Because you can't have depths without surfaces.
Linda Grant, thinking about clothes, books and other matters.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Dark at the end of the tunnel

At Browns: 'There is a huge demand by our customers for evening dresses with sleeves which we can't meet because we haven't got the stock. The designers aren't making them.'

At Donna Karan: 'Anything with sleeves sells out the day it comes in in the larger sizes.’

At Harvey Nichols/Harrods/Alberta Ferretti: 'No. Nothing. Only have left in in XS. Sold out. Don't stock. Have you tried . . .'

At the press day for Anya Hindmarch SS09 (three fashion editors): 'Black tie is a nightmare if you want sleeves.'

Jaeger: new readers start here

Jaeger is a brand which is 125 years old. It started out making woollen underwear (George Bernard Shaw said he looked like a radish in his) but by the 30s had branched out into fashion and established the Regent Street flagship store it still occupies. By the 60s Jaeger was a byword for very good quality beautiful clothes and its junior label, Young Jaeger had ad campaigns modelled by Jean Shrimpton and shot by David Bailey. Many fashion houses went under in the 70s, Jaeger survived, but its clothes were in a word, frumpy. They were clothes your mother wore, if your mother liked understated, boring beige elegance. By the turn of this decade Jaeger was essentially a brand for old ladies.

Just before it was sold to its present owner, Chairman of the British Fashion Council, Harold Tillman, it divested itself of its US standalone stores, and took on designer Bella Freud who injected some youth into the label. By the summer of 2006, with a new CEO, Belinda Earle at the helm, who had turned around the department store Debenhams by introducing line-ups with designers like Jasper Conran, Julien McDonald, and Ben de Lisi, it had take stock of what it was producing and discovered that it had lost its DNA. It was making beige and pastel polyester sacks.

It divided the company into three labels: Jaeger London, Jaeger Black (high-end conservative investment dressing) and Jaeger Collection, the continuation of what it had been doing for the last couple of decades so as not to lose its existing customer base. Jaeger London is what I will be talking about here.

It was the summer of 2006 that I started noticing a black tunic dress with little bobbles at the hem. Anya Hindmarch was wearing it and when I asked her where it was from, she said with a blush Jaeger though she had 'had to fall over several zimmer frames to reach it.' The dress was featured in the fashion victim's bible, Grazia. Alexandra Shulman, editor of Vogue, mentioned Jaeger to me, and finally I saw Hillary Alexander, the Telegraph's fashion editor, wearing a Jaeger dress with a MaxMara jacket at a party at the V&A. (She was wearing the same dress at Jaeger's show on Monday.)

This was when I bought my first Jaeger dress.

Last February Jaeger London held its first ever show at London Fashion Week and it was a sensation. The clothes started arriving in the shops in the middle of August and most are now in. I have been steadily buying several pieces and they form the mainstay of my wardrobe. On Monday Jaeger held its second show, and the reviews were all raves. This is down to the vision of Belinda Earle and the design talent of Karen Boyd who had a label with Helen Storey in the 80s.

What is it I like about Jaeger? Two things:

- I have been convinced for a year now that over a certain age, and in this economy, it's better to buy a smaller number of well made garments than loads of cheap of-the-moment items from Zara and H&M. Jaeger prices at the lower end of the designer price-range, so within reach and they have excellent sales

- Jaeger designs edgy clothes for older women, by older, I mean over 35-40, which they recognise to be their market. Belinda Earle told me that the mantra for their customer is fit and flatter, but we're the generations which were wearing mini skirts in the 60s or body con bandage dresses in the 80s. We don't want to look like our mothers. We want to go forward with style.

Sitting on the second row on Monday, directly behind Erin O'Connor, and two of the Jagger girls, you understood that Jaeger's mission to throw off its frumpy associations were complete. Kate Moss wears Jaeger and now Lizzie Jagger does too. The coat I nearly bought was worn by Shirley Bassey and Erin O'Connor, over fifty years apart in age.

I understand that in the next year Jaeger will be expanding internationally and into partnerships with US department stores. So if you're in the US and can't yet get your hands on this brand, I'm really sorry, because as the US economy staggers from disaster to disaster with worrying consequences for all of us, it's nice for us over here to be a bit proud to be British.