The wardrobe builders: How Cork's independent boutiques predict the next new fashion trend

Carolyn Moore talks to some of Cork’s best-loved independent boutiques about how they predict what their customers will love from the A/W trends.

In another life, I ran an independent fashion label that got picked up by Topshop as a concession brand. 

For my first season , I designed a small autumn winter collection of a dozen or so dresses; produced enough stock to fill a couple of rails; and figured I’d replenish those styles as they sold, while working on my spring collection.

Boy was I wrong. 

That may have been how things worked for an independent brand, but as I quickly realised, the high street was another beast. 

Not two weeks into this endeavour, I was pulled aside by the store’s brand manager. “This is all well and good,” she said, looking over my sales and stock levels, “but when are we going to see some newness?” 

I looked at her appalled. Newness was not a word in my vocabulary, and it had never come up in six months of negotiations with Topshop’s buyers. 

I guess they assumed I had some basic understanding that there were not two, or four, or even six or eight seasons on the high street anymore, there was simply an endless appetite for newness.

It’s become relentless. 

As anyone who’s ever tried to shop the high street at the beginning of a new season knows, the experience can be overwhelming. Look to any magazine’s bulging September issue this month and you’ll see pages and pages of fashion coverage dissecting all the key trends and explaining how to shop for them.

Consumers are bombarded with so much newness that the seasons have become blurred. High street buyers are under huge pressure to gauge emerging consumer trends, hedging their bets on changing weather patterns in a fast fashion cycle that keeps accelerating, while navigating in real time a consumer shift back towards buying in season. 

All of which means stores are trying to straddle more than one season at a time, and it’s not uncommon in August to find winter coats hanging alongside bikinis.

Though it’s refreshing to have moved on from when you couldn’t get a bikini for love nor money once the autumn drops start landing in July, too much choice is confusing, leaving consumers wondering what to buy, when to buy it, and how quickly the hot trend will become redundant.

At the other end of the spectrum, independent boutiques can offer some respite from the madness. While the high street strives to be all things to all people, those boutiques that survived the recession or opened after the worst of it had passed know that their strength lies in being one thing to a select few. 

Carefully curating each new season’s trends, often with particular customers in mind, the best boutique owners are beyond business people and buyers; you can consider them your personal fashion editor.

Reviewing multiple trends each season, they distil them into a tightly edited offering that reflects, not just their own personal taste, but the taste of their long-term clientele. Their customers might differ vastly in age, taste and income, but ask the owners of some of Cork’s best-loved boutiques and they’ll tell you the same thing: they cater to busy women who appreciate quality.

“We try to look beyond the trends and focus instead on our clients’ style preferences,” says Clodagh Shorten of Samui. “At this stage we have a strong idea of what will prove popular with our customers, so we seek out labels and collections that fit the Samui ethos, rather than the other way around.

“There will always be a nod to the big trends, and this season, for us it’s largely tailoring, via Jacquemus and Osman, and the feminine, romantic trend, courtesy of Paskal.”

Sisters Lisa and Susan Jane of Olori are also buying big into tailoring. “We buy for busy women,” says Lisa. “Our customer wants comfortable, edgy, timeless pieces with an emphasis on quality, and this season we’re loving the over-sized aesthetic championed by Victoria Beckham.”

For an unabashed take on the romance trend, try PaperDolls. “The PaperDolls woman is very feminine,” says owner Aisling.

“She loves texture and colour, so I buy richly detailed pieces when it comes to occasion wear, and look for casuals with a luxurious edge. Heritage denims and quality knits are great foundation pieces for a new season wardrobe.” 

From high end to mid-range, Cork’s boutiques are catering to anyone inclined to look beyond the high street for hard working wardrobe builders, high fashion investment pieces, or occasionwear. 

While you may pay less on the high street, for busy women, the time saved shopping a tight seasonal edit with an attentive assistant who knows their body, their budget and their taste, is worth the extra investment.


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