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As Matches Enters Administration, What Is Happening To British Retail?

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It’s a sad day for British fashion, as news spreads that Matches Fashion looks set to shutter its doors. This week, the beloved luxury store’s owner confirmed it was putting it into administration, with Women’s Wear Daily declaring it was due to close.

Launched in the late Eighties as a brick-and-mortar boutique in Wimbledon by husband-and-wife duo Tom and Ruth Chapman, Matches quickly became known for its curated, fashion-forward edit of brands, bringing international names like Prada to the UK and championing emerging talent.

‘It was very clever about being seen as a fashion destination, but you could also get something to wear to a wedding,’ says Lisa Armstrong, head of fashion at The Telegraph. ‘It was also very, very aspirational.’

It’s not the only luxury store facing challenging times: the future of Browns, another cherished luxury shopping institution, is limbo, as its owner grapples with financial troubles, joining an ever-growing list of British retail casualties. Harvey Nichols, once the most fashionable department store in London, has long lost its shine.

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With the decline of so many beloved stores, what does it mean for how we shop?

Retailers like Matches exist to offer a carefully edited selection of brands and pieces for shoppers. The result is a place of discovery and delight for fashion enthusiasts, who turn to trusted retail names to find new and exciting brands alongside the well-known labels they already love.

More than just a place to buy (or browse and inspire, depending on your budget) the latest collections from big names like Gucci and Bottega Veneta, Matches was known as a destination to stumble upon the next big thing in fashion, always early to stock the most exciting, young indie labels, like Wales Bonner, Chopova Lowena and Stefan Cooke, thanks to the work of its buying team, who had a cult following of their own.

‘Matches is a British fashion institution and its unwavering support for young designers has played a crucial part in the success of many London Fashion Week brands,’ says ELLE UK’s fashion director Avril Mair.

(Another highlight was its in-house label Raey, known for a fashion-inflected androgynous take on wardrobe staples, Mair added. ‘Like most fashion editors, a large part of my wardrobe is made up of Raey. I don’t know how I’ll get dressed without it,’ she adds.)

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Without stores like Matches, the ‘discovery and delight’ element of shopping becomes that bit harder to find. Today, many stores are styled and merchandised to look and feel the same globally. It creates consistency, brands say. But for shoppers, it can feel ubiquitous and predictable. It’s fine when you know exactly what you want. But when shopping for luxury, there should also be a time and a place for the unexpected — something British multi-brand stores were particularly good at.

‘There is a real opportunity for independent retailers, who truly know and buy for their communities … to offer a more niche, focused offer and service,’ says Caroline Issa, fashion director of Tank magazine.

What’s clear is it’s becoming increasingly hard for fashion retailers to compete in today’s world: for many wholesale boutiques, the cost of doing business is just too high. And, with the rise of e-commerce, we’re less emotionally connected to the stores that we shop from than ever before, which only compounds the problem further.

Yet fashion lovers are still seeking out new ways to get that shopping thrill. Armstrong, for example, is increasingly turning to vintage stores and second-hand sites like Hardly Ever Worn It and Vestiaire Collective. It’s not only more purse-friendly and sustainable than buying new, but it’s a way to find a unique mix of items that few others will have to complement the staples already in her wardrobe.

‘That’s where those one-off pieces that you find on the vintage sites come in,’ she says. ‘What I’m looking for now isn’t necessarily a great classic blazer. I’ve got that. I’m looking for the thing that will just nudge that into a more interesting [look].’


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