How we shop has changed dramatically. We follow influencers, we scroll online; we shop from high to low, discovering just as many brilliant buys in the nooks and crannies of the high street as we find in luxury boutiques; we are more discerning, more informed. But, as we speed into a new decade, we are also more time-poor than we’ve ever been.
A new online platform aims to tap into all of that and hopefully provide some solutions. Collagerie, as the name suggests, is a rich retail tapestry of fashion, as well as interiors and beauty, curated by two former Vogue editors, Serena Hood and Lucinda Chambers. “A good idea came to us and we thought, ‘If we want and need this, we are not so weird and wonderful that there aren’t other women like us,’” says Chambers of the start-up, which was devised at her west London kitchen table. It has been 18 months in the making, but boasts a lifetime’s experience in the fashion business.
The pair sat opposite each other at Vogue for more than five years. Hood is a glossy New Yorker who formerly worked at the American edition of the magazine. She then met and married British financier Peregrine Hood and decamped to London, where she became British Vogue’s executive fashion director – a role that provides a link between the advertisers and the editorial team – and she worked extensively on events, including the magazine’s annual fashion festival.
Chambers, meanwhile, barely needs any introduction. She started working at Vogue in the 1970s, left to set up Elle, returning to Vogue as its fashion director for 25 years, working with photographers such as Nick Knight and Patrick Demarchelier on her incredible flights-of-fantasy shoots. At the same time, she consulted for brands including Prada and Marni – which at the height of its success owed an enormous debt to Chambers’ own idiosyncratic and eclectic personal style.
When Edward Enninful became the new editor of Vogue in 2017 – succeeding Alexandra Shulman – Chambers was unceremoniously fired in a three-minute conversation, which swiftly became public knowledge when, a couple of months later, she gave a blisteringly honest interview to fashion journal Vestoj, which not only let rip at her former employers but also gave a gloriously candid – and entirely accurate – take on the fashion business.
Despite her lofty credentials, Chambers is entirely grounded, considered and, surprisingly, very relatable. “What was interesting about Vogue and unexpectedly pleasurable – because that was never the regiment I joined – was going out giving talks all over the country. Manchester, Liverpool, you name it, and doing events like Fashion’s Night Out, the Vogue Festival, and actually really enjoying it,” she says.
As a result of those experiences, the pair hope that Collagerie will exist in the real world too – through collaborations, events and pop-ups, capitalising on the huge success of live fashion events but also building a community around their concept. “A lot of the day job at Vogue became about doing events,” agrees Hood. “And what we took away from that was how women feel overwhelmed by the amount of choice.”
“If you’re looking for a black T-shirt you go down the rabbit hole and, before you know it, you have eight tabs open and you end up looking at lampshades and you’ve kind of forgotten what you were looking for in the first place,” Chambers adds.
The site – which has the tagline “the one thing over everything” – was very much conceived in a bid to simplify the online shopping process, to reduce the noise as it were, and to save time; it’s like delving into the ultimate shopper’s notebook and discovering pieces that you would never find unless you trawled every corner of every shop. “From day one we wanted it to be different,” says Chambers. “We didn’t want it to have an endless scroll, we didn’t want it to feel overwhelming; we wanted it to feel very aspirational.”
Collagerie is really about discovery, with the duo pinpointing all the gems – and so it swings from the super luxe to the totally accessible. An 18k gold Tank watch from Cartier, a buttery-soft leather Bottega Veneta Knot bag, Burberry monogram wide-leg trousers and Celine’s cat-eye sunglasses sit cheek by jowl with pieces from premium high-street hero brands – Arket’s white straight-legged jeans or a belted denim jumpsuit from & Other Stories.
“Most of the women we know, if not all of them, have their favourite vintage earrings they’ve had forever, they invest in a bag that they thought a lot about before buying, they have a bit of high street, a beloved print – it is the mix,” explains Chambers of their thought process.
But it’s also about making good choices – buying one perfect T-shirt rather than six that will languish in your wardrobe. “Hopefully,” adds Hood. “We are all starting to think more carefully about the purchases we make. Lucinda and I both enjoy print, we both enjoy colour and we both buy things we love that we will take out again and again and I think the tagline is really about an attitude towards shopping. It’s not about buying once, wearing once.”
Not only are the women decades apart in age (58 and 36), but their styles are poles apart too – Hood is the epitome of glossy uptown elegance, while Chambers is all haute bohemia with a bit of street style added in. “We do have different tastes but it feels as one world,” says Hood. Rather than holding an inventory, shoppers are sent on to make their purchases from the brands’ own online stores, who will also ship.
In many ways Collagerie reflects what brands like Vogue should have got off the ground a decade ago (they have tried and spectacularly failed to do so) and even if they are both carefully complimentary about the magazine world they are clearly revelling in having their own venture. “You can invent the rules, which is amazing,” admits Chambers. “And it’s exciting to be part of a conversation that’s very dynamic.”
Getting the business off the ground, they’ve been overwhelmed by how the tech world has embraced them: “Everyone is willing to share their knowledge and wants you to be part of this huge growing family,” she goes on. “And that feels really fresh, and really innovative.”
Stephanie Phair, chief strategy officer of Farfetch and chair of the British Fashion Council, was one of the first to pitch in with advice and Adam Brown, who launched his own start-up, Orlebar Brown, from his kitchen table before eventually being bought out by Chanel in 2018, helped roadmap the duo’s strategy. Whitney Bromberg Hawkings, founder of the supremely successful floristry start-up Flowerbx, has also been an invaluable source of information and advice. “The generosity is lovely,” says Chambers, who is clearly overwhelmed by people’s willingness to share ideas.
But perhaps the most galvanising force is the relationship that the pair have with each other. Both have extremely busy lives (Chambers also has her own styling work, as well as the brand Colville, which she founded at the end of 2018, while Hood has two very young daughters).
“We both know each other’s work ethic so there are no surprises,” says Chambers, who admits that meetings are often snatched in their cars, such is their frantic schedule. “Two former colleagues starting a business is a very different thing to two best friends starting a business – I love my best friend, but I would not be able to run a business with her,” adds Hood. “Lucinda has propelled this to actually happen – and I never would have done it without her.”