One of the most famous scenes in the blockbuster movie The Devil Wears Prada (2006) shows Runway magazine’s tough editor Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) slamming her hapless PA Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway) for not recognising the subtleties of the blue colour palette.
Streep’s character explains, in that inimitable icy manner, “What you don’t know is that that sweater is not just blue. It’s not turquoise. It’s not lapis. It’s actually cerulean. And you’re also blithely unaware of the fact that in 2002 Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves Saint Laurent, wasn’t it, who showed cerulean military jackets?
“And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of eight different designers. And then it filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic Casual Corner, where you fished it out of some clearance bin. However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs.
“You’re wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room from a pile of stuff.”
It might be a movie scene, but it’s not too far from the truth of how the fashion world actually works. In a boardroom, an archive, a factory or a showroom – or, in fact, all of these – creative decisions that influence fashion trends for the next six to 12 months and in some cases decades are made.
Begins with the best fabric
Just like a delicious meal starts with the best ingredients, so a great garment begins with the best fabric. I spent two years visiting fabric suppliers in the UK looking to source and buy the BEST fabric for Abbie Curtis… Unsatisfied with my findings I eventually took a trip to Italy to meet with the suppliers of some of the best swimwear fabrics in the industry. I realised then, if I was going to do this I had to do it right.
I am a small business and at the time while starting out I had to make what money I had available to me work well. I knew I couldn’t afford to buy straight from the mill in Italy, it was way out of my budget. So I used my initiative to track down a surplus fabric warehouse who were selling Italian fabrics instead. Basically each season a brand will purchase the quantity of fabric they think they need for that seasons run, but if they haven’t calculated correctly they may have over ordered leaving them in some cases with large quantities of unused fabric which they need to sell on. This now becomes their surplus and my gain!
To my surprise I stumbled fairly quickly upon one. They were located just outside of Grimsby in a beautiful old village. I entered this stately looking home with a grand entrance, full of ornate decorations, and a small warehouse that may look to some like old tat. I was welcomed by a quick talking business man who made it immediately apparent that he didn’t take any BS! I felt instantly minuscule and set aback by his manner. He seemed pretty rude, but in a way I like that.
After briefly quizzing me he drove me to his larger warehouse (I followed behind in my car) where we were to find my treasures. I entered this colossal room filled with every colour and pattern you could imagine, it was sky high with rolls of fabric – packed tightly with bulging shelves of textures, odd textiles that had you wondering who on earth thought of it as acceptable fashion.
This was the biggest surplus fabric warehouse in the U.K and I felt like a kid in a candy shop. I told him what I wanted and he led me straight to it. In his abrupt tone he proclaimed, “This stuff was left over from the 2011 La Perla collection, got enough rolls for what you’re after!”. I think he thought I was on some student project and that I was wasting his time for a few square metres. But, this was Carvico fabric! Not just any old yarn but the decent stuff. And fair enough he had all that I was looking for for a fraction on the price I would pay direct from the suppliers in Italy.
He quite clearly liked to talk money, and he was up for a haggle. He warmed to me instantly as we began to to business and within 30 minutes I had secured a deal with him to take all of his luxury fabric and have it shipped directly to my manufacturer in Wales. I walked out of this incredible rainbow vault buzzing, knowing that this small start up now had the tools to do a fabulous job. I drove back down South fuelled with excitement, my head whirling with ideas.
The Italian milling and creating process defines garments manufactured using the fabrics created by such specialised mills, it sets them far away from the mass high street labels such as Zara and H&M and more closely to the ultimate luxury of Tom Ford and everywhere in between. The fabrics I saw and touched in Italy either in swatch books or on the actual factory equipment being produced in front of my eyes luckily made their way into my possession and are the back bone of my brand today.
These mills offer the technical and engineering skills that fashion designers don’t have. No challenge is too great – in fact, they thrive on it. Relying on the materials to speak the words of intense luxury to their customers, being able to work at the highest end gives the designer the freedom of speech to ensure the end wearer knows what quality and heritage their garment comes from. Abbie Curtis sits in this league and I pride myself of bringing this brand to you in such grandeur.
Although I spend my days posting pictures and videos of my collection to Facebook and Instagram, this insight into my brand really isn’t attainable until you can physically lay finger onto one of my garments. I am not going to lie to you, raising a fashion business is bloody hard work, it was a lengthly process of 4 years to source, design and produce my current collection, but marketing and placing it into the market will take a continuous amount of effort for any small brand to be in a position to compete as a fashion contender.
I am what you call a hidden gem, one of those brands you stumble upon and cant quite believe you have. You wont find this type of swimwear on the mass market, it is too expensive to produce. Made in England to perfection and not in a sweat house – this is ethical fashion, using the best of everything. I may have sealed a great deal on fabric, but each piece I produce uses double. Everything is double lined, every stitch was hand checked, each label is of woven quality and every embellishment costs a bomb! You don’t find this at your local store. Abbie Curtis the hidden gem, the unknown luxury fashion label is known to few.
All those stressful months, miles travelled and people met all made for a magical journey I will never wish I’d not taken. I still believe in my work and the passion for it I hold deep inside is what makes it even more so special. The one thing I love is when someone stops me and asks, “Where did you get your swimsuit from?”, and that they must know so they can purchase one for them selves. I say all pumped, “I designed it myself!”. They promptly snap out their phone after asking their inquisitive questions and start tapping in my url www.abbiecurtis.com. And this is how small acorns grow, it’s no race….