Vanessa de Lisle, who compiles our Style Agenda, has had a long and interesting fashion career from Vogue and Harpers & Queen to running her own consultancy.
Vanessa, you have such an interesting CV, what led you into the world of fashion and magazines?
I loved “Girl” magazine and later “Honey” when I was a teenager and I dreamed of working on a magazine. I left school at 15 and there was no way I was able to go to art school but I did get into fashion. I adored the clothes of Ossie Clark and got a job working at his studio off the King’s Road, I guess that was 1970; extraordinary man, extraordinary times. Ossie, Celia and Alice were the toast of London, but still the business there closed due to lack of funding. So you see, I was hooked and then after a couple of temp jobs working in the interior decorating world, I arrived at Harpers and Queen where I was junior fashion editor and finally fashion editor and I stayed for 10 wonderful years.
What were the highlights of your time at Vogue?
Well, working at Vogue was one big highlight. I worked for Anna Wintour when she came to London and she was such a great boss; I learnt so much in the year she was in London. Of course, it was completely different to Harpers and Queen as it was dedicated to fashion and I loved that. It was competitive and, at times, difficult but Conde Nast is a great company to work for. When Liz Tilberis caught anyone moaning she would remind everyone how lucky they were to work at Vogue House. From doing fashion shoots I became executive editor fashion and beauty, which is when I learnt more about the commercial side of the fashion and beauty business, which was excellent training for my subsequent career.
You have advised many brands and fashion labels over the years. How has the landscape changed? What do you think a modern retailer has to consider in order to be successful?
Well it’s changed, but slowly. The biggest change is how every brand thinks it has to do everything. I love niche. Moncler sells warm coats, please don’t change. Theory used to sell great trousers now they sell everything else too, so there is no space in store to stock the trousers in sizes. Annoying.
I have always loved mixed boutiques like Browns and Feathers because I like the handwriting of a genius buyer-owner. Now, even the department stores don’t have a lot of “own bought” and our big London department stores stock a lot of the same brands. I used to always advise finding new labels, as there are wonderful things out there , so be brave.
It’s a pity the middle market suffers from lack of pizzazz. Better-priced clothes don’t always have the advertising budgets and are scorned by the press. But that’s where we should be buying our clothes, not relying on Zara. And we really shouldn’t have to spend £1,000 on a dress or jacket.
And on the same note, what are women looking for these days?
They are all looking for what is so annoyingly called ‘smart casual’ but we all know what it means. All the things we wear that are not slob clothes or full on weddings and black tie. It’s that wardrobe-building exercise that needs careful thought and planning. Lovely clothes to wear out to dinner in a restaurant, smart kitchen supper, school events, Covent Garden, holiday, evening etc. etc., and I’m not just talking about grown ups, I have a number of clients under 30 and they are the same. I think women would like the buyers to be more aware of the real lives women live today and indeed the magazines and newspapers to produce pictures that are more tempting. The writing is always excellent but some of the styling is just tacky.
The Fashion Cupboard, http://www.thefashioncupboard.com, is your consultancy business where you advise both individuals and corporate. Do give us a taste of what it is like being a personal shopper?
Most initial calls are in desperation. Dressing for an event, change in weight then when I meet the prospective client and listen to their fashion dilemmas it is usually deeper than that. It often involves a lot of e-mails and encouragement. Women who are busy and interested in other aspects of their lives can have taken their eye off the fashion ball. My commitment is to gently bring fashion back into focus. This may mean clutter busting those cupboards, in a caring way. A good fashion edit makes women feel so light, like they have just been on holiday. As for shopping, we work out what they need together and then take a day or a morning hitting the shops and I also do a lot of research on the Internet. I sent round my selections to some clients from the Winser London web site and they all bought.
In the run up to the Royal Wedding I worked for Selfridges’ Personal Shopping a couple of days a week, that was fun. There are lots of personal shoppers who work for celebrities, film companies, and the very wealthy. My clients are all more down to earth, on a budget, and who want to improve their fashion style; they’re all so lovely and we have great fun. Best of all is they are so grateful, I can tell you, and that’s been lovely for me. Being pleased is not part of the fashion firmament mind set, so in this phase of my life it’s been a revelation.
You compile Style Agenda for Winser London every month and we love working with you. Do you find having a sense of humour has helped in a career in fashion?
Yes, but I don’t have a sense of humour about fashion, I take it very seriously and I don’t remember many laughs working for magazines or big high street names where everyone is so stressy and obsessed and I am, or was, just as bad. Now I guess I have had to develop a lighter touch working with the public and not in the rarefied world of shoots and trends and stuff. My natural mode is bossy and frowny. No one likes to be preached to so I try to get across my fashion philosophy in any way I can. That’s what’s been such fun about writing for Winser London, I have been able to put across my passion for fashion in small digestible bites.
Writing for Winser London has given you an insight into our brand. You compile the Style Agenda with Winser London customer in mind but have you got any particular favourites and what’s on your wish list?
I think it’s such a brilliant concept and just what we have been waiting for. It’s so edited and honestly I could wear any of the pieces happily. I already have the Audrey cashmere sweater in size 16 in white. I wanted to have a really big cocoony effect. And I am going to buy one in black too. It’s the kind of uniform look I love and pretty much takes me anywhere when I want to look tidy but laid back. I have the Parisienne cardie in navy and I particularly like the double-breasted cardigan. All the tops and T shirts are excellent. I saw someone in your showroom wearing the batwing top and I loved that. One of the silk blouses is on my wish list - if I had a dressier life style, I would have bought it already. It’s one of the items I have been recommending, as my clients are very busy socially.
I read on Jane Cumberbatch’s blog, Pure Style (http://www.purestyleonline.com) about your wonderful garden and your passion for cooking. It looks like you have carried your sense of style through to these as well.
Jane and I both love cooking and gardening and home stuff and I love all her Pure Style books and we have been friends for years. I’m not obsessive about any of it, or my own clothes. Just within my budget I like to choose what and how I want to live. I don’t aim for perfection but I do believe the quote about things being useful and beautiful. But in life good enough is good enough. I like my house and garden a lot that’s not to say if I won the lottery I wouldn’t go into overdrive.
I have a shopping tip, I notice when I shop with clients they always focus on what they don’t like. I learnt years ago just not to see the ugly or the unsuitable. When you go to hundreds of fashion shows and see thousands of garments, you learn to only pick up on visually the clothes that are exceptional, that would work for the magazine, for oneself, for a trend, for a suggestion for a corporate client. In the same way there is so much choice, I need to zip through a store or online and I only see the possible. I never look or judge people who don’t look great, it’s their business, but I do spot the well dressed, the stylish, the lovely garden plant and I focus and remember that.