It’s the tail end of fashion week in Paris, the busiest week of the year for fashion buyers.
When I meet Clodagh Shorten, owner of Samui, the game-changing boutique that put Cork on the fashion map, she’s already been here four days and is on her tenth buying appointment — there’ll be at least another five before she leaves in a couple of days time.
These appointments, private bookings with designers, allow her to get up close and personal with the clothes that have just been showcased on catwalks.
She’s deciding which pieces will best suit her customers.
Today, we meet at Schumacher, the stunning German label known for its easy chic look.
A beautiful white space, with lush cream velvet sofas, bare walls and white rails (nothing here to distract from the main event — the clothes), this room, prime space in Paris, is rented by the designer year-round just so they have the right venue to sell at Fashion Week.
It gives some indication of the power Fashion Week wields.
Clodagh is here with her right-hand woman, Samui manager Mary-Claire O’Sullivan.
There are two rails — the keepers and the ‘ones that got away’.
They’ve already seen this collection in London.
Today they are here to fine-tune.
This is unusual, Mary-Claire explains — at most appointments, they are seeing the clothes for the very first time.
“This is a big spend,” they tell me, and they’ll stay as long as they need “to get it right”.
Piecing together a collection is something akin to a jigsaw puzzle.
All the items are photographed — later they will be analysed back in the apartment they rent during Fashion Week.
The mix has to be right.
So the coats, a sleeveless waistcoat, are moved to the rail on the right.
They won’t make it to Cork.
Coats were already picked up this morning at another appointment.
Like I said, a jigsaw puzzle.
Two models are on hand to try on clothes when requested — I hear ‘can I just see this on one more time’ a lot.
There’s no haggling over prices in these sales negotiations — it’s all too civilised.
The price is set, as is the instore mark-up. These lauded designs must cost the same the world over.
Clodagh and Mary-Claire share a language and a wavelength. They can finish each other’s sentences and, while I don’t so much as sniff a hint of tension, they tell me they can disagree on buys.
“Clodagh doesn’t want a yes woman,” Mary-Claire says simply.
From Schumacher, Clodagh leads the way through the Parisian cobbled streets, phone held aloft, Google Maps to direct her.
Her wheelie bag is constantly behind her — inside there’s the laptop for orders and a camera for instant access to photographs of collections.
Her calculator is another permanent fixture in the showroom.
Today, Clodagh is dressed in an Australian label coming soon to Samui, Ellery. The lush black fabric sways and moves with her body; an outfit like that makes you really appreciate her eye for fashion. It’s sensational.
For this 5.30pm appointment we are heading to see another new label for Samui — Paskal (Clodagh will wear a piece from this line tomorrow).
The Ukrainian designer is looked after by an agency so in this showroom there are pieces by a handful of brands.
Again, the setup is the same — private appointments, models on hand.
Clodagh and Mary-Claire have to be more careful here — this is a new label and it’s more fashion forward so black is prioritised.
Not every client at Samui will wear this line. Every purchase, I realise, is a gamble.
“We’ve made mistakes, of course we have,” says Mary-Claire though you get the feeling that could be a rare event.
Pieces bought by these two women rarely end up in Samui’s sales rack.
They know their customer, plain and simple.
There is so much trust there, some clients are simply sent collections each season, allowing Clodagh to make the call for them.
So much of their day is spent discussing various clients (never by name in my presence) — what they might like, the best size.
It is effectively the ultimate personal shopping experience.
The number of items and sizes are limited, so customers know they are truly getting one-off pieces.
As we leave, kisses over, the agency head tells them, “you’re our favourites” and you just know it’s not empty fashion talk.
People genuinely love Clodagh and Mary-Claire. And they respect what they do.
Samui is open 16 years now. Clodagh mastered her trade at Monica John before stepping out on her own. Mary-Claire joined her eight years ago.
It has been one of the few boutiques in Cork to not just survive the downturn but to positively thrive.
As the economy spluttered around her, Clodagh very masterfully decided to go high end.
First came Moncler — the top people here had to come and view Samui to see if it was the right match for their esteemed label.
It was — and, increasingly, doors began to open.
Carven, Marni, Rick Owens — people really began to sit up and take notice of Samui.
Now labels are often vying for space on the shop floor. Still though, it takes work to secure the big new names.
Clodagh spends a lot of time on planes, networking, meeting the key players. And it’s not as simple as a visit to Fashion Week twice a year either.
These days pre-collections are key too: these pieces will be on the shop floor for longer.
So Clodagh and Mary-Claire travel in January to Paris for pre- collections, Milan in February for Moncler, Paris in March. The same cycle begins again in June for A/W pre-collections, with S/S Fashion Week in September.
Clodagh is always pushing, always striving for new.
She was devastated to say farewell to Transit, the brand with her from the very beginning. It was simply time for a change she tells me.
They love seeking out new labels, nurturing them, sharing them with their customers.
The next morning we meet at 9am for Dries van Noten.
Clodagh stocks around 50 different labels, most exclusive to Cork. This Belgian designer is one of them.
Here again is a very fashion forward line.
There’s a minimum €20,000 spend here, and that’s the amount Clodagh and Mary-Claire can play with.
This is a much busier showroom, a slick operation. Buyers are everywhere, the models weaving between them.
They are assigned a seller and a table, laptop at the ready to secure the sale.
Sophie, today’s seller, walks them through the long rails and talks to them about the collection, the fabrics, the colour, the catwalk, the vision.
Clodagh and Mary-Claire repeat the process a second time alone, a third time again with Sophie.
There are little standing breaks for coffee — refreshments and lunch are provided by the designer.
Clodagh and Mary-Claire know to carry snacks everywhere. The buying process can be a long one; Dries could be an all-day event.
The price point is much higher here so, again, each piece has to be carefully thought out. Checked and checked again.
These A/W deliveries will land in store in July.
Watching them make their Samui edit on that March morning, I just know the Dries selection will be a show-stopper this Autumn.
I leave them to sign on the dotted line, wishing them success for the rest of their gruelling schedule as I head for Charles de Gaulle.
“People don’t realise what goes into this,” says Clodagh. And she’s right.
None of us can possibly grasp what it must have taken for one woman to put Cork on the fashion radar.Read more at:http://www.marieaustralia.com/short-formal-dresses | www.marieaustralia.com/red-carpet-celebrity-dresses