Good times return to Harrogate Fashion Week
The enduring popularity of Harrogate as a venue for a northern fashion show was reconfirmed on Sunday as the seventh edition of Harrogate Fashion Week got off to a busy and buzzy start.
Launched in July 2018 by exhibition veterans Sarah Moody and Wendy Adams with around 50 exhibitors, the event had more than 130 collections this season and had extended for the first time into a third hall at the Harrogate Convention Centre.
Well laid-out with a simple shell scheme for exhibitors, the show is easy to work. Stands were busy soon after the doors opened at 9am. Despite its official name, the show is only two days long, which concentrates the buying activity.
Across more than 40 years Harrogate has been a proven venue for a middle-market fashion fair, regularly vying with the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham and London events for supremacy with independent womenswear buyers.
All the evidence suggests Harrogate is on the up once again. Exhibitors expressed satisfaction with the show’s ability to attract significant numbers of buyers from the Midlands, the north of England, Scotland and both sides of the Irish border who do not like to or want to visit London events in particular.
Ian Campbell-Smith, co-founder of the London-based Palladio agency, has shown at every edition of the Harrogate event and stresses that its reach goes beyond the perceived northern bias.
“It’s more than just a northern show for us. I’ve already seen (on Sunday) customers from Devon and Essex. It’s just that this show has a bit of a reach other shows don’t have. We are happy with who we see at Scoop and Pure in London but Harrogate gets us in front of a different type of buyer, not just contemporary retailers.”
Campbell-Smith, who was exhibiting the Rino & Pelle and Dreams collections, was one of several participants who praised the organisers of the show and highlighted the importance of Moody’s long relationship with the independent buying community, built up during her years working on fairs in Harrogate and then with Moda at the NEC.
Agent Robert de Keyser, another ever-present at the event, brought 11 collections this season under his Jonny Drama Group, including Ana Alcazar, More & More and Chiara Boni, making him the largest single exhibitor. He is another fan of the team.
“The show is well organised and the stand costs are reasonable. We deal with 304 accounts nationwide and we probably see about 80 of them here,” he reported. “I am very happy to have it concentrated on two days.”
All the talk along the aisles confirmed independent boutiques have been having a very good time, post-lockdown. Asked what had been selling well, Becky Furbank, owner of the Anne Furbank store in Buckden, Cambridgeshire, replied “Everything!”
Making her first visit to the event, she had driven to the show to source occasionwear, which is a booming category for retailers and one of the show’s strengths: “The show has a nice friendly feel and is clearly laid out. All the occasionwear people are here, unlike at the London shows, but the category covers more than just the classic mother of the bride outfits these days. People are having different weddings, parties, celebrations and holidays and we have to offer them different outfits.”
Co-founders Moody and Adams stressed the event was more than an occasionwear show. “The category has always been strong in Harrogate because it is strong with northern independents but we are attracting more exhibitors from other fashion areas,” said Moody.
“Our aim here has always been to create a positive buying atmosphere for retailers and exhibitors. Our full stand package is £175 per sq m, which makes it affordable.”
Adams explained the show’s preference for targeted e-marketing to buyers paid dividends with a high turnout of retailers.
Dublin-based Gerard Burke, whose wife Karen designs the Lizabelle and Bella collections that were attracting a lot of buyers right at the front of the show, praised Moody’s connections with the right buyers: “We showed at Pure, which was good and steady with buyers from the south. Here in Harrogate we are seeing retailers from the north of England and Scotland. The Irish are well represented too this time, thanks to Sarah’s relationship with the top boutiques.”
There clearly is scope for the show to expand in size and categories. There were plenty of first-time exhibitors that were pleased with what they found.
Spanish footwear supplier Xti had two stands for its Carmela and Menbur collections. By early afternoon on the first day sales area manager Mike Wylde said: “We had no great expectations but already I have met several potential new accounts, so we are very pleased. We came here to find fashion boutiques to work with rather than footwear shops and it’s already proved to be the right decision.”
Also making its Harrogate debut was French knitwear specialist St James. Marc Querol from Double H Agency reported: “We have a few accounts around Harrogate, so we came partly to support them, but we felt there were more buyers to see in the north and so it has proved. There are not many collections like St James at the show, so we are catching the eye.”
Linda Marshall of the London-based Parkers agency was showing for the first time with Sani Blu, a colourful sporty separates line from Greece. “Zoom calls are not the way to buy or sell fashion collections. You have to see and feel them,” she said.
“We know a lot of northern buyers do not like to come to London for the shows or showrooms. The hassle this season with the weather disruption and the rail strikes will have done nothing to change their minds on that. I am surprised how many retailers I am seeing here who I don’t recognise.”
Agents David Finlayson and Irene Douglas booked a late stand to show their Pia Rossini and Bye Bra ranges at Harrogate for the first time. Soon after the show opened they had agreed to take on the agency for another new exhibitor, De Lucca, a nightwear collection from Hong Kong, that was on the adjacent stand, a reminder that shows are effective venues for networking at many levels.
Josie Smith from Leaf Clothing in Newcastle-upon-Tyne is a womenswear buyer who always is seen at the London shows and showrooms during the season but she visited Harrogate for a few hours on Sunday to support her suppliers, notably Halifax-based Kevan Jon, who has been in business 30 years this year with his glamorous evening dresses.
This season he showed only at Harrogate, skipping his usual appearance in London. “This show really works for us,” he confirmed on his busy stand.
Although there was some acknowledgement that supply chains issues were continuing to plague suppliers, probably the most commonly-heard critical note at the event was directed at the national media and its obsession with the cost of living crisis. There was general feeling that many consumers were not going to be desperately out of pocket later this year.
Said the vastly-experienced agent de Keyser: “Our retailers are surprisingly positive, given the general state of the world. While there is a lot of talk in the media about the cost of living crisis, the fact is for many good fashion independents their customers are not going to be worrying too much about it costing more to fill up the car.”
Time will tell if he is right. The next Harrogate Fashion Week show will be held on Sunday and Monday 5-6 February 2023.
Images: Eric Musgrave