Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Style Crush: Indie Boutiques

Fashion boutiques are nothing new but these days it seems you can't walk down a high street without going past two Zara stores and three H & M's. So it's refreshing to know there are shops you can go to get gorgeous unique pieces that you won't see on everyone else.

Better still if the shopping trip simply means reaching for your computer mouse.

Online shopping is THE only way to shop in style just think no endless queues to contend with just a dazzling array gorgeous items, well laid out and once you've made your choice - without the annoying presence of a sales assistant crowding you - it's delivered to your door - every day might as well be Christmas:)

So I've peeked into my little black book and have come up with two of the chicest shopping destinations on the net and had a chat with the stylish ladies behind the boutiques.

The Look Boutique:

Nina Edwards started "The Look Boutique" with her sister, Chantelle, when they realised that there wasn't a forum for new designers to showcase their work and harness their talents outside of London's famous fashion markets Spitalfields and Portobello.

So these intrepid sister took the leap and now they're in charge of one of the hottest stores on the net. They've had their items featured in various magazines including Look, More, Red and Grazia but they admit it wasn't always easy.

Nina says they did "a lot of research and weren't afraid to ask for help". And how about actually attracting the talent? Well that sounds like the fun part. Nina smiles when she remembers that no stone was left unturned as they sought out designers wherever they could so they looked for talent by going to fashion colleges, and attending fashion shows.

So after the trawl what is the X - factor that makes them decide to stock a certain brand - Nina says the designer has got "to make them excited about their clothes". It's got to be "something they'd love to wear or that they can see fitting in on the site."

And what about the competition?

Nina takes a philosophical approach to dealing with big retail giants - Topshop, River Island etc - who are also trading online and competing for the same market.

"There's a piece for everyone as long as they're distinctive."

And if their customer feedback is anything to go by these fashionistas are heading straight for the top.

CoCo Career Boutique:

I caught up with Verena Paloma Jabs the owner of CoCo Career boutique to find out what makes this fashionista tick!

SB: What inspired you to start up Coco Career‘s Boutique?

PJ: I have always had a keen interest in and appreciation for aesthetics, having had the privilege of growing up in beautiful houses with incredibly stylish interior and furniture - I was surrounded by beautiful design and clothes. My mother‘s dressing room had hundreds of pairs of designer shoes and we were always traveling around the world!

I went to Boarding School in the South of England, I then studied Fine Art at Chelsea College Of Art in London and University Of The Arts, Berlin. I was constantly looking for unique designs to wear, the idea of a boutique as hybrid inter-disciplinary platform for fashion, music, art and design originated then. I like to think of Coco Career‘s Boutique as a gallery almost with curated pieces and shows.

After my graduation I worked for an online vintage boutique for a while, whose image I developed and realized. I also brought the idea of selling vintage in combination with new independent designers to the shop, after a year of hard work however, I felt it would be more rewarding to start my own online boutique. I wanted to pursue the idea of creating the image and concept I have had since being a student. Some of the designers I had found through my research working for the vintage boutique did not fit into the kitschy image I had created for that shop- I also needed a place to sell the playful take on band merchandise I had just designed for the band Robots In Disguise - two post-feminist electro punkettes from London- if you are not familiar with their amazing tunes you might have come across them in their guest appearances in the The Mighty Boosh!

Coco Career‘s Boutique was born! I started with a few designers, Nisha Thirkell‘s stunning Lolapeachy and Violet Manners jewellery ranges, Luxembourg-based designers Belle Sauvage‘s clubscene inspired printed tops and artist/ designer Rosalind Davis‘ delicate accessories creations you may have seen on Patrick Wolf.
A short while later I offered Dutch designer‘s Maaike Mekking‘s critically acclaimed first collection 'She‘s lost control‘ and Rome-based Jessica Harris‘ 'Retro Kitchen‘, shortly after we added 'I‘d Rather Die A Maid‘ by Los Angeles-based Sarah Brannon‘s brand Chelsea Rebelle.

SB:How are your items different from what's on the high street?

PJ: I consider the value of our items to be in their originality. Most of our designer items are hand-made, in some cases it is possible to commission custom-made clothes. I am careful to insure the fabrics are of superior quality and that the clothes are equally well tailored- a lot of research and care is going into all the designers creations.

If you purchase a garment from the high street you might be able to get ta designer look by-proxy for high street prices, but you will always find other people wearing the same clothes and there seems to be a notion of a careless throwaway culture- often the clothes are of inferior quality and look dated quickly. I tend to think you treasure designer pieces more and you can wear them longer. I consider some of the pieces we have in Coco Career‘s Boutique as wearable art rather than just fashion.

Obviously there is an ethical component involved as well, you might pay more but you can be sure there is no sweatshop labour involved!

SB: What do you look for in designers you take on?

PJ:I look for interesting designers who convince with their fresh ideas and innovative take on fashion- Belle Sauvage for instance are a great example of a vivid design project, whose striking prints are exciting and daring in their bold colours printed on sexy silhouetted garments, a mixture of urban wear and sophistication, hence the name of their new collection, 'Street Gallery'!

I like to represent designers who are not yet considered established but not too unknown either- it is very exciting to see each designer grow and evolve in their creations with each new collection, and participate in their experience of being discovered by press and other buyers. It almost makes you feel as if you discovered a new talent. It‘s great!

SB: As an online shop do you think you're at an advantage or disadvantage when it comes to competing with the high street?

PJ: There are so many different aspects in terms of competition - with regards to quality and style I think independent designers offer a great alternative to brands such as All Saints, Fornarina or Miss Sixty in a similar price-range, if you choose to wear something more unique. Small designers are big trendsetters for high street stores, which a lot of the times are "inspired“ by their creations, often to the extend that many young designers who want to start up their own lines are frustratingly being copied by some high street brands.

Obviously these companies have a lot of capital for production and advertising and hence a hugh amount of exposure and visibility- I don‘t think a small boutique can expect to compete with the high street. I believe independent designers and smaller boutiques such as Coco Career inspire the high street shops!

This does not mean I think high street stores are bad, ASOS offer trendy clothes for a budget but at the same time they give independent designers and stylists the opportunity for collaboration and to sell on their site. Another example would be Topshop who every year give up- and coming talents the opportunity and financial backing to stage their first catwalk shows, or take H&M who collaborate with designers- another collaborative project which comes to mind is PPQ‘s recent work for Ben Sherman, all these are great examples which evoke a sense of the notion that talented designers are invited to collaborate with big companies rather than being copied.

I don‘t believe I am at competition with these stores however, I believe in making a difference for a small niche market of people who would like to wear something a little more edgy and fun and who support independent fashion.

In terms of competing with boutiques which have physical spaces I think the disadvantage of an online store is that you have fewer impulse buyers as people are not able to touch fabrics and try on garments as they see them, on the other hand internet traffic allows me not having to rely on foot traffic! We are open 24/7! Coco career‘s customers are from all over the world, the internet gives as the opportunity to be accessible to many more people than if we only had one „real“ physical store.

SB: What do you think makes you stand out compared to other online shops e.g. ASOS?

PJ: ASOS is a cool site, they have many brilliant people working within the company and I frequently visit their web-store- it is interesting to see how they have grown from a small online merchant to such a big store with many brands- I find their mainstream celebrity-focused marketing a little irritating though!

I am not that interested in having a huge range of goods available like ASOS, I want to be seen as a curator of fashion, not a buyer. I would like to support design talents rather than making a huge amount of sales. The Boutique acts as a cross-promotional vessel of sorts, increasing the value of the distinct designer brand as well as the Boutique's own image.

We are working currently on expanding our art and book section. A myspace, facebook and yahoo-group has been set up for people with similar interests to exchange ideas, communicate through blogs.

I want to inspire people with the designers and our fashion photography we have on the site, they should be stylized shoots rather than only product pictures. It‘s eyecandy!

I would like Coco Career to remain a small unique boutique offering carefully selected designers and artists.

SB: If you weren't doing this job what other line of work would appeal to you?

PJ: Aside from Coco Career I also work as a Fine Artist, I make animations, photography, installation art- I have recently directed my first music video for Berlin based band IAMX (Solo-project of Sneaker Pimps frontman Chris Corner) and I am now working on two exhibitions for 2009, in 38 Vicolo Leopardo, Rome and Rosie Wolfenden‘s and Harriet Vine‘s brilliant Tatty Divine Boutique and Gallery in London.
If I had to choose a non-artistic job I would probably be working in scientific research! I have always been interested in micro-biology and genetic engineering, I draw a lot of inspiration for my artwork from science.

SB: Who's your favourite designer?

PJ: Oh there are so many!

It is really difficult to say, I don‘t want to single out one designer. Yves Saint Laurent was an incredible liberator of fashion obviously and his legacy lives on in so many designers‘ work. I love Karl Lagerfeld for the way in which he constantly re-invents the House of Chanel, he is a real artist!

I also really like Viktor and Rolf, their exhibition at the Barbican in London was overwhelming- their conceptually-based practice and presentation of each collection is thought provoking and amazing on so many different levels! I am a victim of their Flowerbomb perfume! The perfume also originated as a fine art concept when V&R were still dreaming of being designers, the perfume being presented in a wax-sealed flacon, which could not be opened and hence never be experienced, an intangible promise of a scent never to be experienced.

I love Sarah Brannon‘s creations, the designer behind Chelsea Rebelle- she is and incredibly talented designer- her attention to detail, aesthetics, influences... I found her through a fashion blog while I was in Los Angeles last autumn and contacted her immediately to see if she was interested in showing her line on

Of course I also love all the other coco designers! I had to have every outfit of the Jessica Harris Autumn/Winter 08 ('Galactic Ballet') collection for myself! My newest addition is Montreal-based designer Valerie Dumaine, her elegant creations are so refined, they give a sense of the past whilst being very contemporary at the same time.

I absolutely adore Marni, you may come across me dressed from head to toe in their beautiful clothes, the display in their shops are real artistic tableaus, so eyecatching and stylish! I want to live there!

For shoes I love YSL and Pierre Hardy, and I absolutely adore Jerome C. Rousseau! Jerome has just launched his own L.A.-based brand and has received huge critical acclaim for his first collection- an amazing new discovery you have got to watch out for!

SB: What do you think keeps people shopping at coco career?

PJ: I think it is the selection of designers whose work is distinctly different yet compliments each other- I have many returning customers who buy garments for every season from a specific designer and many customers who will mix and match pieces by different designers.

Adding new exciting designers and products is important to keep people interested, there has to be 'a new exhibition‘ frequently so people remember you.

It makes me happy to get so much positive feedback from customers who compliment us on our friendly service and ideas behind Coco Career‘s Boutique!

SB: And for the next two weeks Style Bazaar readers can get a discount on everything at Coco Career y simply entering the code STYLEBAZAARBLOG while checking out.

Thanks Verena!

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