A few weeks ago I was invited to one of the most exciting experiences of my life, the chance to meet a real fashion legend, a woman whose designs have been worn by the likes of Diana, Princess of Wales and Kate Middleton, and whose career is full of amazing highs and horrifying lows, the fabulous Amanda Wakeley.
I was invited by Fiona Gandy from the digital media agency 7thingsmedia, along with a small group of bloggers to spend an evening with Amanda at her flagship store on the Fulham Road, London. On arrival we were greeted with Pink Champagne and canapés, and had chance to marvel at the beautiful clothes that were surrounding us. There was a lot of excitement in the studio at the news that Venus Williams was going to be wearing an Amanda design at the Pre Wimbledon party at Kensington Roof Gardens the following evening, and this general air just added to the glamour of the evening.
Amanda circulated amongst the audience before the start of the talk, and was warm and very friendly. She was really interested in talking about my blog and was interested to find out the origins of Fashion-Mommy and how I was using this to forge a career and make some sort of living from it. We also had an interesting chat about the situation with fashion interns and the problems that this has created.
Amanda then gave us a potted history of the Amanda Wakeley line. We heard about the origins of the original designs from the early 1990s, when Amanda found it difficult to find the cool, clean lines and understated garments that she had enjoyed wearing in New York in the late 1980s, how she had often been asked about her handmade clothing(particularly a black suede duster coat) whilst out shopping in London in stores like Browns and Harvey Nichols, and how she had realised there was a real gap in the market for well made, understated clothing in the UK.
Amanda explained how she had started in a very small studio, but that the label had taken off so that soon Diana, Princess of Wales was wearing the label. Amanda explained ‘Back then, the power of dressing a royal was huge, the same as dressing Angelina Jolie, or Kate Middleton today.’
However the success of the 1990s was followed by the dark times of the millennium. Many problems with the ownership of the company and the company name saw Amanda Wakeley hit her lowest point in December 2008, with the company sold from beneath her to a restructuring company. She says ‘I didn’t even own Amanda Wakeley – the name, my name.’
However Amanda bounced back and registered the name AW Atelier, and by the end of January 2009 she was able to buy back the Amanda Wakeley name and Amanda Wakeley Bridal. The new flagship store was opened in 2009, with the website launched in the same year. The very successful jewellery line was launched in 2010, and is now highly acclaimed, and much sort after. Amanda’s story is a real cautionary tale, but one that has a really positive ending.
I asked Amanda the question – Did you ever feel like giving up?
AW: For about 3 weeks in Christmas 2008 – I felt really bad about what had happened with the company being sold beneath me. I thought how could someone I had known socially do that to me? But after that three weeks – no. Still as passionate as ever.
Another question – How important do you think online influence, marketing is?
AW: So important – generating both sales and brand awareness, taping into different markets. As little as 5 years ago print was way more important than online, but you couldn’t say that now. What Natalie Massenet has done with Net-A-Porter is amazing. What vision!
What is your proudest moment?
AW: Probably my OBE. But it is also rewarding when a women wears your clothes and feels empowered, as rewarding as when celebs wear my clothes?
I did try to find a little about Kate Middleton, but…
AW: I have to sign a confidentiality clause…but I can say she is a fan of the brand….
What keeps you up at night?
AW: Everything – My dog! Sales figures, all aspects of the job. Always things to think about – always the next collection.
Who would you like to dress?
AW: I love Emily Blunt, and Rachel Weiss, they both have great style, they’re both cool.
And the new, Pre-Fall collection…?
Lots of corsetry. Scuba jersey – 1950s inspired. Kaftans in beautifully embellished Japanese silk. Clothing that is soft on the outside but structured on the inside. Leather is very popular in the collection – Nappa leather in particular feels gorgeous. Calf skin dresses with exposed zips – something of a signiature. A little bit of Mad Men styling.