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I'm not a fashion fascist or anything, but let's be clear – I know what I like. In my twenty-second year, I feel rather proud to say I've finally reached a good place in My Wardrobe Story. A good place is where you've finally done the grown-up thing after years of wondering why your legs aren't like hers and your breasts aren't like hers, and just accepted your shape and learned how to dress it in what suits it well. A good place is where you've learned that designer labels aren't important. A good place is where you've learned how to mix and match different things. Most importantly, a good place means you've found your own style.
So yes, I will smile graciously and throw up my hands just a tiny bit smugly, for I have reached a good place and I know what's what, kids.
So if I've reached a good place, why the heck hasn't the high street reached it, huh???!!
Let me elaborate. While on occasion I will go and impulse buy with the best of them, most shopping trips I embark upon have a definite objective in mind. And when I say definite, I mean it. The lace trim on the top is two shades off to match the piece I want it to go with; these shoes will not do because the heel is the right height but the wrong shape; this bag is almost perfect but the buckle is all wrong, all wrong! Not like I envisioned in my head at all. Cue rolling of eyes and swift exiting of shop.
And the infuriating thing about being a perfectionist when it comes to shopping is that if you walk into one shop and can't find what you want – exactly what you want – then you know you're in for a long day. Because for some reason, high street shops think it's clever and productive to carry all the same garments and all the same styles and all the same colours as every single one of their competitors. I'm not joking. You try looking for something that isn't a 'hot off the catwalk' imitation or a replica of what JLo and Sarah Jessica Parker were wearing yesterday; you're going to be sorely disappointed.
So where does the discerning shopper with the meagre budget and a – let's not be modest – simply divine talent for fashion, turn to when Topshop et al have failed her?
To the La Redoute catalogue, that's where.
I'll admit I was perhaps a bit of a catalogue snob prior to unearthing the treasure troves of La Redoute. There's something sort of… well, 'naff', about catalogues. It makes me think of the kind of clothes the lost souls of fashion might wear – elasticated waists, cheap fabrics and terrible prints with ridiculous names – or the same nasty pair of badly cut trousers repeated over and over in a multitude of hideous shades, with equally ridiculous names, for the benefit of middle-aged ladies. "Good lord – should I go for the 'Eggshell' or the 'Elderflower'?" "Would 'Forest Fire' look good with my complexion, or should I just stick to 'Brickie's Nipple'?"
Plus there's the distinct lack of trying things on, or seeing the colours properly, or touching the fabric or anything like that. And there's no sale rail in a catalogue to scour for the occasional bargain. And yes, it's affordable, but there's a reason – because the stuff's all rubbish. Come on, the old me would've said. Put that catalogue down, we're going to Schuh.
Then I found La Redoute, and discovered the reason why their slogan is 'La différence'.
The firm works out of Bradford in Yorkshire, and prides itself on delivering mostly French fashion to the UK. This is does via two catalogue collections per year (Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter), each with around 800 pages of fashion for men, children, the home – but most importantly, and most thoroughly, for ladies like myself who turn in disgust from the same-old-same-old fare of the shopping mall every now and again.
It covers everything from office wear to sports wear and boasts extensive (steady now – I know these are the things we most like to spend on) shoe and lingerie sections. Bless them – they've even included a few pages per issue devoted to the middle-aged nasty clothes I mentioned earlier (let me quote from this Winter's collection: "Tapered trousers with stretch and Teflon anti-stain treatment… just what I'm looking for!". Snigger.) But seriously.
They carry loads of designer brands (though like me, I'm sure you've not heard of some of them): Elle, Antik Batik, Sous-Entendus, Laura Clement and Soft Grey as well as trendier high street stalwarts like Levi's, Tipster and Active Wear. I myself am cultivating a taste for the pretty Coté Femme tops and eyeing the Miss Sixty jeanswear (though it's pretty much as expensive in here as it is on the high street, and that's too expensive unfortunately).
The nice thing is, of course, that while there is a stock of stuff that's like anything Warehouse or Oasis have to offer (that's fashion, folks, I'm afraid – everybody looks the same to a point), there's plenty of different stuff aside from it – mostly fairly classic stuff with little details that makes it stand out: asymmetric fastenings, funnel neck buttons, tie sides, unusual necklines or striking cuts. Because this idiosyncratic stuff is their norm, the prices are great. Witness my new favourite jumper – boat necked, black and white striped, cottony soft and only ten quid; I've seen similar in high street shops for £25 and upwards.
Plus, like any good magazine, it gives you ideas. Ever thought of putting this skirt with these boots? That tunic over these trousers? Well now you have. One of the things I love best is that in every issue of the magazine, they do a special spread of six to eight pages with some astoundingly chic French actress – Isabelle Adjani, Emmanuelle Béart or similar – lounging about in the magazine wear in proper Vogue worthy photo shoots. It's proper image consciousness, which is after all what we're all buying into, and it takes the catalogue to a new level.
Edging away from the artier side of things, let's talk value. Shortly after I registered for my first catalogue, I started getting loads of rubbish mail from La Redoute (which I admittedly am still not too fond of). Reluctantly I opened it and found the kind of things I expected – pleas from some anonymous catalogue 'manager' wondering why I hadn't responded by ordering. The thing that hooked me was that their junk mail actually contained some really good offers. My first order from the magazine comprised about five items, two of which were reasonably pricey. I got those two items at half price and 25% off the rest of my order, plus free post and packing. That, children, was a fairly substantial saving and I was rather pleased with myself and very pleased indeed with La Redoute. Such offers aren't once-in-a-lifetime deals either – they're always dishing up new ones, albeit through an avalanche of junk mail.
They even offer free gifts which I hear from others can be pretty generous (luggage cases, clocks, phones, throws, that kind of stuff), although a combination of stubbornness and overspend-fear stops me from reordering just to claim the free gifts as yet. As for the quality of the items, I've partied in every item from tops to shoes, and nothing had failed me yet (not even a spot of impromptu rock climbing in a pair of Soft Grey ballerina pumps, which they probably wouldn't recommend).
The stuff is delivered by courier in most areas (i've never met the chap myself, but everything always seems to get here in one piece), and they have a free returns service. On the one occasion I had to return a wrong-sized dress, it cost me nothing – he picked it up for me and the money was refunded to me. They also seemed pretty keen on finding out what the exact problem was – did I find it too expensive? Was there anything they could do? The customer service is pretty refreshing.
I usually order from the website (www.redoute.co.uk, where you can order a catalogue if you fancy it) which gives details of sizes and colours still available, informs you of special offers and speeds the whole thing up. If what you want is available, it ships pretty quickly, usually by the end of the week. There's also a helpline in case you get hopelessly confused (as I did trying to organise the return) staffed by the lovely Mark and his other Bradfordian chums, and of course you can order the snail mail way too, (though it's probably not that fashionable to do so).
It's different, it's great value and the service is not only great, it's virtually idiotproof. Swallow your pride – reclaim the catalogue in the name of fashion today!
Have an E for a very well written review. I'm also a fan but I only ever order when they have sent me a special offer code that includes free postage... in the past I've had completely free items. They practically give their stock away!
bpg2504 04.04.2005 19:15
bought a necklace from them last week.
Lucie_S1984 10.03.2005 21:32
Bought a jumper from here about 5 years ago and that's been my sole purchase, washed fine and everything but just prefer to try on my clothes before I buy! Lucie xxx