Monday, 7 December 2015


“People come in here with a need but they leave with a want,” smiles Marla Collins-Soana, buyer at Retro Clothing, Notting Hill. Sandwiched in-between a garish tourist shop and an unassuming art shop, Retro Clothing is not immediately eye catching as you wander past, involuntarily herded along by throngs of people pushing their way along Portobello Road.

Step inside and you understand why people liken un-cave like places to Aladdin’s Cave. Rows upon rows of previously loved clothing line the walls. A glass cabinet runs along the length of the store, filled with glittering pairs of shoes, their labels twinkling under the lights.

I couldn’t resist, and nor could most of the people, mainly women, in there. I wanted what I couldn’t have, what other people were holding and what I’d seen in magazines. As I clasped an exclusive sweatshirt in my hand, glaring at anyone who dared come close, I eagerly showed my friends.

“That’s so nice,” they both mumbled. “But, it’s just a jumper. Isn’t it?”

Just a Jumper

I turned away, exasperated, unable to hide my horror that they did not appreciate the wonder of this find. But it got me thinking. I did not need another sweatshirt, although I tried to convince myself I did. No, it wasn’t a question of need.

I wanted it. Inexplicably. Like a screaming toddler wants the last biscuit.

That is the nature of fashion. In truth, it has always been its nature. For who needs last season’s wedge trainers, or this season’s camel coat? Clothes are just clothes, aren’t they? They are a way of covering up and keeping warm. Why does it matter what label is sewn into the collar, or which celebrity wore it to a party?

But fashion is much more than its superficial surface suggests. Clothes are one of the greatest forms of self-expression, giving brands an opportunity to win our loyalty. Their challenge is to create a product that will be wanted, not just at that moment, and not just by us. But one that might, one day, hang on the rails of Retro Clothing to be snatched up and clasped in the desperate hand of another like me.

The reality is, as Marla said: “People move in herds. They are more likely to buy something if someone else wants it.” She goes on to recount an aggressive stand off that occurred between two women over a Chanel dress. It was a beach dress, not dissimilar to a Juicy Couture number, but obviously far its superior on account of the logo emblazoned along the hem. She is unsure how the argument was resolved but it is clear that this sort of dispute fails to shock her anymore.

Having studied at London College of Fashion and Central Saint Martins, following in the footsteps of her idol, Lee McQueen, Marla has worked within many different aspects of the fashion industry. She has an eye for detail and for what people do not even know they want. She believes: “A lot of people don’t know about these kinds of shops. But people are starting to wake up.”

Standing Out

As social media bombards us with images of ‘stylish’ people dressed in various, similar guises, shoppers are searching for ways to stand out. As are brands themselves.

American Apparel is one example, having created both a powerful brand and a concept that has not waned in popularity even after the scandals that plague the company. Arguably selling what other high street stores sell, Sophie Bays, the shop assistant from New Zealand, said: “It is the sweatshop guarantee that makes people want to buy the clothes. They know the story of how the clothes are made, so they are more inclined to spend the money.”

The fundamental task for each brand is, as Marla said: “Be authentic. Start off with something small but have a big dream.” Make clothing that people will hunt down and fight over not because they need the skirt for work the next day but because they want it.

Indulge your inner toddler, albeit minus the public tantrum, and head to the nearest charity shop.

Now it is time to buy what you want.

You have enough of what you need.

Ph. shot on Sony x55

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