Feminine, stylish and enjoying a renaissance, the summer dress is a must-have staple for every woman’s wardrobe. We take a closer look at some of the British brands that are embracing the trend.
The dress is having something of a moment. The past few seasons have seen more and more women ditching their jeans in favour of dresses, with midi or ankle-length styles increasingly prevalent, preferably with ruffles, statement sleeves or a floral print. Popularised by brands such as Danish label Ganni and firmly adopted by many British designers, the summer dress has become a must-have wardrobe staple.
In terms of social engagements, what British women wear in the warmer months is often determined by etiquette, with dress codes at major summer sporting events a prime example. The Wimbledon tennis championships, Henley Royal Regatta and horse racing at Goodwood or Ascot, for example, are all institutions with their own specific dress codes, and for women this often means wearing a dress. Then there’s the typically British concept of a garden party, where the dress is, again, almost a prerequisite. With so many events of this ilk scheduled each year, it’s hardly surprising that British women have a penchant for the summer dress.
From high street to luxury, British brands are particularly adept at creating perfect dresses for the summer. Eudald Luis Batalle, founder of Perseverance London, explains why. ‘The versatility of dresses means they can be worn at various occasions and can be styled in multiple ways, they can be dressed up and dressed down – they’re a real wardrobe staple.’ Perseverance London’s spring/summer 2019 collection, inspired by a Laura Ashley dress found in a vintage store in east London, is case in point. ‘The collection is full of pieces that, with a change of shoe and a swipe of lipstick, could take you from day to night,’ says Batalle.
Kitri is another brand that plays on versatility. It was created in 2017 to address what its founders saw as a frustrating lack of quality, design-led, affordable womenswear pieces. Kitri started out online only, a key factor in keeping prices down as this cuts out the middleman, with Instagram playing a crucial role in the brand’s rapid rise in popularity.
Similarly, when Han Chong founded Self-Portrait in 2013 he identified a successful formula. ‘There was a massive gap between high street and luxury. My goal in starting Self-Portrait was to change people’s perspectives on what makes a luxury brand. Why can’t we have both, making great, high-quality design for an honest price point?’ The brand’s simple premise of luxury-style dresses with a reasonable price tag spawned a flurry of copycat brands – always a sure sign of success. The label opened its first standalone boutique last year, opting for the prestigious Mayfair area where it sits alongside some high-end fashion neighbours.
Like Kitri, Self-Portrait started out with a strong digital presence. ‘Through Instagram I’ve been able to build an amazing relationship with our customers, getting their feedback on our garments, which impacts how we design future collections,’ says Chong. ‘Opening the store was so important for me as it’s a new avenue for me to connect with the customers.’
The store was designed to express the brand’s DNA, with an elegant backdrop of terrazzo flooring, clay walls and marble details. It’s an aesthetic you’d expect to find in a high-end fashion boutique, but you can buy a Self-Portrait dress for around £300. Besides the sophisticated look, providing excellent customer experience is a vital factor in creating a luxury experience. ‘I wanted the Self-Portrait experience to be truly unique and because the team is still small, we can be very reactive to what the customers want,’ says Chong. ‘If you’ve got an event tomorrow, we can get a garment altered to fit you perfectly and delivered to you in time. The store team is also so knowledgeable about both the brand and the local area. They are able to talk you through a design’s inspiration while setting you up with a table at an amazing restaurant around the corner.’
The success of Self-Portrait, Perseverance London and Kitri lies in each brand’s clearly defined USP. When Amy Powney took on the role of creative director for Mother of Pearl in 2016, having moved up the ranks from studio assistant, she wanted the label to focus on sustainability. Last September, the brand launched its No Frills diffusion line, which is sustainable, ethical, traceable, and has a low carbon footprint. ‘My biggest goal was to make sustainable fashion that wasn’t horrible,’ the designer explains. Powney need not have feared, as Mother of Pearl’s dresses are, simply put, beautiful. ‘The key to Mother of Pearl’s designs is that they appeal to a variety of females, and our different emotions,’ she says. ‘My designs are a real balance of playful and serious – serious being our quality and ethics.’
Dresses can be empowering, ethical and affordable, as well as aesthetically pleasing. British fashion brands are on a mission to create the perfect style and have been instrumental in changing the market – whether it’s breaking down the barrier between high street and luxury or working towards a better, more sustainable future. There’s plenty of power in the dress.