Wild Swans is not your usual boutique. It has a predominantly Scandinavian theme, for one; its three locations don’t even go near the usual Covent Garden/Marylebone/King’s Road indie-shop hotspots; and finally, its owner and creator Caroline Van Luthje opened it after a long career in . . . TV production. She started with her first shop in Chiswick in 2005 and it went so well that last year she opened the Islington branch. This year it’s the turn of the Mill Hill store, all three areas with that quintessential village feeling that Caroline was mainly keen on. So how has Wild Swans come to be one of the most remarkable names in the field in only four years? I recently met Caroline to find out more about what her business is all about.
MC: How did you decide to move to London and open a boutique from originally being in TV production?
CVL: When I first moved to the UK, my initial goal wasn’t to open a shop. But then I realised that, even after moving here, I was still going back home to buy my clothes, because most of the designers I liked were simply not available inLondon. So at that point I decided that I was ready to try something different and, despite not having any retail background, I went for it. Retail is the third biggest export inDenmark, so outsourcing material from there wasn’t actually unusual.
MC: How do you choose the designers and pieces that you showcase? And how do you find new and upcoming designers?
CVL: I tend to go toDenmark on a regular basis with another member of my team to attend retailers’ fairs and fashion shows and meet suppliers, and we usually choose different pieces from there that go together and adhere to the classic yet edgy style of our shop. When selecting new and upcoming designers instead, we trust the word-of-mouth method within the industry or we read specialised magazines.
MC: You say that the great majority of the products in store are Danish or at least Scandinavian, except for a couple of names like Jaime Mascaro and American Vintage. How come did you decide to make an exception for them?
CVL: We always aim to give a style that is complete – we like our clients to get into our shops and find different pieces that would work together harmoniously into a full outfit. So for example Jaime Mascaro’s shoes are so comfortable and they offer a great choice of ballerinas and evening shoes, therefore we decided to keep that name in store. With American Vintage, instead, we really like their recent collections and found that as a brand it was quite difficult to find, so we decided to have it just to cover that gap in the market.
Photo source: http://www.wild-swans.com/
MC: How has the trend of your shops and the clientele changed through the years?
CVL: The trend of the shop (and its clientele) has always been mixed, really. Our customers’ age spans from 25 to 70 years old and so we have always tried to meet their needs depending on their profile and background. For example, in the new store we opened in Mill Hill, which is in the middle of a great Jewish community, we have noticed a need for dresses and skirts with a slightly stretched length that can cover the knee for attending the Synagogue. That comes as a new challenge to us and we are currently seeing different designers to see whether they would be happy to adapt the design of a few of their dresses for that.
MC: How would you say the credit crunch has affected the way your clients shop? Would you say it increased the need for “slow fashion”?
CVL: I felt that people in general were a little frightened at the beginning and because of the downturn we were mostly in danger as retailers, being in the “middle market” bracket. But slow fashion is actually taking over more and more and so are dedicated and independent boutiques that offer good quality and unique clothes, therefore so far we’ve been doing quite well, in fact.
MC: What is the future of independent shops, in your view?
CVL: Independent shops are just going to get stronger and stronger. There is a big demand for an independent boutique style, and all we need to do is to create a niche and have something different to offer. Since we started off in 2005 we’ve always been trying to tweak what we offer to improve it and give our clientele what they are after. From seasonal clients’ evenings with designers to the occasional free manicure service in store, you always need to give that little bit more to be a bit different.
MC: I heard that you have been shortlisted for the Drapers Award this year!
CVL: Yes, they called in the shop and announced that we were shortlisted. 50 shops were initially nominated and now there are only 9 of us left now. We’ll find out if we’ve won on the 18 November!
MC: What is the fashion scene like in Scandinavia?
CVL: It is much easier to spot trends up there. For example you walk into a café and see straight away a bunch of girls wearing the same trend, similar clothes etc, and you get that less often inLondon. The general styles are not too far from those here in theUK, but at times a few trends arrive there first and then take up here as well, such as harem trousers and playsuits.
For more info about this amazing shop please visit http://www.wild-swans.com/default.