The fine art of fashion retail or “we do that one in red”

My Lanvin suit today.

My Lanvin suit today.

Frock shopping is not a loved pastime: browsing is anathema. If I need something new to wear, I work out what it is and where to find it.

The “where” is important because I am a fan of the independent boutique where the art of a good sale is not lost on the assistant, more often than not, the owner.

In the summer of 1982 aged 19, new to London and with a series of smart Autumn weddings to attend I wanted a suit, something timeless, something elegant. I trawled Oxford Street, Regent Street, Chelsea, Notting Hill, all the places an aspiring young woman might go. With a month of fruitless searching behind me, the Summer Sales arrived.

Heart in mouth, I ventured to Bond Street. Here I found nothing but rails of fancy, frilly summer stuff, not what I had in mind at all. In Beale & Inman, a furiously expensive woman’s store I was hesitant to enter, a kindly over-smoked voice asked what I was looking for. It belonged to a well coiffed blonde sales assistant, a lady of a certain age.

“I need a suit for a few weddings in the Autumn … you don’t have it here. …”
“Describe it,” she said. “I might be able to help.”
“Classic cut, nipped in waist, narrow skirt, elegant.”
“Go and have a coffee and come back in half an hour; it’s in our Autumn collection in a warehouse round the corner.”

Sipping coffee nearby, I considered whether or not I should return; a temp on temping wages could never afford anything from Beale & Inman. With trepidation I returned and dear reader, she had it. The suit, by Lanvin. It fitted like a glove; everyone in the shop said I must have it yet at £450 there was no choice but to hand it back. Feeling slightly sick, I told my Sales Lady I simply couldn’t afford it.

She steered us to the back of the shop and quietly asked for the date of the first wedding. She also asked how much I was earning each week. Then she scribbled something onto a scrap of paper and gave it to me with a wink. For the next few weeks I worked a lot of overtime and every Friday, visited Beale & Inman with my next installment.

I still have the suit; it is a thing of light and silken wool, berry red with a fine black herringbone. The fit is nothing short of crafted beauty and were the shoulders not quite so Joan Collins, I’d wear it today. I think of my kind and pragmatic Smokey Lady often and was reminded of her many moons later, in another boutique, this time a little independent place just off Carnaby Street.

I was due to attend The Races with a new boyfriend and sought something swanky. Black suede steel-heeled Charles Jourdan shoes came from Bang Bang on Goodge Street but the day before Race Day I was still bereft of a dress, one which came loaded with politics and a very particular agenda.

Devoting the afternoon to pursuit of the frock, the clock ticked towards 5pm and I began to despair. Entering a sassy looking boutique just off Carnaby Street I explained the occasion to a helpful assistant who without missing a beat passed me a just-above-the-knee, silk, pale grey shift dress, well tailored, simple, sexy.

It fitted like a glove but still I wasn’t sure. Doubt etched across my face.

“There’s something you’re not telling me?” said my assistant.
“There’s a woman going … one who I happen to know is after my man.”

She smiled.

“We do that one in red.”

With another many moons gone by since then, last weekend I explained to the manager in Future Vintage why a new dress was much needed. She picked out for me a black lace Diane von Furstenberg shift. Looking in the mirror that exhilarating perfect glove moment returned … oh joy.

Thank you Ladies. Thank you for your patience, your collaboration, your wisdom, your expertise and your wit all of which combine to create a message for purveyors of fine fashion everywhere, for service excellence is where the future of retail (and my happiness), must lie.

© Giovanna Forte 2014

Three of my local London boutiques where service and honesty also prevail:
Start London
11 Boundary
Dress for Less

About fortewinks

A secretary at 19 and self employed at 26, Giovanna has become a British healthcare entrepreneur. She is also a bon vivant and mother of two clever and accomplished daughters. Youngest-of-All is a talented Patisserie Chef living and working in Melbourne Australia (if you are there, visit All Are Welcome in Northcote). FirstBorn is an Aromatherapy Practitioner (with distinction), a published author and documentary journalist who lives wherever her mood or investigations require. Happily she is currently in the UK.
This entry was posted in Family, Feminism, Life and romance, London, Shopping, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The fine art of fashion retail or “we do that one in red”

  1. Laura Quick says:

    You tell a great story. It’s nice to think you don’t have to be loaded to be treated well.


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