LevelInfo – GB – Wallis was once the most fashionable brand in Britain – now it’s a shadow of its former self


    It was the retailer who brought haute couture to the UK – but will it survive until Christmas?

    Wallis – the fashion brand founded by Raphael Nat Wallis in Chapel Market in Islington in 1923 – sold coats for 19 shillings and dresses for six shillings and continued the rest of the century with the catchy slogan: « Comparison invited competition defies »

    However, two decades into a new millennium, the competition has not only risen to the challenge, it has beaten a brand that was once loved by London society and working women for selling Parisian couture cheaply

    Arcadia by Sir Philip Green, who owns Wallis alongside other brands such as Topshop and Burton, is preparing to enter administration, putting hundreds of stores and more than 13 at risk000 jobs in the largest retail collapse to date in the pandemic

    Coverage so far has focused on the Topshop case – understandable as it owns a lot of properties in central London and is Arcadia’s main brand by 2020 standards.But Wallis has a long history in this country and it’s something poignant to watch the demise of a brand that was a staple of British fashion in the 20th century Century was

    To understand Wallis’ DNA and what it once represented to British women, we need to go back to the 1950s, when the label essentially stood for the opposite of what it does today: internationalism, glamor and high-end design In a business that sounds way too good to be true to be true by modern standards, but which was perfectly legal when it graduated in 1952, the brand became – under the direction of Jeffrey Wallis, the son of Raphael – known for selling haute couture clothes at standard prices

    Four times a year, Valais designers traveled to Paris by train and boat to attend shows by designers such as André Courrèges, Coco Chanel and Christian Dior. By paying a fee to attend these shows, buyers and designers were able to make a small contribution Reproduce number of samples from each collection – in practice, of course, many more have been recreated from memory in a far less regulated reflection of what we see in the catwalk-to-high street collections today

    The fitted tweed suits, the new look dresses that defined the decade, the cropped Audrey Hepburn trousers and the full Sophia Loren skirts of the Parisian fashion industry were now also available for women in London, Edinburgh and Dublin as Manchester, Newcastle and Briston, who soon gathered to buy Wallis pieces steeped in European glamor

    Initially they were known as the « Choice of Paris », but in the 1960s they were called « Paris Originals »Back then, Wallis designers claimed that it was impossible to tell the difference between a real Chanel skirt and a Wallis reproduction If this is really the case, then I’ll have to spend more time in vintage stores asking for return collections from the British brand

    Soon the collection of the Parisian Originals each season became an occasion – articles were published in the national press about what to expect and the store’s mannequins wore canvas covers in the lead-up to the big reveal, and London celebrities requested exclusive copies of Chanel Suits, though seldom got them – and soon they became an example of the sudden democratization we saw in fashion when the city’s thousands of working women wore the same clothes as the wives of wealthy politicians

    Or her lover Christine Keeler wore a different Wallis suit each day of the trial in 1963, which later became known as the Profumo Affair. This beautiful young woman’s adherence to the brand gave rise to a number of items across the collections and led to the fact that many of their suits sold out within a few hours – an early example of the power of working well with celebrities. It later emerged that the code name for Keeler in the corridors of power was Ms. Wallis

    At the time, the brand had hundreds of stores across the country and an impressively diverse customer base that included fashion-conscious young women in big cities and their suburban mothers in the late 1960s, the brand partnered with Yves Saint Laurent and released a beautifully tailored collection of safari suits and military coats

    That reputation allowed the brand to thrive for decades, even as their partnerships with the French brands collapsed in the second half of the century, Wallis lost much of its appeal but still remained a rival to M&S and a staple on the high street

    In 1997, when the Burton Group split and became Arcadia, it took over three more fashion brands: Wallis, Miss Selfridge and Outfit. At the time, Green was talking about making Wallis a business for women of all ages, as in The sixties, but under his leadership it did not grow – and in particular did not fail bleakly. Last year, only some of the 400 Valais branches were slated to close as part of Arcadia’s restructuring plans

    With its focus on Topshop (and temporarily Miss Selfridge), it’s clear that Green Wallis never paid the attention or cash flow it needed to reinvent itself.Yes, Arcadia has got into celebrity collaborations in the naughties invested between Wallis and models like Linda Evangelista and Helena Christensen – and launched a website before many other comparable brands – but I can see why it never got as popular as it did in the past

    Topshop and Miss Selfridge have lost their cool factor – but unlike brands that appeal to very young women, something like this isn’t that important to a store like Wallis but it needs to be known that it sells flattering, well-designed clothing that makes you feel good about and I’m not sure if it ever had that reputation among Green

    One problem I think is that the retailer has long been calling itself a brand for older women, but what does that even mean? In an interview with the Telegraph years ago, then Wallis General Manager Anne Secunda said that her clothes were mostly bought by women in their thirties and forties. She added: “It’s more about attitude than age women who shop here, may be older, but they are also bolder and more confident « 

    Maybe I deny, but I’m in my mid thirties and still consider myself reasonably young I don’t think women these days like to know that they are « older », as if the date on your passport is the biggest factor in your purchase Brands like Zara and Whistles and even M&S make clothing that flatters women of all ages, but they don’t even refer to it, let alone define it

    Nevertheless, I hope that the next few weeks will not be too rude for Wallis and that a buyer who is ready to recognize his potential will emerge from the chaos. Until then, I will spend some time trying to find a piece from one of the collections by Yves Saint Laurent for Wallis, which Great Britain fell in love with over 50 years ago

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    Topshop, Arcadia Group

    EbeneInfo – GB – Wallis was once the most fashionable brand in Great Britain – now it’s a shadow of its former self

    Source: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/fashion/brands/wallis-fashionable-brand-britain-now-shadow-former-self/

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