Saturday, 2 April 2011

What’s on the box?

As I’ve been doing a lot of sewing this week, I’ve been (half) watching a lot of catchup TV on the laptop while locked away in my sewing room. Being all on my own gives me the chance to indulge in some guilty pleasures and avoid sarky comments from ‘him indoors’. So it was that I came to watch ‘From Riches to Rags’ – the fly-on-the-wall about Lily Allen’s move from popstar to vintage clothes seller.

I should start by admitting I know very little about Lily Allen. I quite liked that song of hers that was successful recently – something about “have lots of money, lalalalala, something…funny” I think it won some awards (god, I sound like my Mum). Anyway, she was mostly a non-entity in my mind until now. The first I knew of her career move was when she got involved with the publicity for Vintage at Goodwood, actually a non-starter as it happened, but I can’t say it raised more than a flicker of interest with me.

I did hear through friends of mine involved in the buying and selling of vintage clothes the she’d succeeded in pissing off half the industry by rocking up to auctions and splashing thousands on all the good stuff. Living is easy with millions in the bank it seems. Still, I was interested to see what had actually (according to the programme editor) happened with her business and to look at some top-class vintage dresses.

The programme was a three parter and while the first episode left me wondering how clueless two young women could really be about business and basic finances, not to mention the vintage clothes industry, by the end I was actually impressed (particularly by Lily’s older sister, Sarah) with what they’d achieved. I imagine that most of this is good editing (we were taken on a ‘journey’) and I know that they didn’t do it alone, but I really warmed to both of the girls as their shop took shape.

I took some issue with their idea that they’d found vintage dresses that were really worth £100s on the open market. One Ossie Clark dress was going to be sold for around £250. When one of the girls in a focus group said that she’d be able to find one on eBay for half that, Lily and her sister screamed that it wouldn’t be possible. Now, granted, it might have been really special, I don’t pretend to know anything about 70s fashion, but the girl had a point. Ossie Clark dresses, in my experience, can often be found for around the £100 mark. In addition, unbranded 70s maxi dresses seem to be a ubiquitous item in all vintage shops for far, far less. I’m wondering who this girl is that is desperate to wear original Ossie Clark but not desperate enough to search charity shop rails till she finds one for £80? This pattern was repeated with other items. Items which were sat in a small office with 3 women smoking like chimneys next to them every day. I cringe to think what they’ll smell like once they reach the shop.

Perhaps real 70s fans would have agreed that £250 was fair, but her demographic seemed to be Topshop regulars and they were far from impressed. I guess that ‘true’ vintage fans would keep looking for reasonably priced outfits elsewhere, and that the only girls going there would be fashionistas looking for one or two items of vintage Chanel and Dior to add to a label filled wardrobe. They’d probably be happy to pay the price to avoid having to spend weeks looking through rails of stuff in other shops I suppose.

Now none of this is really a bad thing. If someone wants to splash £250 on a dress they could find for £80 elsewhere, that’s their business, but I felt it rather flew in the face of Lily’s original vision, which was affordable vintage fashion for all. She kept saying that she didn’t want people to feel excluded, by sizes (she pointed out that she herself has been a range of sizes over the years) or by price, but the white, bright and airy boutique full of pricey evening wear she ended up with seemed pretty exclusive to me. What they created was indeed a ‘destination’ shop, it looks beautiful, features a salon and champagne and hundreds of beautiful clothes. If I was passing by, I’d probably stop in, but I can’t see it competing on the vintage market.

I feel as though I’ve been more negative than I meant to be and what I really wanted to say was that I’ve ended up being something of a fan of Lily Allen. She’s obviously lost touch with reality, having been a massive star for so long, but she’s aware of this and is trying to get out of the limelight and behind a till, which is admirable in itself. I wish them every success and who knows, maybe I’ll even shop there one day?

Lucy in Disguise
10 Kings Street
Covent Garden


  1. I was under the impression from the gossip mags that the store had already closed but obviously not.
    I watched the first episdoe and lost interest I'm afraid. My one remaining horror was all those lovely vintage dresses hanging in a cramped office with those two chain smoking all day long! *shudder*

  2. How funny, I was watching the same thing last week as I was sewing. What are/were you working on? Maybe we even made the same item or something similar ;-) I haven't got a TV (very vintage of me huh?) so I depend on catch up TV online every now and then. I found the series good enough to watch while doing something else and it changed my mind on Lilly Allen. I never thought very much of her apart from being a loud brat slagging everyone else off in the music industry but I did like the fact that she admitted to having lost touch with "the real world" and wanted to get back to basics fulfilling her and her sister's dream of running their own vintage clothing business. I don't know but has the shop been a success so far? I did read about it in a magazine a while back, now watched the documentary but haven't heard anything else about it. I would definitely go check it out if I'm in the neighbourhood and remember but I couldn't see myself spending the kind of money they are asking for. I think the vision Lilly and her sister had at the beginning of the "journey" turned out a much more high end business in the end.

  3. I saw a bit of the first episode, and a bit of the last one, so not really of huge interest to me I guess but I don't often watch 'normal' tv regularly.

    I think that she came across as being rather likeable, and I think that I would visit it if I was in the area, just to have a nose. I think the same though, it's not a store for hard core vintage enthusiasts, more for those that do high street then get the odd vintage piece to accessorise or for a special occasion. I heard that they are looking for new premises, and my immediate thought was that the rent where they are is too expensive as they have only managed to break even so far. What are the odds they end in in Camden...? xx

  4. I agree with you- 'what I'd love it to be worth' and 'what people pay' are 2 different things. Mind you, there's the convenience element too: it's all fun browsing with half an eye out for an original for under £100... but what if you NEED one by a certain date (wedding, prom, ball...) and have the pennies in the bank? That's where more costly but selected vintage finds its niche.