Holly and ivy all year round

You may think Christmas starts too early, but for some, it never goes away. James Sherwood reports

As you stagger defeated up Regent street at 7pm on Christmas Eve cursing St Nicholas, spare a thought for Santa's little helpers: those people whose everyday life is Christmas at the workhouse. For a select few retail fixers, the game plan for Christmas 1999 will be finished well before this year's Queen's Speech.

Spare no sympathy for the miserly shopper who buys next year's presents, remaindered cards and discount tinsel in the January sales. While they gather crumbs from the Christmas table, Paperchase is signing off fresh designs which won't emerge for a further 11 months. "Actually, we try to work about 14 months in advance," says Paperchase marketing director Robert Warden. "We start in October, by which time a lot of the trends are settled and we have decided on key colours for the season. Last year we did very well with feathers and fluff so we've developed that idea further this year." Feathers, fluff, acid bright stationery and smart cards all add up to a more style-conscious approach to what is essentially a tacky, cliche-ridden season. Christmas, it seems, is as much at the mercy of fashion as a Prada bag.

Though Warden declares, "Christmas and kitsch seem to go together," Paperchase have a talent for very self-aware kitsch. Less directional stores who copy Paperchase a year late are essentially 24 months too late. Paperchase were doing gold and silver metallic envelopes way before Asda who, this year, were handbagged by Anne Robinson for their metallic envelopes - which repelled both biro and stamp. Clearly somebody didn't do their research in time.

We may bemoan the fact that Christmas on the British high street starts as early as October. For Sainsburys senior buyer Jonathan Salisbury, Christmas shopping starts in January. "I'll be placing orders for Christmas 1999 turkeys as soon as the holiday is over," he says. "Incredibly, about 80 per cent of turkeys are sold in the three-day run-up to Christmas - the average sale in a Sainsburys branch over Christmas is 1250 turkeys, which can rise to 5000 in some stores. With these kinds of numbers, forward planning is a necessity."

Harvey Nichols are up and running for next year too. "We're planning next year's Christmas decoration already," says Janet Wardley, manager of the stores' visual merchandising. "We'll be putting even more effort in because it's the Millennium and I feel quite strongly about the approach we're going to take. But for now it's a secret."

For the fashion industry, forecasting is a way of life. Fashion for any given season is finalised at least six months in advance. Over the Christmas period, the empress of underwear, Janet Reger, increases sales by roughly 300 per cent. Her Beauchamp Place lingerie boutique is besieged by a steady stream of husbands and lovers. Buying a set of Reger Christmas stockings is as much part of the seasonal ritual as brandy butter and baubles. "We don't have a specific Christmas collection," says Reger's daughter and heir apparent Aliza, "because knickers with holly prints and Santa hats aren't really our style. But we obviously have an eye to Christmas when designing the autumn/winter collection. Next year's winter collection is already designed, so that will give you an idea of how far ahead we work. Production for the season starts in April/May but we can deliver to the boutique as late as 20 December, depending on the sales. Fashion does have help from the colour forecasts, which can work up to five years in advance, but we've learnt from experience that ivory, cream and black will always outsell avocado green, duck egg blue or whatever the key seasonal colour may be."

What of industries that can't work around the caprices of their customers? A self-styled A-list hairdresser like Nicky Clarke will have been fully booked for Christmas since 1991, but he's the exception, not the rule. Fish is arguably Soho's funkiest hair salon. Every year, owner Paul Burfoot peppers the minimal salon with the odd wreath and erects a faintly Gothic cross surrounded by candles in the window. "Soho's a real mixed bag," says Burfoot. "We always have to be flexible so we can't forward plan too much. We'll be booking four weeks in advance for women and ten minutes in advance for men. There's always a few clients who will need something a bit special for Christmas: Johnny Vaughn came in before he taped his Christmas interview with Madonna, the club kids come in wanting something a bit special for a big party night."

For all retailers, sales every Christmas are reported as meticulously as a census. The results are a retail psychological sketch of Great Britain. For example, Jonathan Salisbury has noted a huge trend for organic turkeys at Sainsburys, which presumably means we are mellowing and becoming more environmentally aware as we approach the millennium. Whereas price and quality were the two benchmarks of old, now convenience is key. "There's a relatively new market, young urban couples, who want best breast of turkey. They don't want the legs or the bones," says Salisbury. So we're seeing the luxury and ease of this season's Marc Jacobs and Armani reflected in our eating habits. Amazing what a turkey can tell you.

"Our first meeting for Christmas 1999 was called in November this year," says Sainsburys Christmas pudding guru Alison Marrs. "In fact, production of Christmas puddings can start as early as February. A good pudding - like Sainsburys Extra Matured label - can be eaten as late as 18 months after production. The time to mellow and mature enhances the flavour." Marrs says the 12 month Christmas period is essential to keep on top of gourmet trends. "Over this Christmas period, we will be testing every mince pie we can get our hands on to compare it with Sainsburys," she says. "We act on our research and customer replies. So, for example, there's 50 per cent more brandy in our luxury mince pies this year."

As the year comes to a close, we are bombarded with awards shows, best- of lists and retrospectives of the celebrity year. If, however, you want to know who the public really took to their hearts, then look no further than annual fancy dress hire best-sellers. London's Angels & Bermans is the Queen Mother of costume hire, with a 150,000 square foot warehouse of costumes. "The usual business we do in a week, we can do in a day over Christmas," says Angels marketing man Dylan Hearne. "We transfer stock from the warehouse to the shop on a daily basis, starting days after the previous Christmas for the next one. Christmas tells us the trends for the year to come. So, for example, Titanic is big business this year even though the movie came out over Christmas 1997. The Seventies is our major period: Studio 54, Last Days of Disco and Saturday Night Fever all contributed to that. A surprise best-seller is Uma's cat suit from The Avengers, and also Austin Powers."

So what does this Christmas retail clairvoyance tell us about the British public? We are an organic-eating, brandy-slugging, nation of kitsch lovers who love nothing better than to dress up as dead film stars and wear ivory underwear. Consequently, our idiosyncratic seasonal peccadilloes fuel a thriving year-round industry.

News
people
News
A survey carried out by Sainsbury's Finance found 20% of new university students have never washed their own clothes, while 14% cannot even boil an egg
science...and the results are not as pointless as that sounds
News
politicsIs David Cameron trying to prove he's down with the kids?
News
Cumberbatch was speaking on US television when he made the comment (Getty)
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

    Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Tradewind are working with this Co-educatio...

    Tradewind Recruitment: Textiles

    Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: We require a teacher of Textiles for this c...

    Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

    Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: We require a teacher of English for this co...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales and Service General Administrator

    £16000 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Atlas ...

    Day In a Page

    Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

    Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

    Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea