Meet Dorset's Queen of the Wipe Clean Scene

Dorset's Queen of the Wipe Clean Scene<br/><br/><br/><br/>Helen Fisher meets Zoe Phayre Mudge. the Dorset girl whose label ZPM has blazed a path through the world of fashion with her witty and oh-so stylish accessories

Helen Fisher goes to the Shaftesbury studio of Dorset designer Zoe Phayre Mudge whose label ZPM is beloved by celebrity fashionistas.

Harvey Nichols, Selfridges, Harrods, Liberty, and Fortnum and Mason, are just a few of the prestigious fashion retailers to stock ZPM designs, the fashion label of  Zoe Phayre-Mudge. Her designs are ‘must-have’ buys for celebrity fashionistas like Kate Moss and Sadie Frost. Given that in the last 16 years of designing Zoe has reached such iconic status, I was fully prepared for her to be as ice cool as Meryl Streep’s character in The Devil Wears Prada when I went to her design studio in her North Dorset farmhouse. But Zoe’s warm and welcoming kitchen instantly dispelled any fears of fashion snobbery. Her home is a gloriously eclectic mix of old and new, shabby and chic, cute and kitsch – from the hand-embroidered tea cosy to the pretty mismatched mugs – it’s obvious that Zoe has a magpie’s eye for quirky beauty. Zoe’s personality matches her colourful home style. She brims over with an enthusiasm for life and an unstoppable inquisitiveness that gives some indication of how she has so successfully entered the sometimes snooty world of fashion, carving herself a comfy niche. “ZPM was really a bit of an accident,” she explains with self-deprecating modesty. “At first I was totally overwhelmed by the notion that anyone would actually want to buy my designs. I studied for a degree in Fine Art and began to wonder, like most art students do, if there was any way I was ever going to be able to actually make a living.” After leaving Goldsmiths College, Zoe went travelling round Indonesia, Italy and India. Even while travelling, her innate entrepreneurial spirit was starting to buzz away inside her head. “My travelling days definitely influenced my prints,” she confesses. “But I can honestly say that these days I get just as much inspiration travelling to Shaftesbury and back, and local jumble sales have provided me with numerous treasures too.”As with most fledgling businesses, the beginning was a bumpy ride. “One of my first ideas was to create a bag that women could use for work, was big enough to carry a gym kit and would also function for a naughty sleep over too,” explains Zoe. “It was to be a sort of sports/wash/handbag thing.” Her early attempts at making a profit from designing proved fruitless, when, in 1994, she rode her moped to a small factory on the outskirts of East London and proffered her design to an Indian manufacturer, who pointed out that the production costs of her complex design would kill any chance of making a profit.Although she left somewhat demoralised that her first design wasn’t going to work, the visit wasn’t wasted. “While in the factory I spotted an unusual piece of plasticky fabric with an intriguing print,” she remembers. “I took a scrap of it away with me, determined to try and use it, and after a week of playing around, I came up with my first washbag. This was back in the days when washbags were still firmly stuck in the flowery cotton print era.” Zoe’s early washbags were eye-catching witty affairs, made from glossy Americana-style prints, which oozed with glamour and frivolity. Her signature bag featured a winking Fifties starlet and was trimmed in a luxurious deep-pile velvet. This brave and beautiful creation instantly caught the eye of the Fashion Accessories Buyer at Liberty in Regent Street, and ZPM was launched onto the high-fashion scene. “My aim and ethos with ZPM has always been to achieve exactly the same notion that Andy Warhol referred to when he said he wanted to ‘make things that would ordinarily bore you, suddenly thrill you’,” explains Zoe. “Most of all, I really want to make products that are practical, stylish and fun, but are also built to last.” Although originally born in London, Zoe moved to Dorset with her family when she was seven, subsequently attending Sherborne School for Girls as a boarder. Oddly enough, it was this early educational experience which sparked the inspiration for what has become one of her current best-selling designs. “On the checklist for what I needed to pack in my trunk, there was always a bath cap,” she remembers. “I didn’t really give this rather dull item much thought, until I was grown up, and then I came to realise just how useful an object it had been through my school days. I don’t want to wash my hair every time I shower, plus I don’t live in Italy – where everyone just dries their hair on their way to work – so a good shower cap is actually an everyday essential.”Zoe’s flair for fun inspired her to add a fake, plastic flower to the side of an otherwise ordinary shower cap, totally transforming this humdrum item into a desirable bathing belle’s accessory. “It’s always in our top three bestselling items,” she points out. “But, I guess, not surprisingly, they don’t sell well on the continent!”The Weekender is another of her revolutionary designs – an ingenious roll-up creation that holds all your toiletries in one deliciously designed wipe-clean bag that can hang from a swivel hook on the back of a door, towel rail or even a tree! It then unrolls to provide easy access to all those essentials, so in one quick flick it transforms into your home-from-home bathroom. Zoe designed it for camping trips, boat trips, festivals and smart country house weekends. “It’s absolutely the best thing for a hospital stay,” she says. “You know where everything is. All in one roll, and these days you don’t want to put anything down.”When Zoe’s marriage came to an end and she wanted to move out of London, there was no question as to where she wanted be. Taking her young family back to live with her mum in her childhood home in Dorset became the silver lining to her marital cloud. “ZPM has always been a family affair,” she explains. “Mum has been absolutely crucial in running the logistics of the business; warehousing and delivery.” And although Zoe’s label still announces itself as ‘ZPM London’ she admits she’s giving serious consideration to rebranding it ‘ZPM Dorset’. “It’s such a vibrant and beautiful county. To call it ZPM Dorset would be kind of cool.” Before I leave she proudly shows me one of her latest inventions, the Trolly Dolly, inspired by being a busy mum of three and having to juggle shopping, kids, bags and her conscience. As with all her creations it’s devilishly practical. It consists of a small pouch that hangs off the front of your trolly, and when you hit the checkout it contains 20 reusable bags for your shopping. It also ingeniously incorporates loads of useful pockets for your phone, store card, purse and a clear window for your shopping list, and a trolly token – so no more scrabbling around for pound coins. “I can’t pretend to be a manic greenie and I know how hard it is to do the right thing by the environment, but I think this practical design really is a step in the right direction, and feedback on the website has been phenomenal.”  Zoe’s creative mind and ideas are always looking ahead. “My next print will have more than a nod to the forthcoming Olympics. I’ll definitely be doing a sporty washbag, and I’m aiming to design a special edition Union Jack Trolly Dolly.” The perfect product for an Olympic-style supermarket trolly-dash to get you back home in time to watch your favourite event!

ZPM are giving all Dorset magazine readers 15% off its range. Visit or call 01747 838693, quoting ‘DORSET15’ when ordering    

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