Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Invest in the original

Back in what seems like the year dot – probably the early 1990s, Voyage opened a rather exotic looking shop on the Fulham Road. It was much talked about for its quirky door policy. Initially, if they liked the look of you, they let you in, but later on they issued cards and operated a strict ‘members only’ rule that famously excluded the likes of Madonna, Naomi Campbell and others.

I was one of the first regular customers - lured by the new and unusual nature of the clothing - which was totally different from the fashion of the day, with its power-shouldered, structured design. The prices were pretty toppish (that’s an understatement by the way), with tiny little cardies costing around £500 plus, figure-hugging long dresses at about £1500 and stylish coats up to £3500. However, all this paled into insignificance when offset against the reality of something that was completely unique, beautifully handmade and wildly trend-setting. What’s more, whatever the price-tag, Voyage also had the competitive edge of using old fabrics to create recycled clothing with a vintage feel.

Like many talented artists, the Mazzillis appear to have been challenged with the day to day business of budgeting and finance. I do recall writing cheques out to an establishment called Organic Clothing at one stage – all very progressive at the time – but an accurate description, since they were recycling vintage cashmere and silk, hand-dying the fabric and adding fancy trim embellishment to create individual and truly original pieces.

Tiziano and Louise Mazzilli were passionate about their work to the point of being slightly loopy. They virtually lived in their shop with their two young, charming and designer-named offspring: Rocky and Tatum. They worked with a close knit, probably poorly paid, group of artisans to produce the most wonderfully creative and unusual pieces that set the trend for silk petticoat dresses, velvet and marabou trimmed knitwear and comfortably creative clothing that endured for more than a decade. Or, have we just turned full circle?

The strapline that was added to later Voyage labels reads ‘Invest in the Original’. Only now am I beginning to realise just quite how original they were. At the time, all my friends, who were still wearing power suits and Chanel earrings, were appalled at the strange turn my taste had taken. For several years I was frowned upon when I rocked up in my double-layered flouncy dress-over-petticoat, tight fitting furry trimmed cardie and Prada wedges – or whatever Voyage’s latest collection dictated.

Of course, there were some who were also ‘early-adopters’ and shared my fondness for the label – like the youthful Jemima Khan and the late Paula Yates. Maybe the Voyage that became synonymous with being ostracised - for me, by the 'ladies that lunch' (I am eternally grateful!) and for celebrities, by the 'mad Mazzillis' - was actually the zeitgeist for the 21st century approach to dressing?

Now that Voyage is gone, the original is still available at ShopCurious. What’s more there’s plenty of lace, fringing, feathers and stuff that still looks current. And, of course, this is recycled not just once, but twice - so in today’s eco-friendly environment, it’s got added street-cred.

Do you?

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