Could any big budget marketing campaign or flash celebrity endorsement ever be more persuasive than a good old-fashioned recommendation from a friend?
Joanna Sykes, the British designer relaunching her namesake label this autumn, thinks not, and is building her entire business plan around the fact that you will want to tell everyone where you got those amazingly cut, unbelievably soft trousers from.
“There are so many brands now, why do you choose to shop with a certain one?” she asks as she pulls a tray of hot croissants out of the oven at her home-turned-studio in London’s Kensal Green.
“It’s not just because you like the clothes, it’s more than that. You share a point of view with someone like me, the founder. If you have that connection, you’ll probably tell your friends about it too. Word of mouth is the most powerful thing, especially for a smaller business like mine.”
Back in 2007, Sykes first showed her eponymous label of luxurious basics to critical acclaim at London Fashion Week.
But despite – or rather, because of – her success, she put the business on hold when creative directorships at Aquascutum, and then Nicole Farhi, proved irresistible.
In the year leading up to the relaunch Sykes, 38, has been developing her collection from her renovated town house.
Her marbled kitchen counter is reappropriated as a sampling table, mood boards cover the walls in the dining area, and the living room now doubles up as a showroom.
Realising that this personal approach could provide a point of difference when squaring up to the world’s commercial fashion giants, Sykes’ strategy going forward is to meet as many of her customers as possible, hosting trunk shows, at-home gatherings and pop-up shops aplenty, as well as selling on her own website from November (the pre-ordering service launches this month).The key word that she hopes clients will pass on to pals is “comfort” – though not at the detriment of style.
At the heart of her initial 40-piece range is a series of sportswear-tailoring hybrids, or “tracksuit suiting” as she calls it. Sykes wants your work wardrobe to feel as comfortable as the clothes that you might slob around the house in on a lazy Sunday, but to look sharper and cooler than anything you’ve worn to the office before.
“It’s the new suit dressing,” she confirms. “The tracksuit suit is essential – it’s smart and it’s fitted, but it’s relaxed because it is made in stretch fabric.
“That’s the look of now, I think.”
Also on the menu are classic white shirts with ribbed collars and zip-fronts, plus pique “tracksuit cocktail dresses” so soft that you could waft around at a kitchen supper in them, but with springy, engineered darts at the waist to ensure you look your best.
“With the fit, every line is designed to accentuate your female form,” she explains.
“We don’t want to look like we’ve come from the gym; it’s about taking the functionality of sportswear and putting it into pieces that still look really tailored and slick… It’s not so much a trend as a lifestyle shift, as women are just dressing differently,” she says of what inspired her approach.
“The expectations of what people should wear in the workplace have changed and the lines are so blurred now: you’re working freelance, you’re travelling all the time, you need to be relaxed.
“You can throw these things into a case and they won’t crease, you can unzip the dresses and show some cleavage when you go out.
“I live like this; I want things that are versatile and work hard.”
With prices starting at £90 for tops, between £275 and £575 for dresses, and reaching £730 for coats, Sykes acknowledges that her clothes are investment buys. “I wanted to bring that quality you could find at Céline or The Row, but make it more affordable,” she says.
“I personally want to spend money on something I will wear a lot, and that will last, rather than some high fashion thing that I’ll wear to a party once.”
After graduating from Central Saint Martins in 2001, she cut her teeth in Milan working for Giorgio Armani and Alberta Ferretti before launching her eponymous brand the first time in 2007.
“I see things quite differently this time around,” she admits. “The marketplace has changed and moved on a lot – you don’t have to follow that schedule of seasons and cycles like you used to.”
If Michael Halpern, overleaf, has plans to dazzle our party season wardrobes, then Sykes has the solutions come Monday morning, when you’ve got a flight to catch, or a client to win over, or some other task that need to looks effortless, even if it isn’t.
“There are a lot of supporting pieces in there. When you find that pair of trousers that makes your a— look great, you want to buy them again,” she laughs.
“I want consistent cuts so that people will say, ‘I love her silk vests’ and know they can guarantee they’ll find them in my collection.
“I shop like that myself; I buy variations of the same things every season. You want a classic but the new version of it.”