Sales of the century
Fashion slaves flock to Roger Walker-Dack's Designer Warehouse Sales. Designers recoup their costs, shoppers get cheap labels, and the former menswear designer is a happy man. Hester Lacey meets him
Sunday 22 February 1998
Roger Walker-Dack is the designer formerly known simply as Roger Dack; he took on the surname of his partner, Peter Walker, who died in October 1995 and who also shared in his menswear business. "I did two collections after Peter's death, just to prove I could still do it. But now I've put that side of my career on hold. I just wasn't getting the buzz from it any more. I've got a big birthday this year - I'll be 50 - and I need to change. I'm less interested in the money than in being happy, and I think that's what Peter would have wanted, too."
Although his airy Islington studio still houses racks of suits teamed with jewel-bright shirts, these days he is concentrating on a quite different direction - an inspired Dack brainwave, the Designer Warehouse Sales. The Sales offer samples, one-offs, fabrics and ends-of-ranges from designer collections to the public at around a third of retail price. "Doing a collection is very expensive, and nearly all British designers are self- financing. Through the Sales they can get some of their money back," he explains.
There are separate Sales for menswear, womenswear and fabrics, and 13 will be held this year. The labels on offer read like a who's who of international designers and include Galliano, Ozbek, Katharine Hamnett, Ghost, Workers for Freedom, Jil Sander, Nicole Farhi, Ally Capellino, Sara Sturgeon, Maxfield Parrish, Tommy Hilfiger, Jasper Conran and Dolce e Gabbana. The Sales are held at the Worx, in Balfe Street, near Kings Cross; the next one, on 5-7 March, concentrates on fabrics. "The major fabric shows start in March, but the collections come out the following Autumn, so you may buy fabric and find you don't use it as you edit your collection," says Roger Walker-Dack. "When you are a designer, you've always got fabric under your cutting desk that cost a fortune."
The fabric Sales, he says, are of particular interest to fashion students with their own end-of-year shows in mind; they arrive by the coachload. "They'd never get their hands on this kind of fabric at these prices anywhere else. You see people clutching the fabrics as though they are precious toys." The students, hoping to squeeze a garment out of half a metre, rub shoulders with ladies-who-lunch accompanied by their dressmakers, who have an equally sharp eye for a bargain; it's a far cry from the hushed and reverent attitude in posh showrooms. "The first day, we are always mobbed; there isn't even time for a cup of tea," says Roger Walker-Dack, who supervises each Sale personally. He evidently loves it. "As a designer, I'm good, but running Sales, I'm the best. It's mayhem, but I still like the buzz. I get a real kick from, for example, selling Workers for Freedom. They are available from Harrods, Liberty, and me - and I've got the biggest selection."
His long and distinguished career in fashion started, he says, "by accident. I grew up in an orphanage in Luton, and I was going to be a teacher. Then I went on holiday just a week into my A-levels and a friend persuaded me it wasn't for me. So I left school at 16, and this friend got me a job at Simpsons in Piccadilly, with college day-release." After Simpsons he joined Ralph Halpern at Top Man and Burtons, designing and consulting, before setting up on his own. "When I left there, seven clients rang me to ask me to do a collection for them," he says. "I've never had to look for work. But it was very stressful. I was buying fabric in Italy two years ahead, designing one year ahead, showing for the present time - I don't know how I did it. We've lost so many designers through money problems and business failure - I was lucky I could choose my moment to get off the treadmill when I wanted to. It was fun, but I'd never go back."
Although Walker-Dack became very successful, he knows the sharp end of the fashion world very well. When he started the embryonic Designer Warehouse Sales a decade ago, it was in conjunction with a group of friends, menswear designers all starting their own collections together. "It is very difficult starting up on your own," he says. "I've lost my crusading spirit, but I still get angry when another British designer goes out of business. These hugely successful Americans and Italians are supported by the fabric companies, while all the British designers are self-financing. It isn't and has never been a level playing field. The department stores in this country have become very conservative, and some of the very good English labels sell out in Japan and New York, but you can't buy them in the shops here."
As for his own current career: "I don't like going back, I like going forward," he says firmly. "I've been very fortunate in that what I really enjoy became my work and my life. I've been lucky in that I've had an instinct for what works - I don't know where it came from. But I've never been a fashion victim or a fashion groupie. I don't talk fashion non-stop. It's not a sacred art form."
For information on the Designer Warehouse Sales, telephone 0171 704 1064. The next sale takes place 5-7 March 1998.
THINGS CAN ONLY GET BETTER
If anybody else asks me what I got up to last weekend, I think I might deck them. So, OK, it was Valentine's day and, contrary to last week's high expectations, I did not end up in some romantic city. Still, is staying in, watching TV with a takeaway curry such a big deal? I think not. Anyway, this weekend sees the start of London Fashion Week. So my backside should be firmly fixed to a seat at a fashion show as the latest gear for next Autumn/Winter will be paraded before me. But I will leave the details to my colleague, Cayte Williams, who will tell you all there is to know next Sunday in Fashion Month.
A CUT ABOVE
I've received many a daft thing through the post, but this idea definitely takes the biscuit: "Moon knowledge", that well-known, thousand-year-old concept which goes on about observations of the stars in connection with positions of the moon and sun to the star signs! Lost yet? The positions influence our activities, moods, feelings as well as atmospheric conditions and facts of nature. Apparently, in Austria and other lederhosen-sporting areas, people take these lunar phases very seriously indeed, applying this special knowledge to most aspects of life, even having your hair cut (I have never heard of such twaddle). Greta Khan, who has salons in London and Austria, says that "an increasing number of people take the moon and stars into account when making their appointment at our salon in Innsbruck". Dandruff sufferers should visit the hairdresser early this week, as it's a good week for treatment. If you are having your hair permed tomorrow try telling your hairdresser that processing time should be less than usual, because the moon phase is waning and Capricorn is in the right position to the moon. You'll be in a straight jacket before you can say scissors.
BORED OF THE DANCE
I hear that Michael Flatley, he of tap-that-heel-and-wear-a-leather-lace- round your-head fame, is, thankfully, hoorah hoorah, going to dance his last Lord of the Dance. Two years ago, a friend of mine bought tickets for a "musical", which turned out to be Lordy lordy of the prance - and I haven't spoken to her since (she did get slightly irritated that I propped up the bar after the first half). It's not that I don't appreciate somebody who can dance till they drop (I won a scholarship to the Royal Ballet, so I would know), but being subjected to an ego on legs is something I find impossible to stomach.
THE GIRL CAN'T HELP IT
While I'm on my soap box I would like to mention a piece I read in this month's Minx magazine about Louise, she once of Eternal. Now there's having a dig, and there's hammering somebody into the ground, which is what Minx have done to the poor girl. They describe her as dull as dishwater, then list 12 reasons why she shouldn't be allowed. No 1 says "Nurding by name, Nurding by nature" - funny, huh? No 7, "She's as rock and roll as an electric blanket" - does she claim to be? No 12, "She claims to be friends with Eternal - if they don't like her, why should Minx?" Have they never heard of an honourable silence? I doubt it. Leave the girl alone and go pick on someone your own size.
SHOP TILL YOU DROP
Shops shops shops - just opened, or about to. As much as I would like to go into great detail about them and bore you to tears, I only have room to tell you about the following: Office goes northern, with their first store outside of London in Manchester's St Ann's Square, during the first week in March. As well as the Office line, they will showcase ranges by Stephane Kelian and Jean Paul Gaultier. Liza Bruce has just opened a shop at 9 Pont Street, London SW1, featuring her trademark collection of ready-to-wear swimwear, with plans for shoes, jewellery and make-up in the pipeline. Fenn Wright & Manson have just opened their new look shop within Fenwicks, New Bond Street, W1. Clean, contemporary clothing, featuring tailoring and classic separates. Another in-store shop: at Harvey Nichols, Vivienne Westwood will have her own shop on the first floor. Last, but by no means least, the Louis Vuitton store will open next week at 17-18 New Bond Street, W1, launching the ready to wear collection. Can't wait, I'm off to spend money.
PS: I've had a few enquiries about the DJ I referred to last week. Just to set the record straight, he does not have ginger hair and work for Virgin radio. I would never associate myself with such a chap.
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