Hubris haunts the fashion industry. Halston – king of the hedonistic 1970s fashion crowd that held court at New York's Studio 54 nightclub – once claimed that "You're only as good as the people you dress". H, who'd dressed Jackie, Liza and Bianca in his time, ended his career dressing no one.
Yesterday, hubris claimed another victim: the notorious Fulham Road boutique Voyage, famed more for its draconian door policy than the ribbon-trimmed bohemian cardigans, lace-trimmed slip dresses and exotic Chinese silk boudoir coats they peddled for between £1,000 and £90,000 a pop. Now in liquidation, with debts rumoured to exceed £3m, Voyage's fall has left the fashion world feeling fear and schadenfreude in equal measure.
Certainly, Voyage's owners, the Mazzilli family – Ma and Pa Tiziano and Louise and their spawn, Rocky and Tatum – did themselves few favours in the PR department, having, famously, turned away Madonna, Julia Roberts and Naomi Campbell with their Privilege Card-only entrance policy. Neither did they endear themselves to the fashion industry.
Dubbed fashion's Addams Family, the Mazzillis were not what you'd call camera shy. Shamen-like Tiziano, Louise with her Medusa-mane of dreadlocked hair, and their bandana'd brood starred in their own advertising campaigns, splashed across four-to-six pages of Vanity Fair and Vogue. They looked like superannuated characters from some strange porno cartoon. This, after Rocky claimed, "We don't spend millions advertising in Vogue. In fashion, the more you ass kiss, the better you succeed. We don't do that." Maybe they should have kissed ass, rather than having Louise show hers to the readers of Vogue.
A disrespect for the "Do you know who I am?" brigade may be healthy. But when a door policy like Voyage's makes members of the public – even those members of the public willing to part with £1,000 for a ribbon-trim vest – feel humiliated, a spunky attitude looks increasingly shallow.
"I always tell my staff that I don't pay their wages. The customer does", says Joan Burstein, founder/owner of London's most prestigious designer boutique, Browns. "If you set out to repel your customer, you're not going to be a success. Granted, they were clever in the beginning. Voyage was the first shop to capitalise on the vintage look. But that look has since been copied tremendously and they didn't change their image. And barring your door to customers – any customer – is a diabolical way of handling your business."
In one now-famous incident last year, when Naomi Campbell was ejected from the store by Tatum Mazzilli for being rude, her brother Rocky snapped, "She's a model. It's not like she's a superstar or anything". Ordinarily, the fashion press would applaud to see the sweet, demure and humble Ms Campbell humiliated. But when the offending party happens to be the most arrogant, pretentious boutique on the planet, different rules apply – and it was Voyage, not Naomi, who got the bad press.
To say Voyage had a high opinion of itself is like saying Eva Peron was marginally ambitious. The ritual humiliation of being turned away from the door of 115 Fulham Road was the West London dinner party conversation of the late Nineties. Some of these stories, perhaps not surprisingly, turned out not to be true – including the tale about how International Herald Tribune fashion editor Suzy Menkes was turned away from Voyage, before being pursued down the street by an apologetic Mazzilli, begging her to return.
When I spoke to Ms Menkes yesterday, she recalled a visit she made to the store in 1996, when supermodels Helena Christensen, Kate Moss, Stella Tennant and celebrities such as Jemima Khan, Nicole Kidman and Jade Jagger were among the customers. "Voyage belonged to a moment in fashion time," she said. "You can say that they single-handedly relaunched the haute-bohemian chic look in the Nineties. I remember seeing Kate Moss in Voyage trying on the lace and ribbon trim pieces. There was something wonderful about the quirkiness and eccentricity of Voyage then. It was an antidote to all that minimalism we'd seen in the Nineties. But fashion moments pass and one has to keep up.
"I think after the initial excitement, Voyage cultivated their exclusivity. Once they'd adopted that policy of not welcoming people into their store, the fashion moment passed. It happens to these people when their moment has passed. Before you know it, you're begging people to come in."
Voyage's moment – or reign of terror – was relatively brief. Italian Mazzilli met Belgian Louise in the early Seventies, when he was in the music industry and she in fashion. Together, they worked as an ideas factory for Italian fashion houses Valentino, Gianfranco Ferré, Benetton and Nino Cerruti. In 1989, they decided to design a collection themselves. As Mazzilli himself said, "We were frustrated to give them such nice ideas, so fresh, and they didn't know how to use them... [I thought] why don't we together take the couture and make it fresh, and take it to a new audience."
Thus, having put Valentino et al in their place, the Mazzillis came to conquer London, opening at 115 Fulham Road in 1991. The shop failed to register on London fashion's Richter scale until a certain Jemima Khan was spotted around town wearing Voyage in 1996, and all the wannabe bohemian Chelsea girls beat a pathway to the store's locked doors.
As Vogue's Harriet Quick says, "Voyage did kick-start the bohemian chic movement. Women at the time were looking for a new way to dress. The cycle had to shift from the Helmut Lang uniform. Voyage was pretty and eccentric, and worked on London girls because that slightly faded, crafty look is a very English aesthetic. I remember buying a ribbon-trim vest top for a girlfriend in Voyage, then going back to find that, within a month or two, the prices had doubled. Of course, it is sensible to ride the tidal wave of hype but their tactics look out of touch in the current economic climate. Women want service. I can't imagine anyone with money to spend putting up with the Voyage attitude today."
But was Voyage really so special once you got past the door? (Non-members were expected to show their business cards, and that was presuming the assistant on duty could be bothered to look.) At its peak in the late Nineties, Voyage was spectacular. Ancient posters, chandeliers and objets d'art from the iconic Parisian nightclub the Lido made the two-storey store resemble Josephine Baker's boudoir. The clothes were all one-offs, demi couture, which goes some way to explain the £500 minimum price tags. In their lair, the Mazzillis were charming and quirky. You could almost feel sorry for their demise after enjoying an afternoon in Voyage. Almost.
If you're looking for a moment, you could say that the bubble began to burst when ER actor Alex Kingston was voted on to US magazine People Weekly's worst-dressed list for 1998. Yes – the lady lived in Voyage.
It wasn't that fashion's tide had turned against the vintage look that Voyage had pioneered. Julia Roberts, Renée Zellwegger, Gwyneth Paltrow, Nicole Kidman, Kate Moss and Amber Valletta were photographed in antique couture, as well as Voyage. Vintage has been the Tsunami trend of the past three years. Rather, it was the fashion magazines who let the cat out of the bag, signalling the death knell for Voyage by showing that street-smart girls could go to vintage stores like London's Steinberg & Tolkien or LA's Paper Bag Princess and buy bias-cut satin Thirties negligees, Fifties beaded cardigans and kitsch Oriental shot silk Suzy Wong dresses for £50 rather than £500 (or £5,000). Anything Voyage could do, young Voguettes could do better on Portobello Market.
Voyage misjudged the passing of their fashion moment. Having inspired a million high street copies, and unintentionally contributed to the vintage movement, Voyage expanded, with a menswear store at 175-177 Fulham Road in 1998, then a Paris outpost on the Avenue Montaigne last year. The menswear store didn't operate a closed-door policy, and its haute-hippie-meets-Jimi-Hendrix beaded jeans, velvet smoking jackets and embroidered shirts were bought by David Bowie, Mick Jagger, Tom Cruise and Mickey Rourke. Unfortunately, this guest list probably constituted the only customers. Who else could wear, let alone afford, clothing that Elton John might consider de trop?
In retrospect, the launch of a "diffusion" (cheaper and mass-produced) label, Voyage Passion, was an error of epic proportions – and it came too late. By 2001, every high street store worth its salt had ripped off then worn out the Voyage vibe. The horse hadn't so much bolted as won the Grand National and been put out to grass.
Now plans for stores in Moscow and Hong Kong – as well as for further labels Voyage Amour and Voyage Desire – are, to say the least, on hold. It is uncertain whether the collapse of Voyage's London empire has led to Les Bailifs visiting the Avenue Montaigne. But it's safe to say that Voyage exhausted any sympathy for their timely demise a long time ago. Who knows, the Mazzillis may, like Rocky's friend Lady Victoria Hervey, rise from the ashes of liquidation and live to trade another day.
But whether their privilege-card customers will want what they've got is doubtful. As a powerful London fashion PR said on hearing the news, "It couldn't have happened to a nicer bunch of people". Miaow.Reuse content