So, as you will already know if you follow me on Instagram, last week I was invited to celebrate relaunch of Issa at House of Fraser. The venue was Kensington Palace which, of course, is where William, Kate and Harry all live. It was an especially auspicious time to go there because it was the day that Kate’s third pregnancy was announced. Our event was in the Orangery but I couldn’t help looking across at the Palace and feeling sorry for her. She’s obviously suffering again and despite the help she has at hand, it isn’t easy when you have pre-schoolers who want their mum regardless of their royal standing. However I digress…
Why does the relaunch of Issa at House of Fraser matter?
Issa was the label of the noughties. Known for its supremely flattering cut, its customer list included Madonna (who apparently bought in bulk), Kylie, Jennifer Lopez, Scarlett Johanssen and Keira Knightly. The high point of course (and the connection with Kensington Palace) was when Kate Middleton wore that blue Issa dress for the royal engagement announcement in 2010.
You’d think that this would have been the answer to every brand’s prayer but, demand was suddenly so high that a small label like Issa couldn’t finance the production which meant that ultimately, it imploded. Until now that is. House of Fraser has come to the rescue, acquiring the brand as well as an archive of designs.
The dresses have been relaunched in a slightly more affordable jersey blend than the originals. However it still retains the silky drape that makes it feel a few steps up from ordinary jersey. I would say that the prices are reasonable – they sit within the Boden tier. And, good news for non-UK readers, Issa is available for international delivery at a very reasonable price (details here).
An evening at Kensington Palace
So, as I have already said, last Monday night was the official launch. Most of the guests were fashion journalists and bloggers so as you can imagine, it was a glam event. Fortunately quite a few of us had been sent Issa dresses to wear which overcame the dress code headache. I had three to choose from but I decided on this green one for two reasons – it’s a colour that I don’t usually wear and also, it was the least heavy of the three which made it easier to carry around London with me.
I styled it with black accessories and added asymmetric earrings for a touch of evening glamour (if I don’t look quite myself it’s because I went to a Charlotte Tilbury store to have my make-up done and they gave me quite a heavy look).
To my joy, Avril from ALifeToStyle was also invited so we met up beforehand to take some quick photos. Here we are together and I must remember not to have my photo taken with her again. She makes me look ‘big boned’ as my grandma would have said!
The reason that we were keen to be quick was because we could see these three chaps bearing glasses of chilled champagne.
It was a good idea to have so many people wearing Issa because it showcased just how versatile the dresses are, regardless of your age, style or size…
Dresses L-R: Sophia ruffle dress; others currently sold out
I just wanted to show you how beautiful the table looked with a rainbow of colour down the centre.
And here we are having dinner. I look terribly serious but I can assure you that Lucinda from TheLondonMummy and I were having a really interesting conversation!
So, that was Kensington Palace. As good things do, it went in a whirl and when it finished, Avril and I sashayed back to the bar at my hotel for a bit of a wine-soaked chat. When I urged you to follow her last time, a few of you got in touch to say her RSS feed wasn’t working. She’s fixed it now so do follow her blog. As I said before, if you like mine, you’ll like hers. We have a lot in common.
My interpretation of Issa
As you’ve seen from the pictures of different people wearing it, Issa can be different things to different women. I veered away from pattern towards the solid colours and it seems a shame not to show you all three dresses. Sadly there are no more invitations to the Palace pending so I had to recreate the surroundings at a local castle.
Wearing Issa for daytime
The first thing I want to point out is that you can easily wear the simple Kate style dresses for work or a daytime event. So here’s the green dress again but this time I’m wearing it as I would for a meeting.
One of the things I like about it is that it skims rather than clings…
… and the drapes are kind to your midriff. There is also sufficient fabric so that it doesn’t ride up your thigh when you sit down – a particular bugbear of mine with anything fitted as you know.
The Issa LBD
It is called the Kate and is a similar style to her engagement dress but it has a more fitted skirt which I prefer.
It passes my sitting down test too. It’s the sort of dress that you have in your wardrobe for years and years, pulling it out for dinners, weddings (I like the contrast of black at a wedding), meetings with the accountant, or, of course funerals. You will always look polished wearing a dress like this.
How to ensure that classic dresses stand the test of time
The important thing to remember with classic dresses is to keep your accessories updated. Whereas last year I might have worn this dress with a block heel, this year I’ve chosen embellished satin stilettos.
I’ve added an accent of one of the season’s key colours, yellow gold, at three different sight lines: my earrings, clutch and shoes. By updating your accessories you are, of course, benefitting from the ‘cost per wear’ theory because you can use them to update everything else in your wardrobe too.
A completely different evening look
So here I am feeling like a true chatelaine (either that or a blue version of the dancing emoji 💃)! I always find party dresses difficult to track down, especially because my dressed up events tend to be more corporate than social. So often dresses are too short, too tight, too low cut or a mix of all three. This one is much kinder, just revealing arms and a hint of leg when you move.
It is weighted so that as you turn, it swirls around your legs. This means that it only exposes the full height of the slit when you twirl like this…
…the rest of the time it cascades softly. For added panache, there is keyhole detailing at the back.
It really does look as though we’re shooting in Provence doesn’t it. In fact it was chilly Cumbria and I was sitting here sheltering from the rain. Plus ça change…
So – there you have it – Issa. The new first port of call for dresses I would say. The best thing is to order them and try them on, you’ll be surprised at what they do for you. They have had so much press attention that quite a few styles have sold out. However new designs are arriving – here are two new favourites that I’ve just spotted:
If you like my blue ruffle dress but prefer your legs and arms to have a little more coverage, this one’s for you. With this season’s midi trend you could wear this for daytime as well as evening:
And if you’re a pear, the sleeves on this one will balance you out, whilst still revealing a tantalising glimpse of flesh at the shoulders (also available in black).
There’s a wide range of Issa clutch bags to go with the dresses that would work well for a ‘jeans and heels’ outfit too. They’re reasonably priced and have the option of a chain strap inside if you prefer to carry them on your shoulder.
Thoughts about House of Fraser
It’s great that House of Fraser has rescued Issa. In my view, they are a department store to watch. As you may know, they were bought by new owners in 2014 after a decade of neglect. A masterplan has been developed for the group which focuses on putting the excitement back into shopping – ‘shopping as theatre’ as we used to call it at Selfridges.
Now that online shopping accounts for so many sales, it seems more than ever to be the right direction for bricks and mortar department stores to take. This, along with significant investment in some long overdue store refurbishments, work on the website and the new brands should mean that we will soon notice a difference.
They certainly seem to have defined their target customer who, in a nutshell, is most of us. The time-pressed woman over 40 who is looking for unique brands and wants shopping to be more of an engaging experience than just a trudge round the shops. It’s interesting to see that in addition to their in-house brands such as Issa and Biba, House of Fraser also have some unusual Scandi and Parisian boutique brands in their “Brand Spotlight” department. Amongst them are Samsoe & Samsoe, Sessun and Maison Scotch.
I’m hoping that House of Fraser will carve a unique position for itself on the UK high street – as a place that brings back the glitz and glamour of the department stores of old. Time will tell – but with the rescue of Issa they certainly seem to be off to a good start.
Disclosure: the ‘relaunch of Issa at House of Fraser’ was commissioned by House of Fraser who wanted to introduce Issa to Midlifechic readers. However they had no input into what was included or the angle I would take on the post. As always, the words and interpretations are my own.