped ensembles to Claridge’s. “The manager came up to me and said, ‘Madame, do you realise you are the first woman we’ve allowed in wearing trousers?’ It was an honour.” (As well as a matchmaking exercise: Burstein’s son, Simon, later married Nathalie Rykiel, Sonia’s daughter.) And then there was John Galliano, whose French Revolution-inspired Les Incroyables graduate collection for Central Saint Martins ended up in the Browns window. Diana Ross was his first customer.
Her talent-spotting extended to staffing. Jimmy Choo founder Tamara Mellon worked in Browns’ Azzedine Alaïa department, aged 17 (“When I left, I owed them more money than I’d earned,” she has said); leading hair stylist Sam McKnight did all the best barnets at Molton Brown, originally a salon co-founded by Mrs B’s daughter, Caroline.