Wednesday 13 December 2017

Harvey Nicks: the subtle revolution

The high-end store has had to change its focus since the Celtic Tiger, luxury label days, says Liadan Hynes

Dress, €1,225, Vivienne Westwood Red Label;
shoes, €635, YSL
Dress, €1,225, Vivienne Westwood Red Label; shoes, €635, YSL

When Harvey Nichols opened here in 2005, at the height of the Celtic Tiger era, it was a totally different store from what it is today. All high-end, high price-point luxury labels, it seemed to be trying to recreate its famous Knightsbridge store.

Today, it's different.

The labels stocked now offer clothes that are somewhat immediately less attention-grabbing but boast a far more accessible price point.

"We do see it as regional store," says April Glassborow, Harvey Nichols' womenswear buying manager.

"Obviously it can't compare with Knightsbridge from a size point of view.

"What we really need to focus on is a store that's right for the city it's in.

"It's a lot about our edit and our point of view," she says of where Harvey Nichols fits on the Irish fashion landscape.

"It's a small store. It's not a department store.

"We want to create a jewel-like boutique feel. But still be accessible.

"This has informed the dropping of certain labels," she acknowledges.

"In a store of our size, we can't do Lanvin justice. So we're doing labels like Tibi and By Malene Birger. They're more accessible."

Their recent autumn winter show, held pre-floods in the depths of the Dundrum Town Centre, was choc full of women aged from mid-20s to seventy-odd.

Dress code on the night covered everything from voluminous silk blouses worn with skinny leather leggings, to sequinned cocktail dresses, to slouchy combats teamed with off-the-shoulder metallic knits.

"We don't really look at age," April says of their customers. "Everything from late 20s to early 70s.

"It's more an attitude of mind. Women are becoming ageless anyhow. She's a fashion customer."

Caroline Harrington was front row wearing a pair of beautifully cut black trousers with a studded D&G blouse.

Amy Huberman was also there, wearing a butterfly print blouse with a pink mini skirt. For me, both personify the Harvey Nichols Woman.

Fashion savvy, never slavishly buying into high-end designer looks head to toe. Able to pick and choose, put together her own look, gorgeous and vital, but never brashly so.

"We see her as someone who is very feminine, who has a strong interest in fashion", says April, identifying the Harvey Nichols customer.

"Quite sexy, quite sophisticated. Each of our stores has a different customer profile.

"The Dundrum customer wants excitement.

"She wants something to make her feel special. That's what we have learnt."

Specifically, the main points of difference with the Irish customer are that "she's a little bit more adventurous, with the colour she will wear with the styling she will wear.

"She is more extravagant in her love of colour, she is not afraid of colour."

In the show, Tibi and By Malene Birger provided a rake of floaty, feminine dresses in soft pastels, teamed with chunky knits in various pale nude shades, a lovely bright escape from all the winter darks.

The biggest change they've witnessed since the end of the Celtic Tiger is a willingness on the part of their customer to be a little bit more innovative in creating her look.

"We always know that the customer in Harvey Nichols wants to look groomed and sexy, that hasn't changed. What has changed is the combination of categories she's putting together.

"First it was the dress. Now, separates and blouses are much more important."

Their autumn winter collection is full of great separates: Alice + Olivia's gold lame one-shouldered Grecian-style top, and a very 'Cheryl Cole in the good years' black peplum top. DKNY's Sixties-style black lace blouse with a white Peter Pan collar. Vince's oversized drapey metallic knits teamed with See by Chloe sweat pants. By Malene Birger's cream and black lace blouse worn with D&G black tux trousers. Donna Karan's luxuriously sexy knitwear, a staple of the yummy mummy wardrobe and perfect for teaming with skinny jeans. Sportsmax's nude beige wool skirt suit.

High impact was provided by Vivienne Westwood's Red Label, particularly the camel wool winter coat, and multi-coloured sequinned dress. The evening wear was stunning, particularly a high-necked, long-sleeved, floor-length silver dress from Project D.

They've always been good on accessories, and this season they've introduced Joanne Hynes' beautiful accessories line, whose statement necklaces are almost an outfit in themselves.

For me, Harvey Nichols has always catered for a woman who likes her fashion to be a little less obvious.

She buys a piece because she loves it, not because it's a certain label.

Similarly, the store buys in a more subtle manner.

So when it comes to D&G, you won't get the boobs-out strappy satin cocktail dresses. It's all discreet high-necked black lace, and ladylike tweeds and floral prints.

It's for women who want something special, but not something that will shout from the rafters.

Something well cut, with good fabric, but at a reasonable price point. Something that won't date after a couple of wears.

I recently bought my wedding dress there because it was all of the above.

"That's all part of our edit," says April. "To make somebody feel chic, feel good. She can wear what she buys everywhere."

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