The closure of Vampire’s Wife highlights the battle facing independent British fashion brands

By midday last Friday, a huge queue had formed in Mayfair, London, with shoppers lining up for one last shot at getting their hands on one of Falconetti’s signature and wildly popular Falconetti dresses, known as “the dress of the ten years” once. Vogue.

Earlier in the week, the London-based brand, which was founded by former model Susie Cave in 2014 and whose designs have been worn by everyone from Kate, Princess of Wales, to Kate Moss, announced that it was closed, ending its three-day “goodbye sale” period.

“Despite a period of positive growth and sales, the disruption in the wholesale market had major implications for the brand,” read a statement. Before it closed when one of the Vampire’s Wife’s biggest stockists, online luxury fashion retailer Matchesfashion, collapsed in March.

Founded by Ruth and Tom Chapman in 1987, Matches first existed as a single brick and mortar store in the London suburb of Wimbledon. It later expanded to 14 stores, bringing international luxury brands including Prada to the UK capital as well as promoting emerging homegrown designers. In 2006 its e-commerce site was launched, and in 2017 the Chapmans, who held a majority stake, received around £400m after selling Matchesfashion to private equity investors in a deal that valued the business at £800m.

Now there are seismic waves in the fashion industry. “Fashion is an ecosystem – there’s always a chain reaction,” said Olya Kuryshchuk, founder and editor-in-chief of 1 Granary, a fashion education platform and creative network. Another fashion insider claimed that half of the independent brands that were previously owned by the online giants would not make this month’s payroll.

When Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group announced its £52m acquisition of Matches late last year, its chief executive (and Ashley’s son-in-law) Michael Murray said he was confident the group would “unlock synergies and deliver profitable growth push for Matches”. Less than three months later, in a move that blindsided staff and suppliers alike, the group called in administrators from Teneo. In April, Frasers Group bought back the intellectual property but not the stock. Few people escaped the brunt of the site, and everyone from CEOs to cleaners was affected.

This month, another London-based designer with Matches stock, Roksanda Ilinčić, announced that she had sold her namesake label, Roksanda, to The Brand Group (TBG), citing “recently volatile market conditions” as the reason. .

According to a report by Teneo, Roksanda was one of more than 500 unsecured creditors. Teneo said it was unlikely that the brands owed to Matches would be repaid and, if they were, the amounts would be “very low … less than a penny in the pound”. Most of the brands were also unable to access unsold inventory, which continues to be sold on the site at deeply discounted prices.

The fall of Matches has affected established and emerging British luxury brands. More than £500,000 is owed to Burberry, more than £200,000 to Anya Hindmarch, and more than £100,000 each to Paul Smith and Chefin Samantha Cameron. London-based independent jewelery brands Alighieri and Completedworks are owed more than £70,000 and £110,000 respectively, along with losses from new season orders.

“The UK is the worst fashion market in the world at the moment,” said Stefano Martinetto, chief executive of Tomorrow, a fashion brand development platform. “The independent brands are scared. We are at a tipping point. I am receiving hundreds of requests for financial support and new agreements. We have injected over £25m into independent designers over the last five years and nearly £1m in grants. Our aim now is to preserve those businesses.”

Matches’ fall has been exacerbated by the economic fallout from the pandemic, along with Brexit and the end of tax-free shopping for tourists. London mayor Sadiq Khan and industry leaders including executives from Harrods and Selfridges have backed a renewed call for the UK government to restore VAT-free shopping for international tourists, which was scrapped in 2020.

“We have plenty of tourists in London. They eat ice cream and go to museums but to shop for luxury fashion, they jump on the train to Paris for the day,” said Martinetto.

Some insiders describe the state of the industry as “very worrying”. In December, another online luxury powerhouse, Farfetch, narrowly avoided bankruptcy in a fire sale to South Korea’s Coupang that eliminated most shareholders.

A number of British clothing manufacturers are now in financial freefall. Mustafa Fuat, founder of Gosia London, which specializes in luxury womenswear and until recently supplied Matches-stocked brands including Roksanda, described it as a “double whammy”. The same brands that owed him thousands of pounds were also unable to place future orders, he said. “We have a big gap from now until August, and there is no work to fill.”

Fuat had to reduce the hours of his staff. “It’s really hard – they’ve been with me for a long time and they’ve got families and mortgages. If my business goes, that’s 12 other people who went down with me.”

Faut described the British fashion industry as terrible. He was hit by the collapse of London brands Ralph & Russo in 2021 and Christopher Kane in 2023, which left him with a total deficit of £85,000. With 30 years of experience in the textile industry, Faut said the current conditions were unsustainable.

It’s a sentiment echoed by Roy Powley who, with his partner Helen, runs Riverside Design & Textiles in Leicestershire, a jersey fabric business. Powley himself sewed the oversized rugby shirts for in-house label Matches Raey, once one of the brand’s best sellers. He now has an unpaid invoice of more than £13,000. With “non-existent cash flow”, the 70-year-old, who has worked in the textile business for more than 50 years, said he was forced to trade his pension to keep the business going.

Many express frustration at what they say is a lack of government support for an industry that contributes more than £60bn to UK GDP, and claim that government support is better in Italy and France.

Libby Hart, an adviser to the UK trade board, said British brands and factory owners were left to “figure it out for themselves”. Powley contacted his local MP, and others such as Anna Jewsbury, founder and art director of Completedworks, drove to the Matches warehouse to try and speak to the administrators. Although Jewsbury was unable to personally reclaim any stock, representatives sent by Victoria Beckham were reportedly able to do so.

While international brands seem to be developing a penchant for hosting big shows in the UK – last year, Chanel went to Manchester’s North Quarter, Gucci hosted a show at London’s Tate Modern this month, and in early June, Dior will hold an event in Perthshire. in Scotland – reports of a British fashion extravaganza are widespread. London fashion week’s 40-year schedule in September will be an indicator of how long homegrown talent will last. The June edition of men’s fashion week in Milan has already attracted many London-based brands to Italy, with Martine Rose, David Koma and Dunhill joining the schedule. Paul Smith has taken to the stage of Pitti Uomo in Florence as a guest designer.

“Design jobs are scarce. Art schools are receiving few applications from students, and many creative people have already moved to Paris,” said Kuryshchuk. “These are complex issues, and it doesn’t help that everyone wants to fight them alone.”

Teneo was contacted but declined to comment. Frasers Group previously said Matches had “consistently failed to meet its business plan targets and … continued to make material losses. Although the Matches management team has tried to find a way to stabilize the business, it was clear that too much change would be required to restructure it, and the ongoing funding needs would be much higher than the sums estimated by the group to be viable. .”

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