So Cheryl Cole is the latest celebrity to design her own range. She has just launched a footwear collection for the new online shopping concept Stylistpick. Good for you Cheryl, why shouldn’t you, isn’t it every girls dream to be a designer and after all, lots of other celebrities have done it!
Except cynical (or some might say realistic) old me and many of my designer friends, know that in real life Cheryl, Vicki B, Kate Moss and even the Queen of Shops Mary Portas, aren’t really designers, are they.
When we watch the tv programmes, videos etc of them ‘putting together’ their ranges, somewhere in the background there is usually a pair of magic hands (with no visible body) sketching the styles, choosing the fabrics and making the celebrities ideas real. Because believe it or not, it isn’t actually that easy to put together a range of clothes, shoes or accessories for real women on the High Street.
What we are actually buying is a version of a celebrity’s own style; a cheaper, less extreme Roland Mouret, pared down Balenciaga, simplified Antonio Berardi, or indeed any other designer that a stylist may have chosen for the celebrity to adopt as their ‘signature style’. Which is all well and good if you want to look like someone off the telly! Personally we have no desire to look like a mini me and prefer to try and develop our own unique style, based on what suits our body shape and sense of ourselves.
Mary Portas was right when she stated on her new Queen of Frocks programme, that ‘no-one on the High Street was catering for the 40 plus woman’. We had high hopes for her collection and our first impressions were positive, she is passionate about creating a range for women like us and we liked some of the styles. That was until we saw the TV programme. Oh Mary, how disapointed we were when we saw you in that first meeting at HOF, you admitted you weren’t a designer and then proceeded to go down the same route as every other ‘celebrity’/tv personality – and made it all about you!
Mary has many many years experience in retail and surely must have observed how hard it is to design a commercial range. She must also know there are lots and lots of great designers out there with lots of experience, who are just itching to tackle this untapped market (me for one!) But did she draft them in to tap into their wealth of experience and get them to design her range – oh no, she proceeded to try to do it all herself – with a little bit of help from Antonio Berardi. It’s a little like me turning up at University College Hospital and saying ‘I’m a mother and I gave birth, let me be a midwife, oh and I’m getting Dr Hilary in to help me’!
Designers train for up to four years to learn their trade. They are taught how to draw clothes on a body and appreciate proportion and form, they learn how to pattern cut and model on a stand, taking into account how darts and seams can alter lines and flatter bodies. They learn about fabric, how it falls and what works in what style, and most of all, over the years they learn to appreciate the women they are designing for.
Give most designers a free reign to design their perfect collection and they will probably come up with something beautiful that suits their own personal sense of style. But ask a designer to create a commercial range that will sell on the high street and its a whole different ball (gown) game! The mark ups on high street clothing ranges are huge, meaning fabrics have to be low cost and low maintainance, details have to be kept to a minimum and styles have to be commercial. What every retailer wants from a designer is a ‘best seller’. Which was evident in Queen of Frocks, when the House of Fraser management team bombarded Mary with the huge profits they expect her range to make.
The other and probably most important thing a high street designer learns over time, is what the customer wants. A good designer will constantly push for new styles and high quality, but they will always respect the customer profile and design within those boundaries. It will never be about what they personally would wear – that simply doesn’t come into it – it’s about what makes the customer feel good and what they will want in the future. Here lies the difference between a ‘celebrity’ range and a range designed with a specific customer in mind. The celebrity range is all about ‘me’ and the focused, well designed high street range, is all about the customer.
We really want Mary’s range to succeed and hope it marks the start of the High Street targeting our age group as fashionable consumers who need specifically designed collections. Mary is clearly passionate about her customers receiving an excellent retail experience and outstanding customer service, but we are yet to be convinced by the range. Do us a favour Mary – employ a designer. As you so rightly said when your partner was trying to get you to put your face on your ad campaign ‘it’s not about a celebrity endorsement, it’s about women’.
PS. Who made Liz Jones a fashion expert? #justsayin