Rixo revoloution: Vintage inspired dresses worn by Amy Huberman, Margot Robbie and more
The best pals behind the Rixo label on going against the ‘samey’ Scandi grain
Orlagh McCloskey and Henrietta Rix, founders and creative directors of Rixo.
A multi-coloured floral silk dress called Camellia became a surprise overnight hit three years ago marking the arrival of a young unknown brand in London called Rixo whose success has become the talk of the fashion industry. Founded by fashion management graduates Cheshire-born English woman Henrietta Rix and Orlagh McCloskey from Dungiven in Co Derry, bosom friends with a shared passion for vintage, the brand’s rapid popularity has captured the attention of buyers, customers and high-profile fans. Free spirited, vintage-inspired dresses in clashing floral print silks have touched a collective nerve and set the tone for collections that now characterise the Rixo look.
“At the time we started, fashion was very Scandi – minimalist and monochrome – and we thought if we could make something beautiful for around €300, people would buy it. The high street had become very samey,” explains McCloskey when we meet in their bright and spacious Fulham flat in London. The pair look like sisters, are the same size, share the same taste in clothes, the same vision for their brand and are passionate about what they do. Ask them a question and they look at each other for guidance before answering.
So what makes Rixo special? “Our [vintage-inspired] colours and shapes are quite different. A lot of people don’t design what you want to wear to feel comfortable and feminine – not structured and stiff or things you wear only once. We like to mix animal prints, florals and polka dots – we do a lot of mixing,” says McCloskey who sketches the designs and has an instinctive ability to match clashing colours and prints with an unerring eye.
“We think about the average customer who is around 30-35 but it can vary from those in their early 20s into the 70s and if something fits and looks nice, why stop at a certain age? A customer who had never worn print before said that she got compliments that she had never received from any other brands,” smiles Rix.
“You have to understand body shape. There are always pieces in the collection that will fit everybody. You think about different scenarios [when you design] – when it would be worn and who is wearing it – for work, holidays, after-work drinks, weddings or weekends. We like to invest in nice materials,” adds McCloskey who, like Rix, spent a period working in ASOS after graduation. Styling (which they do themselves) is key; their Sienna dress/coat for instance can be worn over black jeans and a black polo or simply buttoned up. “What we do is not trend led, but is about things we like. We call it future vintage,” Rix explains.
It all started when they pooled £3,000 each of their savings to form a company, designed a small collection on their kitchen table called The Virtues of Rosemary based on prints of herbs, roots and bulbs using a pattern cutter recommended by designer Richard Quinn. After photographing everything themselves, they then went around all the offices in the locality showing the collection and making a list of press contacts. Their first piece of publicity was in Homes & Gardens magazine – “we then started getting random orders and then Red magazine did a piece followed by Grazia and we nearly sold out. We would go to the post office every day with the packages,” recalls McCloskey.
One of their first Irish customers was radio presenter Louise Duffy. Since then Amy Huberman, Angela Scanlon, Laura Whitmore and Vogue Williams have joined the list of celebrity followers that include Demi Moore, Keira Knightley and Margot Robbie.
When Net a Porter buyers became aware of Rixo fans in its own office, it asked to see the collection and within three weeks of being featured on its online site, Rixo had commanded one of the site’s biggest turnovers in the top five contemporary brands, an extraordinary achievement for a company not even a year old. The youngest ever nominated for Draper’s Premium Brand of the year in 2016, Rixo joined long-established labels Barbour and Diesel in that category in another first for the fledgling company.
Last September Brown Thomas saw its potential and bought the collection, later followed by Selfridges. In a fast-paced progress that would be the envy of many other emerging brands, Rixo is now stocked in Saks 5th Avenue in New York, in Le Bon Marche in Paris and in over 130 stores and boutiques in Europe and Australia with a pop-up currently operating in Floral Street, Covent Garden in London. Ambitious long-term plans now include having their own flagship by 2020.
“Showing in Paris was key to getting a lot of international buyers,” says McCloskey. “All the London brands show in Paris and it allows you to give your brand personality. We know what is going to do well. Tiny spots for instance are hard to sell online because they are sometimes difficult to see on a small screen. Italians like bright colours and low necklines, Russians want sexy looks, but not so much colour. Australians want sleeveless dresses and no high necks,” she explains.
“We are almost teaching buyers now – they thought green would not work, but green has really taken off even at the royal wedding – Harriet Stewart wore one of our green dresses. That gives your brand a buzz. We want to be seen as global, that our inspiration is not just London but different cultures.”
Though they are growing fast, it is still a hands-on operation. “We like to style the collection ourselves and show how you can wear jumpers over skirts, layer under silk slip dresses with boots and a star print jacket – we are not trend led but make things that we like to wear ourselves,” says McCloskey showing me a vintage dress picked up in Palm Springs in clashing prints in reds, pinks and blue from which she will draw inspiration.
They take holidays together to source vintage shops including one memorable six-week road trip to California. “We bought loads of stuff and use it for colour inspiration – Palm Beach in the US is the best, but so is Montpelier in France,” beams McCloskey who recalls a recent visit to Next Vintage in Milan – “in a big pink castle, we were in heaven for the whole day, the colours were so flamboyant”, she sighs. In London a favourite haunt is Modes and More in Pimlico.
Encouraged but not fazed by success, they now harbour plans for expansion. That includes accessories, swimwear, knitwear and a resort collection. They are also acutely aware that sudden success must be treated carefully but feel certain that the originality of their designs cannot be copied by the high street. “And it is not just the print,” they argue, “but the quality, the cut and value for money. We want to flatter every woman irrespective of age, season, size, nationality or time of day.”
Rixo is stocked in Brown Thomas in Dublin and by BT2 in Dundrum; rixo.co.uk