Monday, 27 February 2012

To dye or not to dye ... that is the question

To dye or not to dye…that is the question

So on my journey of getting the most out of my clothes I discovered some trousers in the back of the wardrobe which I LOVE but god knows why I bought them in beige. They fit in the Sport Luxe trend and I want to get my monies worth so I decide I am going to dye them black (and throw another pair of black trousers in for a refresh whilst I have the machine on). Now I am not a typically crafty person: I broke the sewing machine at school and I can barely sew a button so this task I have decided to embark upon is a pretty big deal for me.
The only dyeing I have ever done is my hair (Sun-In on brown locks only makes them ginger) and a tie-dye t-shirt at junior school which was a heavily supervised experience. So…off to John Lewis I go to get some dye. If you want your primary colours and fairly ‘average’ shades then the Dylon range at good old JL is perfect. The packet promises me it is (and I quote) “EASIER THAN EVER” and “EASY BREEZY” (accompanied by an image of a flying kite). We’ll see about that.
I read and re-read the instructions and eventually the trousers and the dye go in the machine. As the cycle starts and water oozes in, I daren’t look. I am seriously scared I have wrecked the washing machine: the drum on the machine is pitched black with dye. I scurry into the lounge… and hide.
After the requisite two cycles have finished I gingerly open the machine – the original black trousers are a deep black. The beige trousers are a grey marl colour. Ok…not what I expected but that grey colour suits me and it will give me even more dressing options rather than having two pairs of identical black trousers. After the initial shock that a) the machine isn’t broken and b) the dye has worked, I re-read the packet and realise that the dye only dyes one shade darker so I really should’ve realised that cream to black wasn’t going to happen. Anyway, the dye has washed well, there are no patches and the colour is even. So it really was Easy Breezy.
I check for staining on the machine….the inside of the machine is clean but the rubber rim has smears of black dye on it. Reaching for the Mr. Muscle I clean the last of the dye away and my washing machine is back to its former glory. Phew. And I have two frankly awesome pairs of trousers. Thanks Dylon!

Got my fashion pout on there, didn't I?!

Monday, 20 February 2012

The Perfect Leather Jacket

The perfect leather jacket. I have been searching for mine for a few years now and since I dropped a dress size (#marathon training) my muscle bound body is dwarfed by the previous wardrobe offering in the form of a brown leather bomber from River Island. Plus since having my colours done in 2011 (we’ll talk about that later) it confirmed I don’t suit brown so a black biker jacket has been on my radar (oh The Saturdays, such as lot to answer for) ever since.
I heard about il2l through word of mouth and decided to shamelessly stalk them on the web before I made contact for this interview. With over 1,300 following their every tweet and an obscene amount of thumbs up on Facebook  (779 at last count), this is a brand with a strong online presence not to be messed with.
After a quick call to check their address (thanks Alan!), I burrow into the backstreets of Cheetham Hill one freezing cold morning in late January.  Discovering il2l (that’s I Love 2 Love to those in the know) sandwiched behind St. Chad’s church and a battery of wholesale outlets, I can’t wait to get inside and see the magic.
Greeted by the effervescent Danielle (Head Designer), we head off to view jacket samples. Within two hours I feel as if I have gone back to school, taken a GCSE in leather and passed with flying colours, such is Danielle’s knowledge and passion for her job. il2l started 3 years ago, bucking the economic downturn and kicking leather in the face of adversity, it is going from strength to strength. The name was a collaborative effort from the directors Richard and Michael, the design and sales team,
“It rolls off the tongue and is memorable,” Danielle explains as I inhale the leathery air of the jackets.
She talks me through the ranges on offer and their distinct USPs,
“Barney’s is the title range broken down into three: Barney’s Vintage is the washed leathers, Barney’s Originals is our more classic range, and Barney’s Black is the more sophisticated range. We also have the Barney & Taylor range which is our Premium brand.”
The research into the ranges on offer makes your eyes water with the painstaking detail they go to too ensure their jackets are timelessly on-trend. They work a year ahead (so A/W12 is already signed, sealed and delivered) taking in trend reports from WGSN, catwalk shows and the style melting pots that are the European trade shows, including Pitti in Florence and bread and butter in Berlin,
“We go armed with a camera to take pictures of people for inspiration. Occasionally we sit with a coffee and people watch, soaking up the atmosphere, spotting key details on clothes.”
From these initial trend-hunting trips the designers start sketching ideas for the next season’s collection and these are sent to the factory where sketches become samples.
“At this point we range build internally using previous sales figures of what has sold well for us and what has slowed in selling. We select strong styles which then form the different ranges on offer.”
As Danielle and I pull various jackets out of a rail of A/W12 samples she talks about each one personally: who designed them, the trend influences on the jacket, even referring to them as ‘he’ (male range) and ‘she’ (female range). “She’s not going to make it,” she points to the grey leather biker I am holding. Such is their attention to detail and their knowledge of their customer base; they know instinctively what shoppers on their site will love, down to the stitching, shearling collars and zip specification.
The collections are presented to the Directors and then the hard work really starts. The chosen samples go through the sealing process (garment technology talk) which ensures the construction and fit is spot on. The samples will go back and forth from the factory until they are perfect. At each stage the minute details are reviewed: trims, lining, measurements. When the jackets finally hit the website they are perfect. And il2l even offer an aftercare service in the form of Alan, should anything happen. And what Alan doesn’t know about leather ain’t worth knowing.
As we walk through the showroom, the far corner is calling me – two vintage Singer sewing machines are set up with a rail of leather jackets hung behind them. This is the Barney & Taylor range; the Premium jewel sewn into the il2l crown. And premium with a traceable heritage it is too – with humble beginnings in 1911 Barney Rosemarine and Ella Taylor, partners in love and business, began their journey in the rag trade of Manchester and their grandsons have picked up the gauntlet and run with it right into the 21st century. The idea behind the range, as well as reviving key details from the archives of the family business, is to create a style that is so unique it becomes its own brand. The slogan ‘Our Heritage, Your future’ matches the timeless pieces hanging on the rail perfectly. Traceability is a big buzz word for 2012 so it looks like il2l have got this sewn up.
We bump into Scott the sales manager who talks so enthusiastically about Barney & Taylor, offering me a catalogue and taking me through the label design for the jackets, I am ready to buy a jacket then and there. You even get a picture of Barney and Ella in 1911 in the garment care label of your jacket. Now that’s heritage.
At il2l the whole office buzzes with passion and enthusiasm.  Plus they have sweets in the showroom, which is the cherry on the icing of an exceptional leather cake. With Danielle clocking in over 13 years’ service at the design face  I ask her what her career highlight has been, “amongst many highlights, seeing our designs worn on the highstreet and on celebs such as Fern Cotton, Amy Childs to name a few is very rewarding. One of my other highlights is I designed a jacket for Ben Sherman when Rio Ferdinand was the face of the brand. He wore it on the front cover of Maxim magazine. It’s great looking in a magazine, seeing one of your jackets and thinking ‘I designed that!’”

With celeb followers coming thick and fast– Amy Childs (TOWIE), Ferne Cotton, Spencer (Made in Chelsea), Craig Coulson (X-factor) – this brand will reach tipping point before you know it. Better get your Barney & Taylor before they sell out.
(Special thanks to Danielle - I love it when you meet someone who encompasses their job so fully and wholeheartedly that the joy in their work is apparent. I took two hours out of her day all so I could write this blog. Double High Five. )

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Handbag Makeover (Part Two)

So I am waiting with trepidation at my front door for my Miu Miu to be returned. It’s been one week and the separation anxiety I have had from my beloved bag has been intense to say the least. Other bags have been unearthed from my bag box and put to good use but none have caused my heart to stray.
The bag is sent recorded delivery, insurance included, from George so it is traceable and there is little worry of it being “lost” in the post. As I open the box and view my beloved bag for the first time I literally burst into tears – the repairs are simply remarkable: the hinge has been fixed, it closes and opens with ease (where previously it was a battle) and the pink silk lining is clean. CLEAN!

(I will put some pics up here so you can be sure this post is a BS free zone but BELIEVE me! This dude can fix bags!!!)
I am straight on the phone to George professing thanks and offering my first born in return.
I guess if it ain’t broke then don’t fix it. But if it is go to Handbag Makeover.

Til next time...x

Friday, 3 February 2012

How to get your handbag fixed...(Part One)

My Miu Miu has seen better days. The bright pink silk in which my wallet, phone and keys nestle is a darker shade of dirty, one of the hinges on the side of the bag has broken, it doesn’t fasten properly and the leather is peeling away from itself. Bought 4 years ago it is safe to say I have used it to death.
So when I was doing some research for a client who wanted her Jimmy Choo bag fixing I came across Handbag Makeover. Started by George and Alan in 2009 the business has grown out of 20 years of hands-on experience working with leather furniture and car interiors. It’s safe to say both men are leather specialists: Alan is a tanner by trade so his leather specialism runs deep.
Regularly accosted at parties by ladies (not what you think) who wanted their leather bags fixing, Handbag Makeover was officially born. And fix bags they do, dealing with: general wear & tear, food spills, biro and pen marks, make-up, denim transfer…the list is seemingly endless. Thinking beyond handbags as a fashion items they know their product inside out, and, as George pointed out to me, “Handbags have a practical function – to carry a load – but if the design is too dainty to work then it will break easily. The selection of the leather, the craftsmanship, the pre-testing of the chosen leather swatches for colour transfer – all these elements combine to make a working, functional item. If these elements aren’t given proper consideration you will get what you pay for.”
 So which brands do they see a lot of?
“All brands come to us. The problem isn’t usually one brand or one particular style; it is how each individual customer has used her bag and the wear and tear resulting from that.”
Why do you think women send their bags to you rather than buy a new one?
“If you have spent £100s on a designer bag you want it to look good and to serve its purpose. It’s cheaper to have it fixed than buy a new one. Plus women have an attachment to their handbags. They can use their handbag every day. Why get rid of something you love?”
It’s true – my Miu Miu is my go-to bag. I have tried others – satchels, slouch bags, envelope clutches – but I always go back to the Miu Miu. Alan has a regular customer, who is in the same boat as me,
“An International Journalist sends me her bag every 4 months without fail. It has been used as hand luggage, handbag and travel companion all rolled in to one. Handbag Makeover is an essential service to her and instead of buying a new bag she wants to keep and re-use the bag she has.”
Wise girl. And retailers have cottoned-on to the amazing service which George and Alan offer,
“We work with Selfridges, Radley  and Next. They want to provide the best customer service possible and that’s where we come in – supplying leather cleaning products and expert help when a customer needs their bag fixing.”
Do you receive bags from male customers as well?
“This sector is definitely growing. We receive briefcases, travel bags, Ipad and phone protectors, and leather jackets. The damage can be anything from a seam splitting to a scratch or a burn
The website is user friendly and gives the customer as much room as possible to describe the condition of the bag and the damage incurred. George and Alan then price the repairs, give you a quote and you can decide whether or not to go ahead with the repair. They intend to return "normal" servicing bags within 10 days of receipt, the more complex and detailed work can take longer, but the courteous blokes they are, they try and warn customers of this prior to the start. If they have to source parts then it can be longer as they are dependent on getting the supplier to get their part done first.
I send off my Miu Miu (Parcel Force and fully insured for the princely sum of £9 – it may be knackered but that is 500 quids worth of leather I want to arrive safely!) to the UK based company with mixed feelings – overjoyed my favourite bag is about to be restored to its former glory but bereft – what the hell am I going to use to kart my stuff around in now???