Henrietta Rix: ‘I have a sister but never got to meet her’

Henrietta Rix is the co-founder of the cult fashion label Rixo, which is adored by Kylie and Margot Robbie. Bonded by a love of fashion, Henrietta and her mum Jane open up about the pros (and chaos) of living in a big family – and the tragedy that shaped them.

Henrietta’s story

Henrietta Rix, 28, launched Rixo in 2015 with her best friend and housemate Orlagh McCloskey from their living room.

I’m the youngest in my family and have four elder brothers: Reginald, Louis, Charles and Henry. It toughened me up; I had to muck in and join their games. Boys have never intimidated me.

Although I grew up with just brothers, I’m not my mother’s only daughter. When Reginald and Louis were four and two, Mum had a baby girl. Charlotte passed away when she was five months old. It was a cot death, and Mum was completely devastated. She’s always been very open about how awful it was for her. My dad went back to work – he’s a car salesman – but as a full-time mum she was at home and she struggled.

It took Mum a while to get pregnant again, but three years later she had Charles, followed by Henry and then me. Charlotte would have been five years older than me. She was never kept a secret from us. Mum, my nan and I visited her grave every week – my grandfather is buried in the same place – and there have always been pictures of Charlotte around the house. I have lovely memories of Charlotte’s birthdays. It’s just after Valentine’s Day, and as a family we celebrated it each year, laying roses at her grave and going for a nice dinner together. Even now, my brothers and I still send Mum and Dad roses on Charlotte’s birthday.

Jane and Henrietta
Jane and Henrietta today.

She has always been part of our family. Growing up, my friends knew about Charlotte; when asked if I had siblings I’d explain, ‘I have a sister but I never got to meet her.’ Losing a sibling, even one you haven’t met, does put things into perspective. It’s sad for me, but it was really tough for Mum. When things go wrong in life, or I am stressed about work, I think, ‘There are worse things happening right now.’

Mum and I have always been very close and I think she’s been more protective of me as the only girl. I think it was nice for her to have me to do ‘girl’ things with; she took me to vintage clothes fairs and flea markets every weekend – there was no way my brothers were going – and we really bonded over that.

Her love of fashion was ingrained in me from a young age, but sometimes I was embarrassed when she picked me up from school. All the other mums would be in workwear or jeans and a jumper. But Mum was completely out there: she loved anything bright, bold and boho. I remember her wearing this full-length 1970s Missoni coat in the playground. It was like a rainbow: multicoloured with metallic threads and little wooden buttons all the way down it. She had amazing style, but at the time all I could think was, ‘My mum’s different!’

All those visits to vintage markets with Mum taught me to spot a diamond in the rough, to see something and know it would be gorgeous; it just needed altering. As I got older I was always chopping things up and sewing extra bits on. For my 16th birthday Mum got me a sewing machine – I was over the moon. I was determined to pursue a career in fashion, but moving from Cheshire to London when I was 18 to go to fashion college was hard. It took a while to adjust and I absolutely hated my first year in London, but I couldn’t bear to be a quitter.

I launched Rixo with my friend Orlagh when I was 23. I’ve had complete blinkers on ever since; it’s been all about that. The first two years we were in business Orlagh and I didn’t go out. I was embarrassingly single. Mum was worried I was working too hard: she warned me not to end up like a hamster on a wheel. I have a boyfriend now, so she is pleased that I’ve got a better work-life balance. On my first date with him, he asked if I wanted children one day and I said, ‘Yes, I want five!’ I think he was a bit scared but he’s stuck around. I’ve always wanted a big family like mine. It was so much fun growing up with lots of siblings; we were like a little gang. But I know that any child is a blessing.

Jane and Henrietta 1997
Jane and Henrietta on Christmas Day 1997.

Jane’s story

Jane Rix, 63, lives in Cheshire with her husband Reginald.

When people ask me how many children I have, I don’t always know how to answer: five or six? You’ve got to see what mood you’re in.

Charlotte was a beautiful little girl. Losing her when she was five months old was incredibly difficult. It was a long time ago and when it happened I didn’t have counselling – but I did have a bit of a breakdown. Initially, I couldn’t even talk about her. If my husband mentioned her name I would start crying. And the thing with cot death is doctors don’t really know why it happens, even now. So you can’t help but think: what did I do wrong?

A few years later I had therapy. I was reluctant to go at first but it really helped to talk about what had happened. It was brilliant. Eventually, I got pregnant again with Charles and Henry – and then I had Henrietta when I was 35. She was the icing on the cake. Sometimes I think if I hadn’t lost Charlotte, then maybe I wouldn’t have had the other children.

Raising five children is absolutely mad. But I’m lucky I had four boys – boys are not as complicated, whereas girls like to do their own thing. I could never make Henrietta wear anything I chose. I remember all the boys had dungarees, and I got her a gorgeous little pair of leggings. She threw a huge tantrum: she hated them. After that I thought, ‘I can’t be bothered. I’ve got too many children. I haven’t got time!’ So from then on she always wore what she wanted.

Growing up, Henrietta was very thoughtful. I was so proud when she won a little cup at school for her good manners. And she’s always been honest with me – she’s good that way. She didn’t rebel as a teenager – or if she did, I didn’t know about it! She was the last of my children to leave home. Some mothers get empty-nest syndrome, but you’ve got to let them fly into the big wide world and flourish. You can’t interfere too much. I read something lovely that said your children go out to sea but then they come back in again.

Jane aged 20
Jane, aged 20, at the family home in North Wales.

Did I worry about Henrietta leaving home? Of course. But she’s savvy. I knew she would be able to look after herself because she’s got four brothers. And she has each and every one of them eating out of her hand, let me tell you.

The two of us have always shared a love of fashion. I probably inherited it from my own mum. She always looked glamorous and would have her hair done like Princess Anne, whereas I used to crayon my bell-bottoms and mess about with my clothes. I still do. The other day I bought a Mickey Mouse T-shirt in a charity shop and chopped the arms off; it looks dead cool. I’ve collected lots of vintage pieces – original Biba, classic Chanel. Whenever Henrietta is visiting, I can hear her upstairs in my wardrobe going click, click, click through the hangers, seeing what she’s going to help herself to.

I already have eight grandchildren and I adore being a grandparent. It’s a lot of fun. I would love it if Henrietta had children one day but I’m so proud of what she has achieved with Rixo. I wear the designs myself; the patterns are fabulous and they complement any age – I have a cousin who is 70 and she adores them.

Fashion is a tough industry. I’ve seen all the hard work Henrietta and Orlagh have put in, so I always smile like a Cheshire cat when I see someone out wearing a Rixo dress.

Henrietta and Jane in three

Describe each other.

Henrietta: Just. The. Best.

Jane: Kind, determined, beautiful.

Their worst habit?

Henrietta: Giving away her designer collection – she gifted someone her Chloé Paddington bag, which I wanted!

Jane: She works too hard.

Your favourite memory of each other?

Henrietta: Discovering a vintage market together in Rome on holiday. There were lots of Italian grandmas selling old Escada suits and gorgeous printed silks. And it was all dirt cheap.

Jane: When she was six months old I watched her eat a whole Flake chocolate bar in three seconds flat. Her nickname when she was a kid was Flake.

Rixo has launched a ‘Stay at Home’ T-shirt (£55) in white, with 50 per cent of profits from each sale donated to NHS Charities COViD-19 Urgent Appeal and Carers Trust. For details, visit rixo.co.uk.

As told to Hanna Woodside.