Whether it is New York, London, Milan or Paris, every Fashion Week has its own character but ask any industry insider which is the most important, the answer will be “Paris”. Coming at the end of the cycle of shows and presentations, Paris is where the store buyers make their decisions. That is why the British Fashion Council’s London Show Rooms is so valuable to the 20 or so participating designers. For the duration of Paris Fashion Week, they present their collections to buyers from all over the world, talking through their concepts and hoping they attract orders from some of the greatest stores and boutiques around the world.
When I dropped in last Saturday it was a hub of activity and the designers were reporting strong interest, especially from US and Asian buyers. This is not surprising given the sheer impact these clothes and accessories make when you come face-to-face with them. It underlined for me the importance of omni-channel selling for these goods: it is great to send high quality images to buyers but this will never convey the workmanship, beauty and artistry that these clothes transmit.
Faustine Steinmetz recycles denim. This sounds unexciting until you see what she does with it. A pleated halterneck caresses the body’s curves; pleated and treated denim is made into a capacious “hammock”-style shoulder bag; a simple white t-shirt is sprinkled with hand-embroidered flowers; an extraordinary ivy-wreath writhes down one side of a jacket. The ivy-wreath took a month to “grow” leaf by leaf, thread by thread, woven and embroidered around wire. It may not have the formal appellation of Haute Couture but these are couture skills on show.
Mary Benson has produced one of the prettiest collections that hides a dark secret, inspired by the break-up of a relationship. Pink and mauve hearts literally flutter, attached to a red jacket; dresses and jackets bear shimmering vinyl manuscript detailing heartbreak; a layered tulle skirt reveals roses at its base. These are the kind of clothes that could create frenzied scenes amongst a “Lolita” fashion crowd but they are also absolutely attuned to current trends for romantic, Victorian-inspired gowns.
Before my visit I’d read reports of Molly Goddard’s show. Instead of striding down a catwalk, the models made sandwiches. It is certainly one way of conveying the source of inspiration: nostalgia for childhood clothes and comforts. My eye was immediately drawn to a smocked tartan dress that took me straight back to a childhood Christmas. It is a brilliant concept: artistic, nostalgic, instantly appealing to customers and very commercial. And I have to get that dress….
Seeing Marta Jakubowski’s collection in pictures conveys its minimalist lines but does not suggest any of the beauty of its draping. Her theme was “connection” and the clothes all feature splits and draping that play on this theme. It had Hollywood glamour, East Coast languor, New York edge and if I were a States-sider, I’d be stocking my entire wardrobe with it.
As if this were not enough, there are accessories: Fleet Ilya’s highly eye-catching leather bags and belts and Piers Atkinson’s exuberant headgear. I’m an unashamed hat addict and could hardly drag myself away but what I loved about this label was the emphasis on fun. This really is how to encourage more people to wear hats. Whether you want a seriously seductive cat-eared lace veil for a masked ball, or a My Little Pony headpiece for a girls’ night, these hats are all conversation-starters.
Experiencing all these pieces in glorious 3D, touching them, hearing their designers talk so passionately about the care spent in crafting them leaves an indelible memory. The London Show Rooms provide an exceptional opportunity for buyers as much as designers: closer and more personal than a catwalk, couture-like techniques on show, direct dialogue with designers and a single source of wide-ranging talents and design maturities.
If there are any buyers that haven’t discovered the London Show Rooms yet, they are doing grave disservice to their customers. Get down to Le Loft immediately.