Paris Fashion Week: Forget Milan and Paris! When it comes to Fashion Week, the only way is Essex


LIZ JONESFASHION THERAPY Forget Milan and Paris! When it comes to Fashion Week, the only way is Essex

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UPDATED:

06:59 GMT, 8 October 2012

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TOWIE's Gemma Collins, left, meets Liz Jones, right, at Essex Fashion Week

TOWIE's Gemma Collins, left, meets Liz Jones, right, at Essex Fashion Week

My first feeling about attending Essex Fashion Week — which is, in fact, just a day — is that, oh no, it's in Rainham.

But I shouldn't be snooty because, after all, I was born in Chelmsford, went to school in Brentwood, and sat my A-levels in Southend, a mere eyelash (an Essex eyelash) from the conference centre where the event is taking place.

I'm going back to my roots (although in Essex, of course, there are no roots, only hair extensions).

Essex Fashion Week was set up to showcase
local fashion and beauty brands, largely to cash in on the huge
interest created by the staged reality TV show, The Only Way is Essex,
AKA Towie.

In the small exhibition room are brands
including online boutiques Starship and Essex Emporium, where you can
shop by Towie character; waxing chain, Strip, and Harry's World, a
fashion brand run by former Towie stalwart Harry Derbidge — a man who,
when I once asked him what he wanted to do after Towie, replied, 'Become
an icon'.

At
least people in this county have ambition. And, beneath the inches of
foundation, some of them have brains, drive, and get-up-and-go too.

Cadi
Davis, a 32-year-old with a background in accountancy, has five
employees and a label that uses Italian silk for amazing, psychedelic
prints, all handmade in Essex by her seamstress, Beth Lee.

Totally
Essex Hair Extensions is run by a redhead called Suzi Dunn. After her
hair thinned when she had breast cancer, she started her business which
uses real human hair that is attached to the scalp using a piece of thin
wire, fitted to the head.

It's amazing, but I do wonder why all
the women in Essex want long, wavy, Dallas hair. To me, it's old
fashioned. But every young woman I ask tells me: 'It's sexy. It has to
be long.'

They're all
tanned, too, with long, acrylic nails, and (presumably) Brazilian waxed,
with a vajazzled nether region too. This hyper grooming explains the
very short, sheer, low-cut fashions: if you have spent all your wages
and free time being groomed, you want to show it off.

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I meet Towie 'star' Gemma Collins. Larger than life, in a black body-con dress with feathers on the hip, from Asos, the Essex girl's website of choice, she tells me she is a 'role model for women with curves'.

According to her: 'Essex girls don't hide on the sidelines. We are optimistic. We like enjoying ourselves. At least Essex girls take care of ourselves. We can be bothered.'

Despite the short skirts and slap,
these girls are all rather sweet, and moral. Most, these days, due to
the high price of housing in the capital, still live at home with their
parents, and far from being all about sex, the studs and spikes on heels
and shoulders are quite powerful.

My
only proviso about this mania for being overdecorated, for hobbling in
Louboutin rip-offs, for the Tanfasticness of it all, is that it seeps
down to schoolgirls. I meet so many aged 11 to 13, in lipstick and
body-con dresses, who are so sophisticated they scare me.

When
I was at Brentwood High, any girl suspected of wearing a skirt too
short was made to kneel: if the skirt did not brush the floor, she would
be sent home.

I wonder if
the next generation will ignore accountancy, their only ambition to be
on a reality TV show whose biggest star to date is Amy Childs. Amy once
told me she had only just found out dinosaurs were real, and was now
really worried they might come back.

It's not that young women here want success without working for it, it's just I worry no one will take them seriously.

Harriet
Leigh is only 21 but owns her own business, fashion label Marbella
Belles. When I ask if she owns her hair too, she exclaims: 'Well, I paid
for it! Oh no, don't take my photo, me hair's dropped. Where's the
Elnett!'

But then John Galliano was hardly understated, and took himself far too seriously, and look where that ended up.

At least these young women have a sense of humour — which in these straitened times is nothing to sniff at.

Harriet Leigh, left, has a brand called Marbella Belles, while Cadi Raynor, right, owns her own online label, Cadi's Closet

The runway at Essex Fashion Week

Harriet Leigh and Cadi Raynor, left, are two Essex women who run their own clothing companies and attended Essex Fashion Week, right

LIZ JONES SPIES ON…
WALLIS, Oxford Street

I hadn't been inside Wallis since 1977, when I went to the Oxford Street branch and bought a coat. In those days, Wallis, a British brand that first opened its doors in 1932, was all about investment coats.

Wallis

Wallis

But I went in the other day with a friend, who is a size 18. What a revelation.

Not only is it great for sizes up to 20, with a huge variety of dress styles, but it has a petite range, too, with a collection by Louise Redknapp.

All the season's trends are here — print, geometric, sheer, paisley.

And while prices are low, at 40 for a dress, quality is good, and everything washes well, my friend tells me.

Unlike Next, which would not return an unworn bra last week, Wallis always changes things without a murmur.

The shoes are not bad: the animal collection is as good style-wise as you’d find for well over 100 at Ted Baker, but at only 39.50 for a faux snake pair with metallic heel.

Service is knowledgeable and helpful: when I told a sales assistant I just wanted a coat, she recommended the camel military coat, 65, a cream crepe tuxedo jacket, 65, while the faux fur coat, 80, is 'very Carrie Bradshaw and would look great over an evening party dress'. She even correctly guessed my size.

My only criticism is that there are too many garments on each rail. Note to Arcadia boss Philip Green: things need room to breathe.