It was La Redoute that started this mail-order revolution. When they launched in Britain in July 1995, they made it possible to buy fashionable clothes by mail order without having to forgo style for convenience. They offer many famous brand names (such as APC) and often use guest designers to produce a capsule range. In the past they've had such luminaries as Joseph, Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld.
Although not everyone likes buying by mail order, saying they find it less satisfying that a "shop" experience, it definitely beats the sweating and swearing in the changing rooms of a Saturday afternoon. Plus, there are some really good catalogues for stuff which isn't available to people who live outside London or who don't get much time off work to shop. My very favourite catalogue is the APC catalogue. This French label's only shop in the UK is in London, so mail order is essential for the rest of the country. Their catalogue is very simple and compact (30 pages). This is the way forward for mail order: neatly presented, not overgilded and to the point.
Sadly, however, we still have a way to go to catch up with the Americans. The fabulous (and ridiculously cheap) LL Bean catalogue means you need never leave your rocking chair (they stock sports, furnishings, outdoor, kids and "traveler" (sic) amongst others). Sun and Sand make fabulous cotton T-shirts (if you ever see a T-shirt you like on someone else, chances are it's from them). And Anthropologie's catalogue is but a tempting tease of what the glorious stores (nine nationwide in the States) have to offer. Unfortunately, a tease these lovely wares (lanterns, sari scarves, must- have clothing and beautiful mandarin pyjamas) must remain, because Anthropolgie is not yet ready to deliver outside the States. And finally, Victoria's Secrets. Perhaps the best lingerie catalogue in the world (or maybe it's just because the styles are so different to the usual stuff you get here), the company also offer small ranges of things like stonkingly stylish black dresses. The bore with ordering from the States is the import charges which are the customers' responsibility: it can make that once cheap LL Bean fleece not so attractive.
For catalogues; APC: write to APC, Rue Madame, 75006, Paris, 00 331 44390660. You can get an English version of the catalogue (same goods, different language), but the prices are still printed in francs. Evans Direct: 0990 32 42 52. Principals: 0990 233343. La Redoute: 0500 777 777. LL Bean: 0800 891 297. Sun and Sand: 0171 490 4684. Victoria's Secrets: 001 614 337 5122