Last night in London, Claridges played host to a very special evening showcasing a collection that I firmly believe will be an instant sell out. I'm speaking of course of the latest designer / high street collaboration between Issa and Banana Republic. Speaking personally, I feel as if two wonderful worlds are colliding. I've supported Banana Republic for as long as I can remember for their ability to create wonderful garments at reasonable price points. On the other end, I've seen Issa as a brand to respect, covet and save for, since I was first introduced to the collections in 2004. So standing in a room last night and seeing the two come together to create a collection that is accessible to a whole new audience was quite a "moment."
As I'm pretty sure each and every one of you are familiar with the brand at this point I'm sure I don't have to give a huge history of Issa. It's probably enough to say that they became a household name after Kate Middleton chose one of their navy blue numbers to wear to announce her engagement to Prince William. Not only has Issa been loved by the Middleton sisters, it's also been embraced as a red carpet and special occasion expert. The dresses have the unique ability to make each and every wearer look absolutely outstanding. Each dress pinches in just at the perfect point to accentuate the waist and delicately caresses the natural curves of a woman's body without hugging the bits we wish were well and truly in disguise. Basically, Issa dresses have always been my secret weapon. And that's all you really need to know before realising you don't have a choice here... you have to buy into this collection.
The history that is perhaps not as widely talked about is the involvement of Camilla Al Fayed. In 2011, Camilla bought a 51% stake in the company with an interest in expanding the reach of the brand. Last night I got a chance to sit down with Camilla and ask her a few questions about the collaboration and what's to be expected with Issa moving forward, since the announcement of a new creative director.
I must start by saying that Camilla Al Fayed is about as charming a woman as they come. She spoke enthusiastically about Issa's collaboration with Banana Republic and passionately about the brand itself. This is not a woman who bought into the brand for a bit of fun or something to do. This is a woman who has a vision for the future and a specific movement in mind for the brand. I loved Issa before meeting Camilla, but left truly excited for the brand's future after spending time with the 28-year-old owner. And yes, it's hard to believe she is only 28 years of age. This woman has a more grounded and focused head on her shoulders than most 40-year old executives that I meet. Whether that's down to her father, the ex-owner of Harrods Mohamed Al Fayed, or a natural ability to lead and transform, well I'll never know.
So when it came to the collaboration with Banana Republic, naturally my first question for the Issa owner was why Banana Republic? They could have had their choice of a high street collaborator so I wanted to know what drew them to this particular brand. Camilla told me "They go hand in hand in terms of branding. Banana Republic are easy going, perfectly priced, very feminine and basically all the things that we are. The two brands compliment each other perfectly." Of course you can't talk about Banana Republic without talking about their enormous reach. "It's basically taking things on a global scale for us," Camilla told me. "I think we have a lot of global awareness but this is reaching out on a much bigger scale. Banana Republic are incredible in their reach and it's really exciting for us to be a part of that."
As we sat down to talk further about the collaboration itself I was quite upfront with how impressed I was with the actual quality of the garments. It's not at all easy translating a designer dress down to highstreet prices. You look at an Issa dress that is £565 and then an Issa for Banana Republic dress that is similar but priced at £65 and you think that you really are going to get a product that is subpar at best. That's hardly the case here. I talked at length with the team about fabric selections and keeping the shapes in line with the brand. Without going into too much technical detail, let's just say that they set a standards goal and they hit it on the money. Camilla herself said she was extremely proud of the outcome. "We just really wanted to keep everything timeless here. For us, we are predominantly a print brand and here we were very careful to put those prints on shapes and sizes that would work for everyone. We wanted these dresses to be easily identifiable as Issa and I think they are, definitely."
And you had to know that as I was sitting with Camilla Al Fayed in a one-on-one atmosphere, I had to ask the burning question about the future of Issa. As many of you know, the founder and creative director Daniela Helayel recently left the company and her successor has been named. Blue Ferrier will show her first collection as creative director for Issa in September at London Fashion Week. "My love for Issa has come over a span of 8 years," Camilla shared. "I was very much the Issa girl when I fell in love with the brand. I identify with the brand personally as I adore the shapes and prints. It's a love affair for me and I feel very proud to grow the business. I believe in it and with our new creative direction I believe it's only going to get better."
There you have it, folks. Straight from the woman that knows best. But before any September shows kick off we have this collection to look forward to. The Banana Republic for Issa collection will drop in Banana Republic stores and online from August 8th. Like I said, I'm predicting a sell out so I'd get in there early. Here's a look at the pieces I've already planned for my shopping cart...