Briony Pollard debates what Edinburgh has to offer the fashion conscious and anticipates the Edinburgh Charity Fashion Show
Edinburgh, for all its merits, cannot be considered a self-consciously fashion forward city, certainly not in comparison to the other major fashion capitals of the UK, Leeds, Manchester and Brighton. These cities are noted for their stores lined with prêt-a-porter (ready to wear) collections and hoards of attention-grabbing and diversely dressed inhabitants, eager to sport the latest trend. And Edinburgh, well, is not. It is a city of old money and a somewhat understated style.
The young professional population is rather conservative in its appearance, for whom black has been ‘the’ colour of the season for far too long. Rachel Brannan, Assistant Manger of Cruise ladies-wear on Castle Street, notes: ‘‘I am always trying to introduce our clients to new colours, shapes and designs, but effortless black suits, uncomplicated LBD’s (little black dresses) and simple black court shoes are always the best sellers’’. Even amongst the student populous, style is fairly muted by consistent adherence to the ‘grotty yah chic’ look, a remnant left over from Sienna’s boho days. This impression seems to be supported by a report by leading retail analyst CACI last year that stated Edinburgh had ‘‘stood still, whilst other cities had moved forward’’.
Is this the lack of choice and inspiration that other cities provide that is lacking in the Scottish capital, or perhaps its inhabitants have modest stylistic motivation and little interest in high-end fashion? Given the amount of Londoners in the city, one would have thought Edinburgh would be straining under the weight of stimulation from the South, with London being one of the fashion capitals of the world. Granted, Edinburgh College of Art students do present something a little more exciting, but their creative presence is not large enough to cause a stir.
Whilst the high street will always provide shoppers with a quick fix of low-end fashion, Princes Street is simply not an inspiring place to shop, and George Street does little to rouse the imagination. Yet, on closer inspection Edinburgh does have something to offer the fashion conscious. Thistle Street is home to two remarkable fashion retailers: Jane Davidson, which was voted by Harpers and Queen as one of the top 25 boutiques in the world, and Pam Jenkins, which offers high-end footwear brands like Jimmy Choo and Christian Louboutin. Over in the Old Town is Corniche, which houses sumptuous collections of Vivienne Westwood and Comme des Garcons, alongside a number of Japanese designers such as Yohji Yamamoto and Michiko Koshino. And Armstrong’s Vintage Clothing Emporium has been dressing lovers of old clothes from 1840 and offers a huge range of unique and high quality merchandise.
There are also independent retailers offering something a little bit different. One such store is Godiva, in the city’s West Port. Fleur MacIntosh worked part time in the store whilst studying at the University of Edinburgh. Her love of clothes made her buy the business four years ago, and turn it into the thriving independent it is today. Fleur believes Edinburgh’s shoppers aren’t adventurous enough: ‘‘I do think Edinburghers can be a bit conservative when it comes to dressing, and I just hope that I can convince some of them to let go a bit more’’.
It was a similar disenchantment with what the city had to offer that spurned Claire Thormmen and Fiona MacLean to open the decadent lingerie boutique Boudiche on Frederick Street: ‘‘I was fed up with buying lingerie in characterless department stores,’’ says Claire. ‘‘We wanted to make the shopping experience exciting again’’.
The opening of Harvey Nichols in 2002 and the Multrees Walk development, which has even been hailed by some ‘the Bond Street of the North’, has done a great deal to raise the fashion consciousness of the city. Early reports seemed to concur with the general consensus that Harvey Nichols has picked the wrong Scottish city. Surely Glasgow, with Versace and Armarni et al, was the designer Mecca north of the boarder. But five years on, whilst Jenners has been sold out to House of Fraser, Versace has moved out of Glasgow with Ralph Lauren and Escada following, a whole host of designer retailers, including Replay, Louis Vuitton, Calvin Klein and Mulberry have followed Harvey Nics into the new shopping area in the capital. This can only be a good thing and Edinburgh appears to have embraced the store, which is all about celebrities, iconic handbags of the moment and ostentatious designer clothes.‘‘I think Harvey Nichols brought a new dimension to fashion in Edinburgh,’’ says Gordon Drummond, General Manager of the Edinburgh store. ‘‘A more fun and frivolous take on shopping if you like’’.
What Edinburgh needs more of is events like the inaugural Edinburgh International Fashion Festival, which in 2006 brought the likes of Vivienne Westwood, Matthew Williamson and home-grown designer, Jonathan Saunders to the Scottish capital, and the Edinburgh Charity Fashion Show, which kicks off on Friday 9 March. It is rumoured to be bigger and better than ever. Entering its fourth consecutive year, the show, which is a non-profit organisation run entirely by students, is the most successful student charity show in Europe. The aim is to raise awareness and funds for charity by attracting students, the public and VIP guests to an event that displays the best of the fashion world and the creative talents of students. Since 2004, ECFS has raised over £160,000, half of which was achieved last year alone, and has showcased designers such as Stella McCartney, Nicole Farhi and Armani just to name a few.
The aim of this year’s show, which is sponsored by Artemis, is to exceed the sum raised last year by providing a more spectacular show, which will attract greater publicity and an even larger audience. The line up for this year certainly looks exciting, with a number of leading designers and high-end fashion brands sitting alongside the creations of students from Edinburgh College of Art and Central Saint Martins. Emma Blackshaw, heading the Fashion Team for this years show clarifies the aims of her team, ‘‘We want to show that fashion is not just an everyday commodity, but a form a self expression and can be a work of art. Fashion can be so much more than the clothes you throw on in the morning. We want to present the creations as a visual spectacle’’.
This year’s show is certainly set to ruffle some feathers. Events such as this illustrate a step in the right direction for Edinburgh, stimulating energetic and vibrant fashionable inspiration in a city that is very much in need of stylistic refreshment.
Tickets for the ECFS can be bought at: www.ec-fs.org