Store puts the super into fashion
Every little may help, but the huge changes to Tesco's fashion ranges will blow shoppers away, says Constance Harris
A significant part of a fashion editor's job is to look at advance showings of collections, not only on the international catwalk but for the local high street, too.
Samples can be stunning, but until you see the range produced as it is going into the shop, you cannot assume that the quality, finish and even the fabric is going to be the same, let alone as good as you were initially shown and told it would be. Many a buyer and fashion editor has been stung by less-than-honest sample presentations.
As I had such a positive experience of Tesco's spring clothing, I was invited to London in July to see its full autumn/winter 2010 range. What I saw blew me away.
It was serious fashion, with tons of strongly directional pieces, and lots of great tailoring and innovation. But wary, wise-old-dog me kept asking Tesco Ireland's buying manager Bo Carty: Will they really send all this to Ireland? Will it really be this good? How can they do this kind of stuff at such incredible prices?
Let me give you a picture of what I saw. Striking kimono-sleeve, belted jackets and coats (€25 to €45). Elaborately beaded, knit, tunic dresses and leggings, which were cool in that Joanne Hynes hip way. There was a stunning midi skirt that I think even high-end designers are still trying to get their minds around reviving, as well as maxi skirts, and faux leather dresses, minis and leggings.
There were full-length, velvet evening gowns (€30 to €35), some embellished, some simple, with dramatic single-sleeve design; and natty red jackets with gorgeous feminine ruffling and excellently cut shift dresses (€21 to €26) in the mode of Victoria Beckham -- great work-to-evening gear.
I haven't even touched on their party, night and casual wear, or accessories, jeans, lingerie, hosiery and shoes.
And as for their men's and children's wear? Truly, there isn't enough space here.
It was smart, grown-up, confident; a revelation to me as to what Tesco can do when it puts its mind to it. I have told many people about it ever since and receive the same response: "Tesco? Really? I'd never have thought to go to them for clothes."
This is what they call abroad "supermarket chic". In the UK, they are no strangers to it. George Davies (who created Per Una for M&S) put Asda on the map with his fantastic George range, which became the coolest range on the British high street, beating even Topshop. The French do serious shopping in their hypermarches and see nothing odd about it. In America, Target (or Targez, as middle-class Americans jokingly pronounce it) has garnered new respect for value-clothing with its great collections.
But for all my wild enthusiasm, I wanted to see if what I had admired did go into production, and was the finished product as good as the samples. It is.
Last Monday, Tesco opened a new superstore in Naas, creating 266 much-needed jobs and adding to consumer choice in the area. Taoiseach Brian Cowen was there to cut the ribbon. It was only 9am and already the store was mobbed with cash-conscious shoppers -- as well as a few disgruntled voters.
Bo and I walked around, and not only found many of the pieces that really impressed us in July, but we noticed that the buyers in HQ had remedied issues such as their initial selection being too black, by adding lots of colour into the mix. For just €29, you can get a machine-washable car coat in striking kingfisher blue, poppy red or mustard.
There were lots of pretty florals in blouses, dashes of leopard print and funky knits sprinkled throughout. Impressively cut tailoring in heritage fabrics had been added, too. There is a smashing full-length faux-shearling coat for just €58. All great gear for looking fabulously fashionable, or just plain stylish in the office.
And everything was lined; something you don't always get in value-clothing, as it adds considerably to the final price. Plus, Tesco does size eight to 20 across its fashions, and have a great plus-size range, from 16 to 26. It uses the same fabrics in its plus-sizes, but it makes good alterations to the designs, to be more flattering to the fuller figure.
Bo tells me that every week Tesco does special offers, where it might do pound-for-euro parity, or knock a fiver off a style for one week only. If you see something, grab it, because good things don't last long and Tesco does not re-order. So the worry about bumping into someone wearing the same top as you is pretty unlikely.
Tesco has some designer ranges. Its lingerie (bras from 32a to 38E), support wear and hosiery ranges are extremely impressive -- even before learning that Michelle Mone, of Ultimo, designs a range exclusively. Elspeth Gibson does a divine range of little girls' clothing, too.
My teenage son, who has a nose as sharp as Tom Ford's for what is classy and flattering, adored its men's winter overcoats and plain zip tops. Tesco caters for the young and trendy male, to the outdoor working man who needs quilted, lined flannel shirts, to the older guy who likes his comfortable elephant cords. You can buy a tuxedo suit for just €66 -- including wing-tip shirt and bow tie.
"If you are of a cautious nature and are afraid of trying a look, our prices make it easier to try something out," says Bo. And she is right. At Tesco, supermarket chic has advanced into a class of its own.
All clothes and accessories featured are from selected Tesco Ireland stores, while stocks last Tel: 1850-744-844
Styling: Bo Carty
Hair and Make up: Billy Orr, Morgan the Agency, assisted by Nicole McEvoy
Shot at Tesco Autumn/ Winter Fashion Launch, Ely Wine Bar and Brasserie, Custom House Quay, Dublin 1