Archive for the 'What I’m buying' Category

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Milan: green shoots of a style recovery?

Just back from the second part of my buying trip for the Autumn/Winter season.  There are some very interesting developments among the fashion houses that I find really encouraging.

The big story for us is that a number of the smaller companies, from whom we have traditionally bought, but who had recently gone chasing the more glitzy style required in the emerging markets, have realised that they are losing their more tasteful clients and have started to change tack again.

They are now promoting the hand-finished craft nature of Italian production as a distinctive advantage over those ‘Italian’ brands which do very little of their production in Italy.  And they have started to bring in a new generation of designers who can add a younger direction, but under the watchful eye of the artisans.

Among the better (and usually smaller) companies, styles are becoming simpler.  Comfort Chic is back in a big way – a no frills approach to luxury which focuses on beautiful cuts in beautiful fabrics which are truly designed and made in Italy. One company has even started to insert a little computer chip into the label of its clothes as a kind of proof of Italian manufacture (more on that soon).

This is all excellent news – these companies were never glitzy enough for the emerging markets, and were falling between the two stools of style and bling. Now they appear to be stepping back to what they do best and starting to fill the gap they had left in tasteful clothing.

In particular, there is some incredible knitwear coming from Lorena Antoniazzi and Cividini (and I mentioned Malo in my post after my first trip). Their use of luxury yarns enable really pretty colours and figure-flattering cut.

There’s still very little quality tailoring around for women, however – and once again Sfera, which has been flying out of the shop again this season, will be the backbone of our collection next season. There are lots of long sleeved dresses, cut to fit the figure whether it’s size 8 or 18 in beautiful stretch jersey fabrics.  Fabrics continue be slightly thicker with more texture.

The predominant colour is a soft-grape, almost amethyst, which looks gorgeous on all skin colourings.

We expect trouser suits to make a bit of a revival in popularity. Although they are slightly more masculine in style than skirt suits, they are done in a very feminine way – more fitted and with interesting lapel detail, for example.

There are lots of boots around for next season and heels have got much lower – which is good news for those of us who prefer to walk rather than teeter.  Colour-wise, there’s a fabulous anthracite grey to go with the greys, browns and amethyst/grapey colours of the clothes.


Oohs, aahs (and a little ‘eh?’) from Milan

Just back from the first part of my buying trip to Milan for the coming Autumn/Winter season.

Colours are super-sophisticated – greys with hints of amethyst. I’m really pleased that there are more of the new kinds of jersey fabrics which came in this year and which have been flying out of the shop.

Shapes are sophisticated too.  Beautifully cut; still structured, but oozing tactile luxury.

I haven’t seen the prototypes for our Sfera range yet, that will happen on my next trip in a couple of weeks.  But there have been lots of Italian ‘ooh’s and ‘aah’s coming from our factory.

A couple of designer highlights: Malo has a new designer who we’ve worked with before and their knitwear is really promising again after a few disappointing seasons.  One of our recent finds, Santoni shoes, are gorgeous – many with the new shaped wedge heel so we can walk comfortably again but still look great.

Bizarrely (but happily for us, I guess), while everyone is talking about the kind of glamourous and edgy tailoring with which we’ve been successful, there is still very little evidence of it becoming more prevalent in the showrooms – you really have to search it out.  Which means we need to both heavily edit the collections and continue to build our Sfera collection.

I’ve even started to find that other buyers I meet are commenting on the clothes I’m wearing and asking where they can buy them.  So it’s probably not surprising that while fashion magazine editors are all talking about tailoring in their leader articles, it’s hard to find any examples pictured on their other pages.  

Rest assured you will continue to find them on Confidence Tricks and on the Wardrobe website.


What has happened to Italian fashion and why I started Sfera – part 3

This is the third in a three part post on why I started Sfera. 
Read part 1 here
Read part 2 here

The pictures in this final part are from the Sfera Spring-Summer collection; and you can see a wider selection in the Sfera section of the new season Wardrobe website which went live yesterday.

Why has Sfera been successful? 

Sfera is the product of all the experience I’ve gained over 36 years of what women in our market want.  In my experience, women want to look as sexy as possible, but in a stylish way – not in an ostentatious way.

They want to stand out and look successful, but they want to do it elegantly.


That’s what our “edgily classic” approach tries to do.  We create many new jacket and dress shapes each season – all made by craftspeople with the highest quality fabrics, beautiful lining and top-quality buttons in what I believe to be one of Italy’s best factories.

It’s only available at Wardrobe, it’s designed with our customers in mind, and we only make a few pieces of each garment, so they’re properly exclusive.  As there is no publicity cost, all of the money spent on them is in the clothes.


An equally good question is why, if there’s such a big gap in the supply side of the market, has Sfera not been more successful and not sold elsewhere.  Possibly it will be in the future – if we can figure out a distribution model that allows us to keep our important values in place.

At times it feels like we’re rowing against the industry tide; but our boat is increasingly full of people who want to go in our direction.  So for the moment Douglas and I are happy focusing on developing a collection which delivers what Wardrobe customers tell me and my stylists they want.



What has happened to Italian fashion and why I started Sfera – part 2

This is the second of a three part series.  Read part one here.

How Italian tailoring for women lost its direction

Most of the companies doing our sort of tailoring started in menswear – Brioni, Kiton, Belvest, Luciano Barbera to name a few.

Getting into tailoring for women was an obvious move, but they’ve found it much harder to make for women because we want different styles every season, whereas men’s styles change more gradually.

And as the tailoring houses were making this move, many of the most well-known Italian brands were being taken over by a small number of large, highly commercial companies who have targeted the emerging economies of Eastern Europe and the Far East. Tailoring was too hard to sell into these new markets, where customers wanted their purchase to show the price tag, preferably ‘on the outside’.  This meant inevitably that much more had to be spent on marketing and publicity and much less on fabric, design and craftsmanship.  Brand marketing was squeezing quality out of the press and out of the market.

We found that each season, our traditional suppliers were offering fewer and fewer styles and fewer and fewer fabrics.  It got the point where one of our important suppliers offered us only one new style for women’s jackets.  I asked them ‘why so few?’ and they told me I was the only buyer asking for more.  This was scary for a buyer who knows that our customers want new designs.

The quality of fabrics was also becoming a problem.  I wanted innovation and femininity, but they were not available. What was on offer were mainly masculine varieties which could be adapted from their men’s collections (and everything was in dark colours because that’s what men wear). I did want pinstripes, but I wanted feminine ones. So I had no alternative but to find the fabrics and move into design.  This was something I had never dreamed I would need to do.

I was well aware that this could not be done without a designer because we were not trying to create a Wardrobe own label, but a label which could potentially be sold globally at some point – and so I teamed up with Douglas who shared my vision and Sfera was born.

The truth about Italian fashion is that it has lost direction and is somewhat constipated at the moment.  In response to economic difficulties, the first thing they’ve cut back on is their designers.  They’re still running glitzy fashion shows for the press as they need the coverage, often relying on the archives of previous designers.

Having been around the industry for 36 years and seen many changes, what is happening now is the most scary because so much more of the effort goes into the marketing and so much less seems to go into the merchandise. As a result the choice available is becoming increasingly limited – and with few exceptions (a notable one to look out for is Mantu) –  it doesn’t look likely to improve for several seasons until more new talent emerges.

Next time: why Sfera has been successful


What has happened to Italian fashion and why I started Sfera – part 1

In the past few weeks I’ve had a lot of people ask me about Sfera and how it came about.  As its story is linked to my search for clothes that help women create their own confident style, I thought it might make helpful (and maybe even interesting) reading on Confidence Tricks.

Some background: Sfera is a collaboration between myself and Douglas Anderson – a fabulously talented Milan-based designer formerly of Isaia, Dior and Rena Lange among others.  It’s a collection which we put together each season to exemplify what Wardrobe is all about – we call it edgily classic.

    Sfera1    Sfera2

In the eight seasons since we started, it has become our top-selling brand – and we’ve been surprised at how many people are telling us that there is nothing like it elsewhere.

Why did we launch Sfera?

The short answer is that it was the only way to ensure the supply of the clothes that I knew my customers wanted to wear – beautifully tailored clothes that were not boring, but were innovative, feminine and sexily cut.

    Sfera4    Sfera3

Tailoring, as you’ll know, has made a comeback in the press in recent months not just as office wear but as a fashion statement. In an age of bling and devalued fashion brands, many women have realised that the only way to look elegant and glamorous is to minimise and simplify with beautiful cuts and high quality fabrics which cannot be replicated in the high street (nor, frankly, by the big top-end brands for whom publicity forms such a high proportion of the input cost that they end up needing to use cheaper fabrics).

But the companies using top quality fabrics are making very classic (and, frankly, generally boring) clothes. Our customers want tailoring, but they don’t want it to be boring.

What we’ve done is to take these top quality fabrics and make them into something that younger women want to wear as well.

Next time: how femininity and innovation have been squeezed out of Italian fashion


Previewing winter in Milan

Hot-footing around Milan looking at what we’re going to be wearing for next summer, it’s always crucial to see what is on show for this coming winter.  So I’ve decided to interrupt the capsule wardrobe series with this little preview.

One thing stands out: fabrics for Autumn/Winter are denser because in general the styling is more tailored and structured – it needs the weight of the fabric to make it work.

Structured, tailored styling needs the heavier fabrics used this season

Although the look can sometimes be chunkier, the actual composition of the fabrics and the way they’re used will still be very comfortable and a well put-together look will be stunning. 

However, this season more than ever, the proportions need to be carefully thought-out because otherwise you may find yourself with purchases which are not particularly versatile. There were some heavier fabrics around last winter (at Wardrobe, for example, we anticipated this year’s fashions to ensure continuity for customers using the capsule wardrobe approach). But if you’re not used to planning your wardrobe, be sure to pay particular attention to what’s in there now (and seek advice from shop stylists).

The really good news is that this is a season for everybody. Styles have become much more sophisticated, more elegant, more modernly classic, so women of all ages, shapes and sizes will be able to look up-to-date and fashionable.

Typical fabrics next season are stretch flannel jersey, tweeds and textured wools, such as black and white dog-tooth checks.  Look out for interesting detailing like seaming and beautiful buttons.

                    Stretch jersey is a popular fabric this season    Interesting seaming

                    Dogtooth pattern jacket    Beautiful buttons

There are lots of dresses and skirt suits – and, of course, the jacket is the most important item if you’re not wearing a dress.

        There are some really stylish dresses available this season    Skirt suits are going to be very popular this season

Boots are very important this winter and the ones in stretch leather and stretch suede, although expensive, are really worth the outlay particularly if you have less than thin calves.  Many have some interesting detailing, a thicker sole, and a spat design including buckles.

Shoes have a heavier feel to them and are not dainty this season. With clothes fabrics being heavier, soles need to be thicker to balance the look. Consequently the heel of the shoe is important as a very thin heel is going to look out of place except for evening wear.

         boot    shoe

To accessorise, look for good belts with good buckles (I know they’re hard to find, but we’ve found them); a small clutch bag to carry with a bigger work bag.  Important jewellery is ear rings, gold or silver bangle, important rings and a larger sized watch (but not too big or it will look cheap).  Large necklaces, for example, could be a bit overpowering with the shoulder and collar detailing on this season’s clothes; however with a skirt suit with a plain white shirt underneath a chunky necklace can still look good.

The best advice for this season is to seek out a professional who is knowledgeable.  Get it right and the look will be unbelievably beautiful; get it wrong and…


(ps: the photos above (apart from the footwear) are all from Wardrobe’s new website which will be live with the Autumn/Winter collection very soon at


More from Milan

Back from Milan and I’m more than a little excited about next winter’s collections.

Next winter will be all about shapes.  Among the best designers, the cuts are really interesting – slightly exaggerated, with a lot of shoulder, sleeve and pocket detailing.

I’ve included a few pictures we took to give you a flavour.

Detailing       Detailing2

And there’s a new take on fabrics – more modern and slightly heavier. Plain wool gabardine is largely absent; instead you’ll see stretch jerseys and stretch flannels.

4        5

Colours are interesting too: earth, terracotta, paprika, curry, sage, olive, walnut and, of course black.

2     3

There’s a definite 80s spirit, but with the emphasis on BuonGusto – it’s more refined, not at all flashy.

With good fabrics and good manufacturing, next winter’s collections will look breathtaking.  Bordering on couture, but completely wearable.

Here’s the catch: you’ll be able to tell the difference if it’s done cheaply  – the new look will look extreme if it isn’t done right; and a good tailor on the shop’s premises is vital to ensure it fits you perfectly.

This means that it will be even more important than usual to interpret what the fashion press tells you. The cut and the cloth are what makes clothes expensive and these are both integral to next season’s style.

The difference in fit between the mass produced brands (even at the top end) most heavily featured in the press and the best hand-finished clothes will be particularly noticeable bearing in mind that we are not all size 10.

More than ever, less is more will be the way to go.  You’ll be looking at one or two good pieces that can be used in lots of different ways.  More on that in another post.


Buon Gusto

I’m in Milan – buying for next Winter.

The word on the Italian fashion industry’s lips this season is: Buon Gusto.  It’s the idea that is driving thinking among the best Italian designers; and, while it’s already starting to come through this Spring/Summer season, going forward it’s going to really dominate the fashion world.

Literally, Buon Gusto means good taste.  It’s about not being flashy, not about labels or logos.  It’s about beautiful fabrics and “appreciative glances from men and other women”.

This Winter season is going to be a good one – I’m particularly excited about the shapes – there’s a real sense of drama, a definite 80s spirit but a more refined, more architectural look. 

More to follow on this when I get back.