The iStreet revolution

Forget actual shops — the queues, that muzak — Rachel Marie Walsh on the online stores that give you the world’s best designs at the click of a button

Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos — a relaxed, jeans-to-work kind of billionaire — made the fashion world raise its shades last week when he told The New York Times he plans to enter the designer clothing market. Bezos said he is making a “significant” investment in order to entice top brands to sell via the world’s largest online retailer. If this venture succeeds, Amazon will pose a strong challenge to Net-a-Porter.com’s status as the number one site for label lovers. Viewed by 2.5 million women monthly, the luxury fashion “e-tailer” broke new ground in 2000 by wooing some of fashion’s biggest names web-ward for the first time. Several competitors have emerged in recent years, offering bargains, new designers, support for small boutiques and unique shopping experiences. Here are five of the best and some summer fashion picks.

TheCorner.com

TheCorner.com is an online riff on the concession-based department store. Each label has a “corner” store to brand as its own with multimedia content, allowing customers to better understand the designer’s ideas and inspirations. This is an extremely fashion-forward e-tailer for men and women. The corners are all occupied by artisanal or influential designers, including Simone Rocha (daughter of John) and Haider Ackermann (Karl Lagerfeld’s heir apparent and Tilda Swinton’s go-to designer). Nicola Formichetti, stylist to Lady Gaga, and YSL designer Hedi Slimane have both worked on the site’s impressive archive of fashion shoots, videos, and short films. If Swinton and Gaga’s clothes leave you gobsmacked, don’t be deterred. The stock is carefully selected and highly wearable.

Bikini by Mungo Gurney, €90 at www.TheCorner.com

LuisaviaRoma.com

LuisaViaRoma.com began as the online arm of a seventy-year-old Florence boutique in 1999. Following a 2009 re-launch, it expanded its range, launched a 3D-version of the boutique’s interior and embraced social networking. Traffic has tripled since the multimedia makeover and the site is now viewed by over 2 million men and women monthly. The store stocks a broad mix of labels, from “Made in Italy” brands to hard-to-find niche names and a mid-priced own-brand. LuisaViaRoma.com regularly collaborates with fledgling designers, allowing them to sell alongside established talents. A “Style Guide” section shows videos of models in occasion-specific looks. Like Net-a-Porter.com, the site produces an online magazine. LVRMagazine features a section called “Follow the Buyers,” which takes you front row and back stage with the sites buying team. One of the site’s biggest draws is that is makes stock available for pre-order. The full Autumn/Winter collection is online in June and the Spring/Summer stock in December. Check out the end of season sale which runs for the next 2-3 weeks, depending on demand.

Fedora hat by Borsalino, €117 at www.LuisaViaRoma.com

TheOutnet.com

This team behind Net-a-Porter launched this designer outlet site in 2009. TheOutnet.com offers clothes, shoes, bags and accessories from over 200 designers. Stock is discounted by up to 70% and there are regular flash sales, as well as garments created exclusively for the site. Outlet shopping online is far more pleasant than the bricks-and-mortar experience. Designer clothes lose their lustre on unglamorous, basic shopfloors but look as appealing as full-price items on an elegant website.

The thrill of the hunt is spoilt when you feel surrounded by last season’s leftovers, which you won’t at your computer. Unearthing a great (i.e. not just cheap) buy in an outlet store takes time and occasionally aggression. A well-organised website with a mobile app shrinks a day-long shopping trip to a 15-minute search. Consider real-life crowds and queues and you begin to understand why TheOutnet.com took off so quickly.

The site’s buying team generally source fashion wheat, rather than chaff, so there’s little sorting to do. There’s also a foolproof look-selection section called “Dress Me” which pulls together potential outfits for specific events, e.g. weddings, cocktail parties. New stock is added three times a week which, I must warn you, can cause compulsive “window” shopping.

Neala nubuck leather sandals by Pour la Victoire, €127.91 (original price €255.82) at www.TheOutnet.com

Farfetch.com

Boutique shopping is fantastic fun. The experience is more relaxed and friendly than in a department store and there are pieces that aren’t hanging in shops throughout Europe. Best of all, if you find an owner whose tastes you share you can expect lovely surprises each season. Farfetch.com is a veritable Match.com for boutiques and the women who love them. The London-based marketplace site partners with independent stores around the world to offer customers a choice of over 1,000 labels. Every conceivable taste is catered to and vintage shopping is especially reasonable (an Yves Saint Laurent pencil skirt and Versace trousers, each for under €100, are bargains I’m not too greedy to mention). While orders are fulfilled by individual boutiques, the site offers a free returns service with free collection from any address. Farfetch.com is easy on the eyes and there’s an editorial section with news, features and a music selection from the site’s fashion community (if you really need a shopping soundtrack).

The advantages this hub has over Ebay include thoroughly-researched stockists, quality assurance and the confidence inspired by reputable boutique names like L’Eclaireur (Paris). Spokeswoman Emma Copeland tells me they are currently looking to partner with boutiques in the Republic.

Jellyfish print vest from McQ by Alexander McQueen, €85 at Smets Luxembourg via www.farfetch.com

NotJustALabel.com

Once upon a time only committed (read well-funded) fashionistas could patronise fledgling designers. NotJustALabel.com lets you play Daphne Guinness to a choice of over 6,000 emerging talents from 88 countries. Castletownshend-based Alice Halliday and Limerick’s Anne Marie Neligan are among the site’s 39 Irish designers. Founded in 2006 by former model Stefan Siegel and Daniel, his computer scientist brother, NJAL offers designers exposure, research resources and an international sales platform.

NJAL supervises all orders and guarantees the quality of materials and quick delivery.

There’s an online boutique with staff and celebrity picks. The site’s design echoes an arty fashion magazine with editorial and news sections, videos, an international events calendar and designer interviews.

Fuchsia clutch, €187 by L’ile Aux Ashby at www.NotJustALabel.com


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