With its noble logo and timeless elegance, Kingsland has become the equestrian go-to brand for riders everywhere. We met up with owner and founder Lin Kingsrød to talk preppy style, horse business, and dressing up for the stables.
Text Susanne Madsen Photography Michael Lee / The Horse Rider’s Journal No. 11
When you meet the woman who has cornered the market on elegant, drool-worthy equestrian clothing and horse gear, the last thing you expect her to say is that she can’t quite wrap her head around people wearing new clothes to go riding. “At first I wasn’t sure if I should even make a jacket. Because my mum always said ‘If you’re going to the stables you should wear an old jacket.’ Today, people buy expensive new jackets to wear to the stable! Even now I find that strange,” Lin Kingsrød says, giggling.
Since establishing Kingsland Equestrian in 1999, Lin Kingsrød has created a full-blown phenomenon among the horsey crowd with her bold and sporty take on preppy chic. Head to any event on the equestrian circuit and you’ll see her regal yet playful KL insignia everywhere, adorning back pockets on breeches, fly veils, riding socks, jumpers, and the label’s signature bomber jackets with Kingsland spelled out in capital letters along the sleeve. “Before, no one really did riding-specific clothing. It was mostly competition wear. Now, the stable has become an arena for dressing up. I think it also makes you feel like you’re part of the equestrian ‘club’,” Kingsrød notes in her softly spoken English which retains her charming Norwegian singsong lilt.
Kingsrød has picked us up from a local airport in her native Norway, and we’re en route to her home southeast of Oslo, passing Kingsland HQ on the way. “My place can be hard to find and I didn’t want you guys to end up in Sweden by accident,” she smiles as the car winds its way down snow-covered country lanes. Nestled among gentle hills shrouded in a white winter blanket, the Kingsrød family home and its traditional Norwegian wooden stable buildings and indoor arena overlook a lake and acres of horse-friendly land. While one part of the stable is currently empty – Kingsrød’s husband, show jumper Dag Ove Kingsrød, is off competing – a string of ponies from size extra small and fluffy to large and shiny are keeping Kingsrød and her three children – Jonathan, 13, Maria, 11 and William, 4 – busy. Dressed in a beige knitted dress and black tights, Lin Kingsrød is serving sandwiches and yummy Norwegian ‘runninger’ pastries from a family recipe in her light and airy kitchen. There’s a New England vibe to the house, from the whitewashed porch to the wood-panelled interiors, plaid Ralph Lauren wallpaper and horse paraphernalia.
Home is where Kingsrød often sketches and works on ideas on quiet weekend mornings before the rest of the family get up. Weekdays are usually 8 to 5 at the office. “I don’t travel that much because of the children. And I’m not very good at taking vacations. I had two weeks off this summer and everyone was very surprised.” The Kingsland team are days away from presenting the autumn/winter 2014 collection at Spoga Horse, the mammoth biannual trade fair for equestrian sports in Cologne, Germany.
Before Kingsland became a team of 34 people – which include a dedicated production office in Hong Kong and a warehouse unit in Denmark – Kingsrød would be at Spoga all by herself or she’d be selling breeches out of the back of her horse trailer at the events she attended as a showjumper. “In the beginning I didn’t think this was something I could do for a living. I just wanted to make something, like the rain jockey breeches for wearing over your competition breeches. And then I made the show socks and down jackets. Nobody did that. Now everybody does them. But a lot of it was a gamble.” The idea for Kingsland came while Kingsrød and her husband were living in Germany at illustrious breeder and trainer Paul Schockemöhle’s yard. A friend of Kingsrød, Sølvi Ann Waldeland, was producing clothing in Hong Kong for various brands at the time and suggested to Kingsrød that she design some riding clothes. Kingsrød and Waldeland became Kingsland, and production began on breeches through Waldeland’s production company, eventually growing into an equestrian empire marrying timeless style and hardwearing performancewear.
Today, Kingsrød has bought into the production company and Waldeland has a 20 per cent stake in Kingsland as a silent partner. During those early days, Kingsrød and her husband approached some of their rider friends and gifted them with a few pieces to wear. “I knew John Whitaker because we were competing at shows and we also gave the best Norwegian riders some of the breeches and jackets. It got a little bit popular,” she says modestly, pouring tea while Ella the corgi snoozes under the table. “I remember I got this big order on the fax machine – this was back in the day of fax machines – from a shop that had ordered 400 pairs of breeches. I was like, weeee!” she recalls, hands in the air. “I think that was when my husband suddenly realised I might earn some money from this!” Kingsland still works with a string of top riders who get kitted out as ambassadors for the brand, among them Marcus Ehning, Geir Gulliksen, Carl Hester, Beat Mändli, and Morgan Barbançon Mestre. The latter also fronts the Kingsland Dressage collection. “A lot of them could pick and choose so it’s nice that they choose us.” It’s important for Kingsrød to use riders as models – and consequently role models – in the Kingsland lookbooks. “We usually also have one ‘normal’ model in the mix, but I often veto models. It has to be someone who looks like he or she can ride.” Before her Gucci endorsement, Kingsland also worked with showjumper Edwina Tops Alexander. “I told Edwina ‘It’s okay if you go to Gucci’,” Kingsrød laughs.
Lin Elisabeth Høgsås Kingsrød grew up in a small town outside Oslo in Norway and spent her childhood years at the local riding school. “My twin sister and I would borrow horses and help out in the stables. These days, you have to pay people to take care of your horse. Back then it was ‘oh, can I please take your horse?’” At the age of twelve, Kingsrød and her sister Cecilie got their first ponies and were soon hitting up the showjumping circuit. It was at an event in Denmark that Lin met her husband-to-be, but they didn’t start dating until years later. In 1998, they married in the snowy Norwegian mountains. Kingsrød is the perfect example of the hard-working, conscientious horse girl turned fearless entrepreneur. Many of her employees also come from a horsey background or used to work as grooms in the Kingsrød stable. “A couple of weeks ago there was this story in the newspaper about how horse girls make great leaders and team members. It’s so true. We work hard,” Kingsrød says. So when did she first feel like she’d made it? “When I saw people wearing my clothing. Not riders we’d given things to, but people who were actually paying for it,” she laughs, stressing those last three words. Aside from the Classic line and the Breeches Concept, Kingsland produce four annual collections and Kingsrød still designs the bulk of these alongside a design team. “They tell me when I can’t put certain fabrics together. After all, I didn’t go to school and learn this. I studied computers and political science.” As a child, she always liked clothes but was more into drawing and painting and making things. “At school, I got the best marks in arts. Everything always had to be 110 percent.” So is she still a bit of a perfectionist? “A little bit. I have to be completely happy with a design. It’s like with the horses: You have to feel like you did a good job yourself.” Until November last year, Kingsrød was out of the saddle for five years. During Christmas 2007, one of their horses kicked her in a freak accident and her husband found her lying lifeless in the box and called for help. After being brought to the hospital by air ambulance, doctors discovered her skull was broken and splinters had entered the brain membrane. “They later told me that if I’d been brought in 30 minutes later I wouldn’t have made it. I was in the hospital for almost three months.” After that, riding was off limits for at least a year. “But then I got pregnant. And with young children and Dag Ove being away riding and having so much work with Kingsland, it’s been hard to find time,” she says.
It seems almost ironic that the owner of Kingsland doesn’t have time to ride on a regular basis, but Kingsrød is happy hopping on for the occasional ride. “My spare time is spent with the children. And Maria has her ponies now so I don’t miss it because I still have it, you know?” The neighbour’s 15-year-old daughter rides at the Kingsrød place as well, and when we go outside to watch them tack up and jump on their ponies, it’s like a mini Kingsland campaign with KL puffer jackets and monogrammed wool rugs galore. A look inside the tack room – shelves of neatly folded stacks of navy and white saddle pads with the Kingsland crest “You sometimes see colours or styles where it seems like the brands aren’t really horse people,” Kingsrød says diplomatically on the topic of equestrian trends she’s not a fan of. She has changed into jeans, a metallic Kingsland jumper and a grey Kingsland coat with logo badges for our shoot outside. Kingsland have championed the logo and its accompanying patches from day one. What is so alluring about the preppy look? “It spells quality. Not just in the fabric, but also on a personal level. It’s about tradition and staying in power. I like people and things that look strong. A little bit elegant. Solid. Preppy looks nice on everyone,” she muses. “It looks warm, figuratively speaking.” Kingsland spring/summer 2014 stays true to the brand’s DNA. Lightweight down vests, polo t-shirts and fleece jackets are pared down in clean lines and bright colours for a luxe and comfortable take on go-faster sportswear. “I’m always about what’s comfortable. My daughter was counting my Converse the other day and I have 42 pairs!” And comfort is key for horse people. “Especially if you want to sell to men it has to be easy to grab. Our biggest seller remains Kingsland Basic where I use the stripe with navy, cream and burgundy. I don’t know if it’s because people like to keep things a little bit safer, but if safe is what’s selling then I want to take that market!” she says, with a big, earnest smile. “Sometimes I do feel like, how is it possible to do all this? But if you’re successful and you work because it makes you feel good, then inspiration will come. And worst case, I just go running for a bit to clear my head. My husband thinks I’m crazy for running when I’m tired. But it works.” The ever-growing sales figures also drive her. “I still get a little kick if I’m selling at a fair and we get all the figures. It’s that thing of knowing you’re selling something you made. And it’s so nice now to see how our wholesalers earn money and the shops earn money. A lot of people make a living off what we do.”
Kingsrød definitely isn’t afraid to be hands-on and wants everyone in the extended Kingsland network to feel “like family. A lot of our wholesalers have been growing up with us from day one. I hope it makes a difference. One of my wholesalers in Belgium and France has a daughter who is taking over his business. That’s so nice.” As one might guess, she hopes one of her own children might one day take over Kingsland and continue building the brand legacy. And with everything in the Kingsland universe being so beautifully orchestrated and styled, wouldn’t it be interesting to see what a Kingsland-designed shop would look like? “A flagship store? That would be good,” Kingsrød smiles. “That would be a dream.” •