Contemporary vintage style
RIXO London has been making serious waves on the fashion scene - and it's easy to see why. Dreamed up by Irish designer Orlagh McCloskey and her pal Henrietta Rix, the smooth new label embraces all that's cool about vintage '70s styling in silk, writes our fashion editor
Sitting in their colourful West Kensington home, which doubles as flat/office/studio, the founders of the RIXO London fashion label, Orlagh McCloskey and Henrietta Rix, look like sisters - almost twins - but you can tell them apart when you hear them talking fashion... and the twentysomethings do that with a passion 24/7.
Henrietta is from Cheshire while Orlagh has the melodic speaking voice of a Derry woman born in the Dungiven countryside. The Northern girl honed her love of vintage as a teenager, with Saturday bus trips into Belfast. Those pilgrimages to check out the 1920s' and 1930s' bias-cut dresses and 1960s' and 1970s' prints at Raspberry Beret in Spires Mall were good training for the future fashionista, who later cut her teeth buying for TK Maxx as well as for online fashion giants ASOS.
After meeting at college, where they first plotted the idea of setting up a fashion label together, Henrietta (26) and Orlagh (28) are now at the helm of a unique fashion retail occurrence - an overnight success!
"Usually, people would work up to Net-a-Porter but we got it as our first account, which was amazing for us, and within three weeks, we were in the top five contemporary brands, taking in one of the biggest turnover of units," says Orlagh.
"We were a really quick success, which was great. But obviously you can get on a website like that, which is amazing - but then you have to perform... So it was good to get on and actually do well. Then we got nominated for Drapers' Premium Brand of the Year and they told us there was never a brand as young as us nominated for that award. We were sitting in a category with the likes of Barbour and Diesel and all these big brands, and we weren't even 12 months old yet."
With the tailwind of that kind of commercial success behind them in their debut year, 2015, the two women are certainly not taking their foot off the pedal in 2017. By their own admission, the brand is "shooting for the stars and has no plans of falling short".
Currently, the pair are working the proverbial eight days a week, eating and drinking their brand and overseeing their latest collection - Shanghai Chic - in which moons, clouds, cranes and bamboo play a significant role within the hand-painted jungle prints.
This month brought good news for Irish shoppers, as RIXO London arrived onto the rails of Brown Thomas stores in Dublin and Cork, BT2 in Dundrum, and onto their website. The brand's expansion into the bricks-and-mortar retail scene here builds on its phenomenal online success, which saw the vintage-infused silk pieces become a favourite 'go to' among zealous style queens of all ages. After Ireland, it's next stop Saks Fifth Avenue, followed by an even bigger jewel in the retail crown: the impossibly chic Bonmarché in Paris.
Today, the RIXO duo can celebrate in style in Dublin - they are here to meet customers at BT on Grafton Street at 12 noon. Tomorrow, Orlagh heads to Co Clare with friends for some traditional music, well-deserved R+R, and maybe a cocktail too...
So how did two college students pull off such a coup before turning 30?
Well, their plan was certainly a good one: to create vintage-inspired one-off pieces for the modern woman to wear with confident style and effortless grace.
Made in 100pc silk with no mass production, every print was painted by the founders; the first collection, Virtues of Rosemary, set the tone and introduced us to the 'Camellia' dress - their first ever design, which has quickly became a firm favourite.
The signature midi reappears this season in a coral jungle print (left) and also in an Oriental sky-blue print. With billowing sleeves, sexy deep V-neckline and playful side slits, its Chinese cranes, broad brushstrokes and tropical jungle foliage bring an Eastern elegance to our Western way of life.
Inspiration can be found everywhere. This season, they sketched the Oriental jungle print after being inspired by a vintage embroidered bed sheet they found at a flea market.
"The tonal colours really work well with the other prints to mix and match, which is a real a RIXO signature, especially the mini-star," says Orlagh. "We styled the two prints together in the lookbook for AW17 and it's been an instant hit for print clash. Alternatively, it's worked so well just by itself.
"At RIXO, we love anything with stars, but designing the right star that's a little different to what's already out there is our speciality. Our star prints will never date and go with everything in your wardrobe. A staple piece in this print will match with everything in the AW17 collection," Orlagh adds.
The pair's vintage journeys, plus their time working at asos.com (at different times), certainly helped them on their way. In and out of vintage stores across Europe and the US, they experienced the desire to tweak and adapt old fabrics, prints and silhouettes for today's vintage-loving modern woman.
"That's the thing -every time we used to go vintage shopping, we would always come up with a find, a gorgeous piece, but there would be something that you would want to do to make more modern, or maybe change the size - or the material wasn't right." Out of those frustrations, the idea of RIXO London was born, but the true seeds of ambition were planted when they were both fashion-management students at the London College of Fashion.
"We decided to set up a business when were doing some projects together at university. We always knew we wanted to do it; we worked really well together and we had the same kind of eye for what we saw the brand looking like aesthetically," explains Orlagh.
Reflecting on why they were so successful so quickly - both in stores and online - Orlagh reflects: "I think it can be quite hard to know what you want your brand to look like and what you want it to be. We just design pieces we love and don't really follow a certain trend or fad. Whatever's in season doesn't really affect what we design."
Favourite vintage buys in their wardrobes - the pieces they never got sick of looking at that were totally timeless - informed that aesthetic. And so when Orlagh added her initial 'O' to Henrietta's surname, the brand's identity was copper-fastened.
"Usually we take inspiration from different pieces and then merge them together. We don't cut the sample up, as such - we just use them for inspiration. There might be an element that we will use, so it could be the ruffle off a neckline or something like a fish-tailed godet." (For the uninitiated, a godet is a triangular piece of material inserted in a dress, skirt, even glove, to add width, volume and make it appear flared.) The design duo work on their own blocks for the more modern woman's figure and know from experience that vintage pieces, often with gorgeous detail, don't always sit well on the contemporary body. Their buying experience was also really helpful; Orlagh acknowledges, "If you have a good eye, you know what you like. No one can teach you that."
Work is work and while holiday time is rare, the pair share memories of a wonderful six-week road trip through California.
"I don't think anyone would put up with our holidays, honestly. We did a road trip in California when we were in university and I think the most searched item on our satnav was the nearest vintage shop or charity shop. We literally couldn't pass one town or one street without having a search. If anyone was with us, they would have got annoyed after a while.
"We did it for six weeks in our final year in university and it was great. We started off in San Francisco and went right down to LA and Palm Springs. It was great to really see American vintage and the whole LA/West Coast vintage scene. The prints and colours are a lot more vibrant than they would necessarily be in the UK and it was good to get another perspective on vintage as well."
Life in RIXO's West London HQ is full on. "When you start up a brand, you've got to give it 24/7," says Orlagh. "I don't see it as a separate thing from my life. It is my life. I don't have that separation, which some people might think is a bad thing, but for us, one of the most satisfying things is that we are constantly surrounded by it. We don't feel like we have to go into the office because we are in the office. The bottom of the house is the main studio and it's been really good, because we work late in the evening and we can just roll into bed without having to travel to the office. We have to work most weekends and it means you can be really flexible with your time - it doesn't feel as monotonous as having a separate office. I think it is really beneficial but if Henrietta and myself didn't get on so well, it probably would be someone's worst nightmare. But because we have such a good bond, it has served us so well - whereas for another brand, it might not necessarily work and it wouldn't be feasible for someone to work in such close proximity with their business partner."
And just for good measure, Orlagh's architect twin sister, Gemma, has joined them in the house and, Orlagh says, is very into her fashion.
"Gemma is so supportive. She was in Australia for a couple of years and she was telling everyone, before we even had a product to show, that we were going to be the biggest success ever."
Well, wasn't Gemma just right!
Vintage favourites for your Little Black Book
Rose Bowl Flea Market
On the second Sunday of every month, more than 2,500 vintage and antiques vendors set up outside the Rose Bowl stadium for thousands of shoppers, some of whom get there as early as 5am. On offer: art, furniture, housewares, clothes, accessories, and odds and ends of all sorts."It takes a lot of determination to get around it in 35-degree heat but they have some great bits," says Orlagh. "We planned our holiday around getting to LA for this and it was so worth it."
Modes and More, 44 Moreton Street, Pimlico, London, SW1V 2PB
"Such a gorgeous store and huge selection. So many amazing dresses and blouses over two floors, I could spend all day here..."
One of a Kind, 259 Portobello Road, Notting Hill, London, W11 1LR
"So expensive but worth the trip anyway, as the pieces are probably the most collectable in London. The coolest pieces and great for inspiration. Such a treasure trove, and the shop owner is a character and a half."
Portobello Vintage Market, Portobello Road
Every Friday morning. "All the good dealers go here and set up on a Friday so, if you want good vintage, head here."
Bedlam Market, 18-20 Bishop Street, Derry, BT48 6PW
"A collection of vintage shops in which you can find some real gems"; see bedlamderry.com
#INSPO: ORLAGH'S CELEBRITY STYLE ICONS
Orlagh has a few definite favourites including fashion dames like Bianca Jagger and model Jerry Hall. Another fave is Pattie Boyd, an English model and photographer who was the first wife of both George Harrison (of The Beatles) and guitarist Eric Clapton, and dominated fashion pages throughout the 1960s-1980s.
Orlagh has special praise for Sienna Miller - who is a style crush for so many - but when it comes to vintage, Orlagh especially admires how the actress has moved on from "short and flirty". Today, Orlagh says, Sienna has "that premium edge and does it in a very sophisticated, more timeless way. I think her style has evolved hugely. It's still bohemian but has grown up a lot. The way Sienna dresses now, it's like anyone could wear it - younger or older."
A few of Orlagh's other inspirational women...
Kate Moss: "She has so many classic looks; she is gorgeous."
Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen: "They have started dressing really classic, compared to how they dressed maybe five years ago. They do a great mix between contemporary and vintage and the way they style their pieces makes their outfits. I really think their styling is so en pointe."
Kylie Minogue, Heidi Klum and Nicole Richie are among the A-listers who have worn RIXO London - and sent their Instragram account into meldown.
Orlagh adds, "It was good to get Kylie because she is older. We have a lot of younger people who have worn our clothes and I think it's nice to show everyone that you can wear them at any age."