As a couturier for more than 40 years, I’ve become used to the same requests. Women want to dress their figures to accentuate their best bits while minimising their worst, to look elegant, feminine and not, under any circumstances, like mutton dressed as lamb.
On New Year’s Eve — our calendar’s glitziest, most bedazzling, show-stopping night — never has this been more true.
However, quality and a flattering fit are by no means the sole preserve of high-end fashion designers such as myself who’ve made a living out of knowing our silk gazar from our silk cloqué. I’m pleased to report the High Street is a rich seam of bargains that won’t forfeit taste, cut or your economic stability.
John Lewis is a marvel, as are Hobbs and Karen Millen for wonderful silhouettes and decent fabrics. Often, I spot dresses with price tags under £100 and am stunned at what they’ve achieved.
Zara is the master of window design and presents its collections better than many high fashion labels — on a level with Chanel. I’ve always said I’m not a great lover of fashion, I’m a lover of clothes. I appreciate great style and timeless tailoring; classic shapes that flatter and make women look and feel the best they possibly can.
You don’t have to spend a fortune to wear something that’s been carefully tailored; you just have to know where to look.
As a young boy growing up in Hett, a rural village in County Durham, the nearest High Street was in Sunderland or Durham City. My foster mother — I never met either of my parents — was a dressmaker and we were so poor we’d have to make our own clothes or buy them from the market. I remember pressing my nose up against the shop windows of glossy stores and giggling at the absurd wigs on mannequins. It was like looking into another world.
The true wonder of the High Street only became clear when I arrived in London as a wide-eyed 20-something and enrolled at St Martins School of Art and Design. Then, I’d trail the King’s Road, admiring the quality at Biba, Lee Bender’s Bus Stop boutiques and Wallis, the latter of which would send designers to Paris to buy patterns from the couturiers to reproduce for the masses.
Now formal eveningwear is even cheaper and collections appear in shop windows faster than the seasons change.
The High Street has become a far more welcoming place for mature women, too. Designers have woken up to the importance of sleeves, graceful hem-lengths and necklines that flatter rather than flaunt, but still look lively.
Designer collaborations have further democratised fashion. Over three years I’ve produced six collections for John Lewis. Working for the masses has been a steep learning curve and taught me to limit my use of velvet!
To celebrate the best New Year’s evening outfits the High Street has to offer I’ve picked ten of my favourites, each of which will carry you to far beyond December 31 and, hopefully, become a wardrobe staple. Viva the British High Street!