Interviews

5 Minutes With: Lucy Choi

Compiling weekly wish lists is a risky business. More often than not I’ll stumble upon something so exciting I find myself still staring at my computer screen two hours later, now having achieved a damn thing. Lucy Choi London was one such distraction. Whilst browsing MATCHESFASHION.COM and My-Wardrobe I spied a pair of sparkly stilettos so damn delectable I nearly fainted at the price tag, an unbelievably resonable £195! Naturally this discovery demanded further attention so I promptly set about reading up on this exciting young designer and writing a post in homage to her fabulous footwear (which you can read here). Since then, Lucy Choi London has become a major fave among fashion folk, especially shoe addicts without Imelda Marcos sized bank accounts. Even more intriguing is the fact that she just so happens to be the niece of none other than Jimmy Choo! I caught up with Lucy to find out more…

lucy choi london

LPA: As the niece of footwear legend, Jimmy Choo, it’s tempting to imagine your upbringing being all celebrities and stilettos. What was it really like?

LC: I was brought up in Hong Kong by my grandparents from a very early age with my sister and the main focus was on education, sport and morals in our household.   It definitely wasn’t glamorous!  We were taught the value of hard work, to be true to ourselves and follow our dreams.  I lived in Hong Kong until I was 11 and then moved back to the UK.   Growing up in two such thriving and exciting cities definitely influenced me and my future career path.

LPA: Much has been made of your lineage but how greatly do think it has actually shaped your career? What have you found to be the greatest advantages and disadvantages of having a footwear legend for an uncle?

LC: Prior to my ten enjoyable years at French Sole I worked in the city where I carved out my own, separate career path.  I could have gone straight in to the fashion world but I wanted to get an understanding of the business world first. This is where I learnt invaluable lessons in finance and how to manage every aspect of a business.  I cannot deny having the family connections I do has influenced my career but it has certainly not defined it. My Uncle has always been a mentor figure and installed in me from a young age the importance of giving 110% and I feel lucky to have such a person in my life.

LPA: Did you always see yourself going into the fashion/footwear industry or did something specific make you realise that it was the path for you?

LC: Yes, I knew early on that I wanted to do something for myself.  I could have chosen an easier path to join the family business but decided that I wanted to work in the financial world first, before following my heart into the fashion world.

LPA: Before launching Lucy Choi London, you held the position of MD at iconic footwear brand, French Sole. Giving that up to go it alone was a pretty bold move I must say! For want of a better phrase, what gave you the balls to do it?

LC: Yes, looking back I suppose it was brave!  At the same time it felt like a very natural step for me. I learnt so much at my time with French sole and enjoyed 10 happy years working there. My previous experience in business and fashion worlds, combined with my shoe heritage gave me the confidence I needed to start my own collection.  I’m not going to pretend it’s easy; I am a new mother and launched the new business in the same year. I’ve invested my time and own money into my business so it is more of a risk, but I’m confident in business as I have so much experience. I am enjoying every moment and am finding it very rewarding, my moto in life is to enjoy what I do. I’m also lucky to have a strong team and a very supportive family, my husband Jon was behind me all the way. To make it work you have to have a strong partnership – I truly believe that behind every business there is a strong partner! His support has allowed me to juggle both the birth of my business and my baby.

LPA: Your brand’s ethos is “Rock n’ Royal”, what inspired this motto? And, on a practical level, what does it actually mean?

LC: The collection is based on the principal that we provide luxurious, affordable shoes for women of all ages and for every occasion.  As girls I think we like to play around with our image.  Some days you might feel like embracing your inner rock chick, other days you might want something more elegant and classic. The collection reflects my own personal style and that inner chameleon all girls have!

LPA: Talk me through a day in the life of Lucy Choi…

LC: Well it’s usually an early start with my son Thomas, he’s quite a character and itching to walk so he keeps me on my toes.   I work just as many hours as I did before Thomas, but I have had to become more efficient and work on less sleep. Every day is different! I travel at least twice a year to Hong Kong, Spain and to Italy to design each new collection and oversee production. On other days I could be in the office, meeting with press or buyers to show the new season collections. Each day is rarely the same, I like to be involved in all aspects of the business from the warehouse to the showroom I like to make sure I’m back at home with my son for the afternoon and bath time.

LPA: So you’ve got footwear sorted for life. Which brands do you favour when it comes to clothes?

LC: I very rarely wear colour and I love black, it’s so chic and flawless.  I tend layer different textures and fabrics to create my look.   I like to wear different designers depending on the occasion. Wolf and Badger is my go to store, I’m wearing a lot of Vielma at the moment. It is important for me to support young and upcoming designers, everyone needs a chance. For formal wear I love Collette Dinnigan and Alice Temperley dresses.  For every day wear and weekends, I live in my jeans and I love AG, J Brand and Current Elliott.  Matches is perfect when I need something special, one off pieces for events or press meetings.  I also love My Wardrobe, the service is amazing, it’s easy to navigate and they stock Lucy Choi London – it’s the perfect synergy with my own label.

LPA: The phrase “style icon” is one we hear a lot these days. Who, if anyone, do you think truly deserved to be called “iconic”?

LC: Audrey Hepburn, she was the epitomy of style and beauty.

LPA: When adding to your team, are there any particular qualities or qualifications you look for in prospective employees or interns?

LC: I think its important to surround yourself with a with a variety of characters so everyone brings different strengths and something unique to the team.  I look for people who are loyal and not afraid to work hard.   I also look for people who are calm and efficient under pressure as fashion is such a fast paced industry, plus I am a bit of a perfectionist and I like things to be done in a certain way.  We have a very open office environment; everyone’s ideas and opinions are welcomed and nurtured.

LPA: Where do you hope to see Lucy Choi London in 5 years time?

LC: In 5 years time I would love to have opened our first boutique in London.  I also hope to see the brand increase its international presence and become a globally recognized brand.  I am so grateful for the overwhelming support from press and customers we have had throughout our first year.

Love Ella. X

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5 Minutes With: farfetch.com Founder, Jose Neves

I’m sure I probably don’t need to tell you about farfetch.com. Bringing together 250 of the world’s coolest independent boutiques on one equally chic platform, thereby supporting emerging businesses while delivering the hottest designer buys all over the world, it’s become one of the hottest online style destinations around. If you want to hear more about quite how awesome the site is, click here, but if you’ve had enough of my musings (and frankly I don’t blame you) then hear what farfetch.com’s dynamic Founder and CEO, José Neves has to say…

farfetch

LPA: You’ve been involved in fashion start ups since the 1990’s, how different do you feel it is to launch a fashion brand now than it was, say, ten years ago? Do you think that the rise of digital media and online retail has made it harder or easier to get a new business off the ground?

JN: Launching a fashion brand now is very different to ten years ago. Any new start-up has the potential to tap a global audience straight away, due to the rise of online retail. Local businesses are no longer restricted to local trading and can be braver and bolder. This makes it ever more important for brands to establish their own DNA, decide what it is they are trying to achieve and define and stay true to their brand values in order to enable them to standout in a highly competitive market.

LPA: When you launched farfetch in 2008 it was a unique concept in that it didn’t just offer multiple brands a platform from which to retail online, but also multiple independent boutiques. Many of these boutiques also have their own e-commerce platforms too so what advantages do feel being part of FarFetch.com offers them that perhaps their own sites don’t?

JN: In addition to instant access to a ready-made e-commerce infrastructure, and support from experienced and multi-lingual staff in four offices (London, Porto, Los Angeles and São Paulo), farfetch allows global exposure for boutiques allowing instant online presence worldwide to our established customer base; in essence, more ‘eyes on the prize’, the prize being their boutique and their collections. The concept creates a truly exciting proposition for a fashion hungry global audience who are able to shop an unrivalled collection of the world’s best brands in one easy to navigate space. I learnt first-hand the huge challenges facing a bricks and mortar retailer wanting to expand into the hugely competitive online environment. farfetch acts as a single portal offering independent fashion boutiques and designers an opportunity to compete in the online arena with the leaders of fashion e-tail.

LPA: To what extent do you feel that the landscape of luxury fashion e-tail is dominated by sites like Net-a-Porter and MATCHESFASHION.com? Could you ever see this balance changing in the future?

JN: Since farfetch launched in 2008 e-commerce has developed rapidly as a hugely competitive environment, with key players naturally emerging. Whilst the e-commerce market has increased with expansions and new ventures, farfetch has maintained an advantageous position through its unique business model, by uniting the very best boutiques and giving them an online platform on which to grow and flourish. farfetch is naturally at an advantage with an unrivalled product offer in excess of 82, 000 units of stock. We have an extensive fashion view point due to our portfolio of boutiques buying in such a varied manner.

LPA: How are the boutiques farfetch takes on board selected? And how much involvement do you have in the process?

JN: Each one of the boutiques in our community has been carefully selected for their unique approach, forward-thinking attitude and diversity. I have a personal interest, and take an active role in selecting new boutiques, especially internationally. In addition to boutiques proactively applying to join our network, we have a fantastic business development team who are responsible for finding the best boutiques in each territory we work within. Keeping in mind our mantra of quality over quantity they work tirelessly to ensure we are continually working with the best boutiques around the world.

LPA: Having been heavily involved in the success of SWEAR, bStore, SIX London and countless other fashion businesses besides, I imagine that you really know clothes. How would you describe your personal style? Are there any brands you particularly love at the moment?

JN: I shop on farfetch all the time, I don’t think you can beat having a highly curated edit of the best brands’ collections each season, as selected by some of the best boutiques’ buyers out there. I find it easy to shop specifically for brands I know I love; some of my go-to brands are Balmain, Kenzo and Qasimi, but I also like that while browsing I can discover up-and-coming talent alongside world renowned brands.

LPA: This summer farfetch has teamed up Paper Mâché Tiger to create BEACH IN THE EAST, a showcase for independent designers in Shoreditch. How did this project, and farfetch’s involvement in it, come about?

JN: Yasmin (Sewell) approached farfetch with the concept of a pop-up summer boutique she was creating, and expressed that she was really keen for it to be a part of the farfetch community. For the first time on the farfetch platform we created a virtual boutique showcasing the truly unique and creative visions of the designers; allowing a global audience of 150,000 customers from over 200 countries the chance to discover BEACH IN THE EAST. This project demonstrates quite tangibly how farfetch can enable a local project to become global.

LPA; How important is it to you to support up-and-coming design talent through initiatives like this? In what ways do you feel that BEACH IN THE EAST will help the designers whose work is featured develop their businesses?

JN: farfetch prides itself on connecting the global fashion community with the most exciting and unique products and new designers out there. The Beach in the East partnership unites Yasmin’s impeccable eye with farfetch’s global fashion hunters. The collaboration enables up-and-coming designers to access a customer base all over the world, alongside established brands.

LPA: What advice would you give to someone hoping or planning to launch an independent fashion business within the next few years?

JN: It’s important to acknowledge that start-ups involve a huge degree of risk, so once you have your idea don’t be afraid to go all-in!

Love Ella. X

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Clothes Show TV: Hilary Alexander

I don’t think I’ve told you this but recently I’ve been doing a spot of presenting on the newly relaunched Clothes Show TV! It’s a pretty new venture for me so please excuse any major bloopers but here I am chatting to the wonderful Hilary Alexander at Graduate Fashion Week…

You can subscribe to Clothes Show TV’s YouTube channel here, Facebook here and follow them on twitter @ClothesShow

Love Ella. X

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5 Minutes With: Alistair Guy

During my three years of blogging it’s been an absolute privilege to interview some of the designers and fashion insiders who’s work inspired me to get into the industry. Recently I realised that despite seeking out interviewees all over the globe for my “5 Minutes With” features I’d totally failed to tap into a resource closer to home, my friends. So over the coming weeks and months fashion pals better watch out as I’ll be hitting you up with Q&A’s! First up is the lovely photographer and my regular party partner in crime, Alistair Guy.

Alistair Guy

Image by Emanuele D’Angelo

During his career so far Alistair Guy has worked for brands and publications ranging from Burberry and Net-a-Porter to Vodafone, Style.com and Smythson. His exhibitions have garnered rave reviews and featured the likes of Erin O’Connor, Yasmin Sewell and Lulu Guinness. I met Alistair shortly after starting my blog and since then we’ve chatted over Cappuccino’s at press brunches, sat together on God-knows-how-many uncomfortable fashion show benches, braved the blistering cold to get “that shot” and danced until dawn at downtown dive bars in New York. But despite all these shared experiences, I realised that I actually knew very little about Alistair Guy’s life before I came into the picture and frankly, it was high time to find out…

LPA: Tell me a little about yourself. Where did you grow up, study etc…

AG: I grow up in the countryside in Hampshire although all my family is from London originally. I studied photography at West Surrey College of Art and The University of the Creative Arts.

LPA: Growing up, were you always interested in fashion? Or was it photography that drew you into that world?

AG: Both. While I was a photographic assistant I did a bit of modelling so learnt the industry on the other side of the lens then put the two together five years ago and here I am now.

LPA: What was your first real job and how did you get it?

AG: Shooting for Style.com five years ago as my photography friend at British Vogue turned it down and recommended me.

LPA: Since then you’ve worked with big name brands ranging from Vodafone to Burberry, no mean feat in an infamously cut-throat and competitive industry. What do you feel has given you an edge? Can you pinpoint a time or particular job that really took you to that next level professionally?

AG: Keeping my head held high, being positive and enjoying every minute of it. My first solo exhibition entitled ‘Behind The Seams’, a lot of great people came along, especially from British Vogue and it grew from there.

LPA: Of all the fascinating and inspiring people you’ve photographed during your career so far, who has been the most LPA: memorable and why?

AG: I would have to say photographing Erin O’Connor (three times, All Walks Beyond The Catwalk campaign, The Independent On Sunday and for my third exhibition ‘On His Knees’) as she is a wonderful person inside and out who believed in me.

LPA: You do a variety of different kinds of photography ranging from street style and lookbooks to fashion editorials and portraits. Do you have a favourite? How different are they in both practical and creative terms?

AG: Yes its classic portraiture which is what I’m going back to now. Doing different types of photography makes me more diverse and I enjoy a challenge.

LPA: Is there anyone you haven’t shot yet but would particularly love to?

AG: My next exhibition will be on male actors so I’d have to say Bill Nighy and other Hollywood actors.

LPA: Besides your photographic work, you also run a successful blog. How and why did you decide to start it?

AG: It started off as a bit of fun then that industry grew as you know so now it keeps me even busier.

LPA: On the subject of blogging, a couple of seasons ago I overheard a pair of journalists complaining about the number of your bloggers running around Somerset House during fashion week. What’s your view on it?

AG: I encourage people to blog and be creative but with a purpose as there are too many people out there not doing this or having any real direction, I believe it is essential to any business great or small.

LPA: What is your ultimate career aim for the future?

AG: I’d love to do a book with all my portraits in it and maybe one day open a gallery with a tearoom.

Love Ella. X

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5 Minutes With: Lara Ventura

Lara Ventura

If you’re an avid Grazia reader (and if not, why the HELL not!?) then you will undoubtedly have heard of today’s interviewee. Earlier this month the world’s best fashion weekly ran a story on SS13′s most stylish swimwear labels and with Rita Ora, Suki Waterhouse and Bip Ling all fans of her designs, it wasn’t surprising that Lara Ventura was featured. I caught up with the designer to talk Central Saint Martins, e-commerce and being a fashion entrepreneur…

Lara Ventura

LPA: Tell me a little about your background. Where did you grow up? Were you always interested in fashion?

LV: I grew up in Aberdeen, Scotland where I had a very creative childhood.  My Mum is Italian and my Dad is Indian, and they both encouraged me to do something I was passionate about. I became interested in fashion at around thirteen when I started to make my own clothes, and at fifteen I decided I wanted to move to London to try and study fashion design at Central Saint Martins. At the age of seventeen I moved down to London permanently to study a foundation course and then progressed to Saint Martins a year later, where I did my degree.

LPA: You studied Fashion Design and Knitwear at Central Saint Martins before going on to work as a knitwear designer for various luxury brands. What prompted the move into lingerie and swimwear?

LV: Knitwear was my specialized field but I got into intimate apparel a few years back when a friend of mine had a wholesale lingerie business that she needed help with, I started doing some work for her and went solo from there, I built up a huge following of private clients. It was whilst doing this that I saw a niche for an online destination for a different style of lingerie and swimwear, and a gap in the market for a cooler and more fashion-orientated lingerie and swim e-tailer. All the brands on offer had tacky details and embellishments, and I wanted to avoid that and focus more on style, cuts, embroidery and exclusive prints. I wasn’t impressed by many high-end brands aesthetics so Lara Ventura fills all the gaps. What’s great about Lara Ventura is that it’s one of the only design-led luxury swim and lingerie labels at this slightly lower price point that does not compromise on style or quality.  I do miss the skill and technicality of knitwear but I am incorporating textiles into my lingerie and swimwear now. I also have a strong visual team around me and total focus and control of how my products are presented. The big picture is that everything enhances the Lara Ventura brand. This leads to better customer satisfaction.

LPA: Starting your own business is always a brave and fairly high-risk move, let alone doing so in the middle of a recession. Why did you decide to take the leap and launch Lara Ventura swimwear in 2011? Being honest, how tough was it?

LV: Being honest… it’s been extremely hard. I decided to finance it myself from my consulting and freelance work so budgeting was a nightmare- I’ve had some messy situations when I’ve bitten off way more than I can chew. I also started quite young, when most of my friends were quite carefree- I’ve had to grow up a lot quicker. The first two years were a lot of fun as I did have a few lucky breaks that got me through the door, I was working and investing my earnings in a manageable way without having to compromise on my personal life, but the following 15 months were extremely challenging. Sourcing was a long process and multi-tasking whilst holding down work was exhausting.

What gave me faith and confidence was that I had always had success with lingerie- I knew the business so well because of my years of freelance and one-to-one clientele experience. Thankfully the Internet has made everything so much easier and I have been able to grow at my own pace without stockists or show deadlines. I was confident that I could manufacture a range that was at a slightly lower and competitive price-point, yet of the highest quality, offering a product that was both wanted and needed within the swimwear market. A challenge- but I knew if I could get the right publicity it would work. I also had a good network of people around me who work in the industry and were willing to offer invaluable advice.

LPA: Besides your own designs, LaraVentura.co.uk also sells a selection of other international labels. Why is this so important to you? And how do you choose which brands to stock?

LV: It’s important for me to give the customer a range of options as the Lara Ventura brand has such a strong identity and is a particular fit. All brands selected for the site have to reflect and blend with the Lara Ventura brand and overall vibe of the website. They must be fashion and design-led, at an accessible price point with a strong and distinct design philosophy. I think it is important to offer something fresh and different; there are so many amazing international labels out there, South America in particular are doing some incredible things with swimwear and lingerie and I want to share these designs with my customers. I wanted my site to have a different aesthetic to your typical multi-brand website, as there are so many of them around now. I selected brands such as Maaji and Amulette from Columbia and Jenna Leigh from New York; all of which have a strong design philosophy and are beautifully made to a high standard. They’re not so well-known in the UK yet but you’ve got to follow your instinct and take risks with new brands. So far they are performing well. Ultimately, all brands I choose to have on the site reflect the exotic lifestyle and fashion-forward aesthetic of Lara Ventura.

LPA: Lara Ventura has gathered a bit of a cult following with Suki Waterhouse, Rita Ora and Bip Ling all fans. Is there anyone else you’d particularly love to see wearing your designs?

LV: I think Olga Kurlenko is beautiful and elegant in her style; I would love to see her in some of my more classic pieces. Mila Kunis too. Kate Bosworth, Poppy Delevingne and Miranda Kerr have great style and would look good in some of the digital print two-pieces.

LPA: So you’ve got swimwear and lingerie sorted for life, which brands do you favour when it comes to clothes?

LV: Despite having such a sexy brand- I’m not into showing much flesh. My personal style is quite dapper and boyish, bordering on bohemian in the summer. I love Sandro, Stella Mc Cartney, Paul & Joe, Isabel Marant and Acne for easy-to-wear luxury basics, and I ‘m currently obsessed with Equipment shirts and Russell and Bromley for shoes- I can’t seem to have enough!  On the high-street Cos and The Kooples are current favourites.

LPA: What advice would you give to budding fashion entrepreneurs hoping to launch their own company?

LV: Make sure your product has a niche and a strong identity – otherwise it’ll just get lost in such a competitive market. You have to understand and accept that you will make massive sacrifices and lifestyle changes – you have to expect to do this for 2-3 years. You have to be realistic about your financial situation to be able to gauge whether you can see the initial start-up through. Starting a business from scratch takes everything out of you and that little bit more, so you need physical and mental strength-but if you can get through that you will be more resilient and adaptive, as I have learned. Passion and talent isn’t enough to make it in this business so you need to do your research, know your market and customer and be sure that your product is needed and commercially viable. Stamina, durability and determination is key-don’t be put off by the first hurdle (because there will be more ahead) and always keep the long-term goal in your head.

Love Ella. X

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