My McQueen and me

Deirdre McQuillan shares her fashion editor’s insight into how to be a savvy salesshopper – and snaps up a hard-working classic Alexander McQueen jacket for €105

Irish Times fashion editor Deirdre McQuillan wearing her Alexander McQueen jacket, a sales bargain at €105. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Irish Times fashion editor Deirdre McQuillan wearing her Alexander McQueen jacket, a sales bargain at €105. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Sat, Jul 6, 2013, 01:00

T he sales are among us, shoppers. In fashion terms, this is a quiescent time with the autumn/winter collections previewing, new-season deliveries making their first appearance and spring/summer stock fading in price and desirability. Many store buyers are now, however, talking about “seasonless” clothes as climate change confuses; summers that are wet and cold, winters wet and mild. So what are the worthwhile sales buys, the savvy investment pieces in the midst of the holiday season?

Experienced sales sleuths follow six maxims:
1. Go for the good stuff, for something that will last.
2. Something that fits perfectly – uncomfortable shoes will remain so.
3. Something that can be worn winter or summer.
4. Something that will fit in with your existing wardrobe.
5. Something desirable that was beyond your means before.
6. Something that transforms the way you look or feel. And all for a fraction of the original price.

As a fashion editor, you’re besieged daily with details of the latest reductions – “sensational” sales offers usually followed by a profusion of shouty exclamation marks. It can create a kind of immunity. One this week, for instance, was offering 20,000 items now on sale (“Shop Women. Shop Men” went the somewhat ambiguous headline) from an online designer brand company appropriately called Farfetch – 40 per cent off Marni, a Helmut Lang crop half price. Now where would you begin?

This season, plagued by bad weather and austerity, has been a disaster for retailers. On a sales recce with real bargains in abundance and up to 70 per cent reductions, customer numbers were few on the ground and there was little of the usual scrum around the discount rails. There’s no point in cruising for high-street buys at a time like this; the real pickings are to be found at the higher end, where there is better value.

I hardly ever head to a sale with a specific target in mind, the sole exception, if you’ll excuse the pun, being for shoes. The best of the shoe bargains were those offering the new Roger Vivier-style flats with pointed toes now coming into fashion (Fitzpatricks had them in black or nude patent for €149, down from €249) and black leather ankle boots, a chunky pair by Prada at Brown Thomas were €289, down from €585, and Zanotti’s sleeker versions were €335 down from €570, both of which would be stylish winter or summer buys.

In Arnotts, Buffalo has cut the prices of its high tops (popular because of their leg-lengthening qualities) from €160 to €80, while LK Bennett’s zebra-striped stilettos would give any black outfit a lift for €115 (down from €345).

In Brown Thomas, one-off buys worth the initial outlay included a sleek, updated Burberry trench called “Stonehenge”, down from €995 to €695. It wasn’t the classic double-breasted number, but a slimmer, single-breasted version without gun flaps or epaulettes that came with two belts, one dressy, the other plain. A sexy Stella McCartney tuxedo, another familiar staple and a collector’s item, was €495, down from a hefty €1,280. With tweed back in fashion, a Dolce & Gabbana multicoloured tweed skirt (with pockets), at €195 down from €450, could be teamed with any solid colour top, cardigan or jacket in any one of the colours and look fresh for either summer or winter.

In Havana, a Simone Rocha sleeveless black lace dress with a sheer front panel was half price at €465; a special dress for a special occasion from Ireland’s hottest young designer.

For those sticking to black – which is back in force for winter – I found in Arnotts a lovely M Missoni black-and-white striped dress (vertical, not horizontal stripes) at €265, down from €530, and a cute black knit dress with white collar, which was €242, down from €485; useful workaday buys that could be dressed up or down. Even with 50 per cent reductions, some bags were still expensive (a tiny clutch by Celine down to €400 from €800 was no bargain in BTs), though a black tote from Coach in Arnotts was €205, down from €295.

On the basis that it’s vital to try things on, the sensory experience being paramount, sales shopping can test discipline and willpower. We’re told that we make impulse decisions emotionally and rationalise them with facts. I know the damn coat is expensive, but the fabric is good, the cut is good, the fit is right and it will last more than one winter, so what’s not good to buy?

And it’s a myth that it’s only females who succumb to sales fever; men get hot under the collar too. Brooks Brothers shirts were half price in Arnotts – the cotton is always top quality – and Hackett’s more buttoned up look was down 30 per cent. In Brown Thomas, a Yves St Laurent stone mac was €490, down from €1,350, a practical all-year-round buy, and a Prada grey wool suit (two-button, single-breasted) might earn its keep for work. A friend in Paris told me the only time she ever saw men fighting was over silk ties at a Hermès sale.

Still there’s nothing to beat that sense of satisfaction when you’ve snapped up a real trophy, whose success lies in the fact that its usage has more than served its worth.

Despite dishing the advice and knowing some of the pitfalls, I’ve had my share of success and failure like everyone else. I’ve a pair of boots, clean-cut equestrian style, that have covered hundreds of miles of pavement and more than justified their original cost. But a navy dress bought on the spur of the moment was worn only once. Still, the day’s coup, despite a resolution not to buy, was a black jacket by Alexander McQueen that gave me a figure I don’t have. With an original price tag of €695, now mine for €105, it is destined for a hard-wearing life, winter and summer.

With thanks to Petria Lenehan of Dolls cafe/boutique, Dublin

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