Sunday 25 March 2018

Sombre palette but bright mood at BT's show

The excitement over Brown Thomas's latest collection should give the high street a rush too, says Andrea Byrne

Silk and wool dress, €1,295, Vionnet
Silk and wool dress, €1,295, Vionnet
Beaded treasure-chest dress €1,450, Mary Katrantzou
Camel wool jacket, €1,165, camel pocket skirt, €850, both by Chloe
Wool red-and-black dress, €1,600, Prada
Wool wrap coat, grey, €4,490, Hermes
Military trench, navy, €805, military full-skirt dress, €575, both by Dries Van Noten
Tweed jacket, €400, print silk blouse, €215, tweed skirt, €275, all by Diane Von Furstenberg

'What was going on in there?" the taxi driver asked me as we drove away from the Four Seasons Hotel. "It's the Brown Thomas annual fashion show," I informed him. To which he replied: "I've never seen so many glamorous women." Truth was, neither had I.

There were 320 of them in total. An army of body-sculpting dresses, five-inch heels and oversized sunglasses, set off by bouncing blow-dries and sun-kissed skin.

The invite-only, exclusive showcase, which is in aid of the worthy ISPCC, is the highlight of the autumn social calendar, with many of Ireland's most stylish ladies returning from holidays to attend.

Among the glamorous women in attendance were Clodagh Hopkins, Jane Given, Caroline Downey, Annette Rocca and Morah Ryan. MC for the afternoon was actress Victoria Smurfit.

Speaking to BT's fashion director Shelly Corkery ahead of the show, she was as excited as I have ever seen her about a collection. "It really is one of the nicest seasons, because it's very much what everyone likes to wear," she said. "It's not all about, as we call them, the 'intellectual designers' -- it's much more lady, much more polished and it's elegant. It was easy to buy."

Shelly's stand-out designers of the season are Celine, Lanvin and Dries Van Noten, "In terms of direction, newness and wowness, those were definitely the three leaders ... I would have bought every single Lanvin dress if I could," she laughed.

With the exception of the collections of Mary Katrantzou (new to Brown Thomas this season) and Peter Pilotto, the catwalk was quite a black affair. However, this isn't an accurate reflection of the full collections, because the shop-floor has some beautiful splashes of colour.

While the palette was sombre, the mood was anything but. I came away from the show with the firm belief that people are buying again.

The uniform of choice among the women was, as it always tends to be, the pencil dress. These women work tirelessly to achieve the desired body, and consequently choose to wear what best shows it off.

They're dead right too. I suppose that's why Victoria Beckham is such a success for BT, despite its high price tag (you struggle to get a VB dress for under €1,000).

"Never before, since I have been with Brown Thomas, have I seen a collection at the top end of the market to fly out so quickly", whispers Shelly, referring to Victoria Beckham hysteria. "You never have them, because they're gone before the season starts."

Could you increase the volumes? "We can't. You can only buy 100. [Victoria] wants to keep it exclusive."

Given how exceptionally well-made they are (I'm reliably told that VB's dresses take at least two inches off your waist), I've always been somewhat sceptical of Beckham's involvement. However, Shelly put me right "Every time we do the buy, she is there," Shelly said. "She sits with us. She does a presentation and talks you through it."

VB fans will be delighted to know that she has an accessories range being launched soon, which Brown Thomas hopes to have in stock within two months.

I find at events such as this that often it's best to watch the reactions of the women, rather than focusing on the catwalk. You get a better sense of what will work and what people will ultimately buy.

Coats, of the classic tailored kind, were a big hit, particularly the offerings from Hermes, Celine and Stella McCartney. Women were also gearing up to get their hands on the dress Shelly was wearing -- a tight-fitted, black Lanvin number.

At a trunk show earlier in the week, customers went mad for a pair of black trousers by Celine. They had eight orders, which is impressive, when you consider that said trouser costs €590.

Shoe and handbag fans will definitely be excited by BT's buy, which has everything from the edgy to the elegant. Burberry's shearling ankle boots, which feature in the brand's campaign, were a definite highlight.

Pauric Sweeney is new to BT this season and what's great about Pauric's bags, which were demonstrated at the show, is that they manage to work with all looks, from the laid-back, casual feel of Stella to the oh-so feminine Vionnet.

Business, according to Shelly, is getting good again. The luxury brands are doing very well -- it's the middle of the market labels that needs some help. "If people are going to spend, they want it to be right", she says.

If it is, in fact, luxury that they're after, they'll be spoiled for choice at BT this season.

Sunday Independent

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