Q & A: MIC’s Victoria Baker Harber

Made in Chelsea star Victoria Baker Harber talks to Kat Slowe about the launch of her new swimwear label.

What made you decide to launch you own swimwear label?
I was always keen on fashion but, with swimwear in particular, I have always felt like everything looks the same, as though it has all been cut from the same cloth. There was nothing that explored the boundaries and really focused on what looks good. People place such emphasis on underwear, when I think swimwear is more important as far as more people will be looking.

How did you choose the name Elle-en-Jette?
Elle-en-Jette is actually a French expression, which means ‘she throws’ – quite literally- but, in essence, it means she looks a million dollars. I think it has a good ring to it and it will hopefully represent how anyone in one of the pieces will feel.

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What is your background in the sector?
From as young as I can remember, I was always drawing or painting different outfits. I was very keen on art and textiles, and even made them introduce textiles A level in my last school in London. I then went on to study at London College of Fashion and, following that, I did a business degree in international business management and marketing. I have also interned in a few different places but I never felt enthusiastic enough about helping out with someone else’s designs because I had way too many ideas of my own.

From where did you gain the inspiration for your designs?
There is too much inspiration to even list. Every day I pick up an idea or a colour scheme that sticks in my head and it always opens up a new path. There aren’t enough seasons in the year.
For my first collection, I have named it ‘The Olympia’ Collection, being the year of the London Olympics. Each of the pieces is named after a Greek Goddess and, appropriately so, as well… There is something Grecian about the over-all look, down to the details of the metal clasp with a laurel wreath pattern around the logo.

Having said that, the majority of the collection is monochrome, with black and white being the primary focus. There is one snake print, but not snakeskin. In religion, mythology, and literature, serpents and snakes represent fertility or a creative life force, which again links back to the idea of mythology.

As far as designers influencing the collection, I would say Lanvin, Chanel, Alaia and Azzaro are my main influences, because they are classic but timeless in most of their designs, and they each have a certain element that makes them unique. I hope Elle-en-Jette will also achieve this.

How will your brand be different to any others that currently exist in the market?
Elle-en-Jette is different to others in the market because, unlike so many other designers, attention has been paid to the way each part fits the body. After speaking to numerous women of all ages and sizes, there are the same issues that people are self conscious about and I have tried to target these, by creating unique pieces that flatter the best parts of the body and conceal the worst. One key element has been the type of elastic used in the seams.

Double-bagging the edges also helps to prevent the fabric digging into the skin and creating love handles.
The straps on the shoulders are also tailored in such a way to prevent any overhang. The one pieces are heavily rouched to stop any signs of lumps or bumps and, on other pieces, a jacquard has been used, which is very flattering. There are also belts, which are heavily embellished with crystals as an optional extra.

What items will be available within the collection?
There are a combination of one pieces and two pieces, as well as elasticated hairbands, viscose rayon t-shirts with crystals, and a long chiffon kaftan in the signature print. Each of the one pieces has a two piece equivalent. You can instantly see which ones are related. There is also the option to mix and match the tops and bottoms, and accessorize with belts if wanted.

Are you planning to attend any trade shows, this year?
I haven’t finalized which trade shows to participate in, but I will be visiting Miami Swim Week in July, as I hope to be there for summer 2013.

Who is your target consumer?
My target consumer base is fairly broad and versatile but the consumer will appreciate the elegance and classicalness of the pieces, which are conservative without being too modest. The signature print is likely to attract a younger consumer, but the versatility of the collection doesn’t alienate a particular buyer. Even the one piece has options to change the style of the bottoms to one with more coverage, as opposed to one with a centre seam down the middle back. There are also sections for chicken-fillet infills, for those who need more push-up, and the molded cups give enough support for those who have larger chests.

Where would you most like to see your swimwear sold?
I have a long list of potential stockists, but ideally Harrods, Harvey Nichols and Browns, in the UK. I am also hoping to stock in MC Market in Monaco, as well as the beach club in Monte Carlo Beach and other boutiques around St Tropez. The Middle East is also another market I am hoping to target.

What are your plans for Elle-en-Jette over the coming year?
The first collection is fairly small with only seven different styles (plus options to mix and match), as well as belts, headbands and a long kaftan. There are two to three colour ways, including my signature print, but in the coming year I will be working on a broader collection of kaftans and another variation of print, which will be available on new styles, as well as Panama style hats with options to change the fabric on the brim. The swimwear is just a solid starting point for me.

Where would you like to see your label in three years time?
In three years time, I hope Elle-en-Jette will be a household name in terms of swimwear. I would love to expand and potentially create a men’s collection, as well as a children’s range for both girls and boys. Elle-en-Jette has potential to become a lifestyle brand with swimwear being just a starting point for this. I think it would be great to have a range of SPF creams and skincare, hair care, things for the home, trinket style jewelry, candles, towels, beach bags… the list is endless.

Do you feel that the publicity from Made in Chelsea is likely to benefit your business?
I think the show has positive and negative attributes as far as Elle-en-Jette is concerned. I don’t think the story line has followed my work interests too avidly, which is a good thing because I don’t want it too closely associated with a TV show. People’s opinions of my character as it is portrayed could have a negative or positive impact on the brand’s image, but it’s a product vs. an almost fictional character.

What has been the greatest challenge in setting up the business?
There have been numerous challenges. Delivery times are always tricky. Making sure things arrive when they are meant to and chasing things up can be very stressful. Also, factory samples vs. original patterns can vary so much, so it takes a lot of practice before it’s just right… But, perhaps that has something to do with me being too much of a perfectionist?

Who is currently your favourite swimwear designer?
I wouldn’t say I had a favorite swimwear designer… It is more a case of finding one good piece once in a while, regardless of who designs it. One of the best bikinis I ever found was from an unknown Brazilian designer but the cut was amazing. Having said that, I love Lanvin swimwear. I am a big fan of Missoni and Pucci prints, and Gottex. As much as the products are aimed at an older market, their catwalk shows are second to none… It’s a shame they don’t release half of the pieces showcased.

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