Monday, 8 December 2014

The Good, The Bargain, and the Hackney

If you've read this 'blog' for more than 5 seconds you'll know that I love a bargain. And while it's true that pretty much everyone in the world loves a bargain, people in fashion definitely love a bargain (and know how to find one) more than most.

Perhaps it's because you do tend to lose a sense of perspective about the true cost of things. You begin to believe that everyone actually buys multiple pairs of £200 jeans, or thinks nothing of dropping on a £700 coat twice a year, or actually pre-orders items from Bond Street stores. As we know from our own actual friends, this really doesn't apply.

Ergo, in fashion, there are a number of accepted, but on-the-DL routes to obtaining your dream wardrobe. You might know someone who knows someone at a PR agency and manage to get gifted, or a discount. You might rigorously shop the sales in high street shops and know which branch of which store is likely to have the exact piece in your size - normally somewhere unexpected like Canary Wharf or Richmond. You might scour eBay for items and get your bidding strategy sharpened up. Or, you might get into the world of sample sales and buy a combination of statement and staple pieces. A warning though, if you have to queue for a sample sale as I was asked to do today, walk away: a queue means that already too many people know about it, and all the best stuff will have gone to that exchange student who got up at 6am with Daddy's credit card to bag all the best stuff. And also, queuing for clothes is so *desperate* darling.

Or, you might (and here's where we come to the title), educate yourself about factory shops and outlets. Bicester Village is one such place, and indeed is one of the biggest tourist attractions in the UK for Chinese visitors. This weekend, I paid another visit to the burgeoning Hackney Fashion Hub, as it's been dubbed, and I came away with mixed feelings.

There's Aquascutum, Pringle, Bally, Anya Hindmarch, and of course Burberry (which was heaving), as well as a brand new Joseph outlet. We went to have a look for a coat for my Dad, which turned out to be an excellent idea since he's slightly larger than average, and those are the sizes that end up in these kind of places. Joseph was exceptionally well-stocked: Lanvin, Trussardi, McQueen, Comme, Dior...all sorts of top quality merch at somewhere between 60 and 80% off. I kept doing this stupid little fashiony gasp when I looked at the labels, deeply irritating my parents with repeated exclamations about 'how AMARZING the prices were for these pieces'. Sorry, Mum & Dad. Anyway, best thing I found was the Junya for Comme suede patchwork jacket that's at the top of this piece. Down from £2100 to £650 (and my size). Sadly I don't have £650, but that's a pretty good saving for a truly statement trans-seasonal piece that'll last for years and become a future classic.

What made me more uneasy is what this means for Hackney. As we know, the irrepressible march of gentrification has claimed a good part of East London and is the reason that I will probably never be able to afford to buy a house in the Capital. It's the reason that crime is down and some of my friends have made £200k on their houses in 2 years. It's the reason that areas that used to be deprived and stab-ridden are now habitable. Gentrification has so many plus and minus points...I'm not going to go into it here. But the new Hackney Fashion Hub is a case in point: transforming a once-no-go area of East London into a hub for designer shopping. The (already-approved) plan involves reclaiming the arches under the overground from light local industry, and demolishing some old terrace houses and a pub to make way for two glass towers and a huge number of retail units.

Yes, this'll surely bring jobs into the area, and trickledown into the local economy, but it's hardly characterful. Having seen the rapid rise of Broadway market from local street just 20 years ago to the yuppie £13-loaf-of-bread promenade that it is now (and playing my own small part in that too), I...well, I don't know. Is this progress? Is it the future? Is it (without wanting to sound *too* Kevin McCloud) better? A relentless rise of these kind of places, that are so blatantly not for locals that it's basically the rule now that anyone who looks vaguely Chinese in Hackney will either be looking for or coming from the Burberry outlet.

It's an integral part of fashion: the global supply chain, and the way things are made that you at least have to be aware of, whatever your opinion on how the wealth is distributed.

But I'm torn. There's no right answer. And the march of progress is tough to deal with. But the one thing is for sure, there is a price to pay for these kind of bargains, wherever you buy them.