How key is location when it comes to fashion? Twice a year a multitude of buyers, editors and bloggers gather for the dizzying itinerary of collections in New York, London, Milan and Paris, largely referred to as the 'fashion cities'. These cities have attained their stripes thanks to a vibrant style history and culture. They are cool and trendy.
But what of other countries? Could Eastern European territories be in with a chance of getting a look in? Founder of the online global shopping site FARFETCH, José Neves, certainly thinks so.
Neves, the founder of the shoe label SWEAR and the cool London boutique, B-STORE, has been taking a keen interest in this region for a while. 'I knew there were some really, really cool Romanian, Polish, Russian stores a long time ago,' he says. 'Even just from the way the owners dressed; from their conversations, the labels they bought and the way they edited their buys. These guys knew what they were talking about and that's why we felt like we needed to send our scouts over there.'
FARFETCH presents the best of independent designer boutiques from all over the world in one online space. It has a 12-strong team of global trendspotters, seeking out boutiques with a fresh edit in new regions. They currently have 250 boutiques in 17 countries and recent fashion finds have been in Bucharest, Riga and Warsaw.
According to Verdict Research's Euro Clothing report published in the fashion trade magazine Drapers, the European clothing market is forecast to grow 9.3 per cent in the next five years as eastern European spending escalates. Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia are expected to be the main drivers of growth. Poland, Romania and Latvia all have their own fashion weeks to support local design talent. Plus, designers from these countries have been having successes at international fashion weeks, while Vogue and Harper's Bazaar have recently launched in Ukraine and Romania respectively.
From a consumer perspective, the fact that Farfetch has recently signed up several multi-brand stores based in these countries speaks volumes in terms of the local appetite for designer fashion, and the passion and creative outlook of the individuals setting up shop. As Neves points out, 'These countries, like Poland, are huge and they have growing, healthy economies with people that are well travelled, hungry for newness and eager to be in synch with the rest of the world. And you have buyers with great taste in these places.'
So, from Bucharest to Warsaw, meet the store owners contributing to a new global stylescape.
'We would be experimental whichever city we were in,' says Coca Coteanu, the founder of Entrance.
Coneanu worked in TV and advertising and felt that "underground luxury" was the missing element of Bucharest's fashion scene before she opened her avant garde store in 2009.
The shop is housed in the historical 'Universul' building, formerly the city's first typography company. Its faded, peeling façade and entrance hall with a couple of broken windows gives way to an edgy, minimalist interior. It's like a meeting is being held between the past and the future.
'Underground luxury' speaks to a stable of brands with an experimental edge. Silhouettes are often geometric or asymmetric and the colour palette doesn't stray far from black, white and grey. Yohji Yamamoto and Rick Owens are the biggest name brands, complemented by a diverse set of niche and contemporary, cultish labels such as the Italian Lost & Found and Tokyo's Share Spirit.
The offering reflects the personal leanings of its Yamamoto-wearing proprietor and her business partner: 'We had nothing to do with fashion before, so we were always trying to find clothes that are to our taste.'
Coteanu's aesthetic is proving to be a hit with Bucharest's design-conscious community which, she says, is still small at the moment. Being on farfetch.com widens her reach. A case in point is the Italian shoe brand Guidi, which has been a surprise online hit for Entrance. 'It is a great brand and seeing international people seeking it out was in a way a confirmation of my taste - I'm not the only one!' she says, smiling.
In fact, in store the brand is not popular, illustrating the current limits on how far the Romanian customer is currently willing to go in the name of fashion. 'In Romania we are not educated to buy something because it is handmade and special, especially if it doesn't look new and costs around 800 Euros!'
Where possible, Coteanu also likes to support local designers. Currently there are two offerings - Carmen Secareanu, which looks like a label Bjork might like and Patzaikin, a design collaboration involving a former world champion rower from Transylvania. 'I like brands with beautiful stories,' says Coteanu.
"We always have to come with something new", says Dorothy Constantin, owner of Victoria 46, Romania's biggest and shiniest multi-brand store. Constantin and her business partner Andreea Altay (both distractingly beautiful and dressed in Dior) took over the business in 2007 and don't sit still when it comes to delivering new experiences for their insatiable customer base of wealthy Romanians and Russians.
The latest addition is an Agent Provocateur concession - an enticing, carpeted boudoir taking up a corner of the second floor. "Our customers have described it as addictive", says Altay. Next on the agenda is Parisian macaroon specialists Ladurée for chic eats too.
Set over two giant, white-and-gleaming floors, with a winding staircase and chandeliers, Victoria 46 has the feel of an ultra modern hotel lobby or airy gallery space with clothes, shoes and bags beautifully exhibited.
It is the big French fashion houses that are prominent here: Lanvin, Saint Laurent and Christian Dior, the store's best-seller has an entire wll devoted to its iconic quilted bags in lilac, cerise and royal blue. 'Everything is amazing since Raf Simons came in, enthuses Constantin, who insists she could have bought every piece from the latest collection.
The buy is is focused around the big hitters but doesn't play safe. 'We want the fashionable pieces, the statement looks', says Constantin. To this end, there are ladylike looks from Dior and Lanvin sitting alongside more rock'n'roll (and eye wateringly expensive) Balenciaga and Balmain pastel leather bombers and luxe denims.
It took a couple of seasons for customers to warm up to Celine but now every piece sells out. Being on farfetch means some of the more newer labels or more experimental pieces will be given an audience beyond the fashionable local clientele but it seems that Constantin and Altay are so trusted by their customers that whatever they bring in is well received eventually.
After studying at Parsons School of Design in New York City and living for the past nine years in Paris, shoe designer Dana Skaraine decided it was the right time to open up a multi-label store in Latvia's capital Riga.
'I pitched the idea to my mum because she always gets complimented on her classic, beautiful style,' says Skaraine. 'With me living abroad and having access to all the international fahion showrooms it just seemed like a smart decision. We felt there was a niche.' And so they set up shop in 2011.
For the first couple of seasons Skaraine did the buying herself but soon her mother was involved too. 'I don't live in Latvia all the time so my mum had a better knowledge of our local clientele. She started contributing more in terms of colour trends, silhouettes and fabric choices.'
Skaraine has taken a different, some might say daring, approach to her selections. 'We started with contemporary designers like Helmut Lang, Carven, Vanessa Bruno and Alexander Wang and slowly we have ventured into luxury brands because we saw the demand for labels that people could only buy abroad or from Net-a-Porter' she says.
Rick Owens, Roland Mouret and Victoria Beckham have all been recent successes, along with the avant-garde designs of Gareth Pugh and Azzedine Alaia. 'The Alaia team were very shocked to discover we were bringing Alaia to the Baltic states!' she laughs.
Joining with farfetch has enabled the mother-daughter team to take risks and test new pieces out: 'Now we have a backup plan. If people don't get it the first season in store we always have another channel online'. This was true of some 'rather plasticy' Alexander Wang shoes that didn't go down well with the local population.
Bestsellers in store are the Italian contemporary brand MSGM (think pretty shift dresses with interesting detailing) and Victoria Beckham. 'We have a lot of clients from Russia who have apartments or summer houses in the city and Beckham is such a style icon for them'. Getting hold of the quirky Olympia le Tan clutches designed to look like books led to a surge of interest via farfetch. 'We'd have phone calls asking for them,' says Skaraine. 'Those bags certainly put us on the map.'
'Luxury does not always equal beauty, but beauty is always luxury', is the mantra at the jewellery emporium, Uzerai, where fine jewellery sits alongside fashion pieces.
'We have designs for Michelle Obama or Rihanna, and everything in between', says Piotr Walasek.
Uzerai is well established in the city. It has been selling jewellery since 1995 when Walasek and his mother took over from his father who had previously been selling vintage cameras. 'The boutique passed to my mother and she wanted to do something that she was passionate about,' he says.
It's a treasure trove of modern jewellery. All the pieces they buy are guaranteed talking points - whether that's a pair of lush modernist earrings by Herve van der Straeten, or a baroque pile of stacking rings by Iosseliani. With work by big name designers such as Tom Binns and Shaune Leane, Walasek is always looking for pieces that strike the right balance between avant-garde and classic: 'We favour the most cutting-edge designers and those pieces that can transform a wardrobe', he says. 'Our advice is, invest in pieces that will get you noticed.'
Binns, who designs exclusive pieces for the store, such as his signature safety pin earrings made in 18 carat gold, is one of the best sellers. 'His is a brand that people come to our store for', says Walasek. 'We make sure we have something special from him. We also have the Massai necklace he created for Lady Gaga's US Vogue shoot.'
Walasek hasn't noticed much of a difference between the customers in Warsaw and on farfetch: "We are a small boutique but we have some really crazy clients! We are already famous for being daring and have a tendency to buy things just for treasure anyway."
He can't deny the buzz he gets from shipping orders to far-flung destinations through farfetch. 'We've only been with them for a few months,' he says 'but already we've had some celebrity buyers. That's been quite a thrill.'