Debra Seller has been a leading light in the fashion industry for over four decades. Here is how it all happened
Your career in fashion started 45 years ago in the West End…
In 1976, immediately on leaving school, I found a position as showroom model in the West End fashion district. It was for a leading fashion label, Frank Usher, followed by Lady London & Ladies Pride. These companies are where I learnt the foundation of fabrics, design, manufacturing, and sales.
The fashion district then was exactly what you imagine. Most days I would see Philip Green, Ozzie Clark, Peter Golding, Jon Adam, Bill Gibb, to name just a few. Traders and workers would be pushing 6ft rails of garments along the street, with vans and transport bumper to bumper, lots of noise and excitement. Looking back I believe it was one of the top handful of fashion districts in the world, everything was to hand, designers, wholesalers, manufacturers, showrooms, all within touching distance from each other.
Would you have ever imagined you’d still be working in fashion now?
Yes, I never once wanted to do anything else, even through three recessions of trading, and other ups and downs. The fashion industry got in my blood.
You started as a showroom model, but were you always thinking about the business side?
Not intentionally. Initially I would buy manufacturers samples on a Friday, and sell them at the weekend from home as an addition to my salary. As it happens I still have many of those customers to this day. I consider them friends.
What inspired you to open your own shop?
I was approached in 1979 to buy merchandise for a chain of seven shops in Northern Ireland, they wanted the very latest London trends in their stores quickly. I had to source ranges of garments to ship for them twice a week, all whilst I was doing a full time job, it was the start of having to work for myself. I was married in 1981 so didn’t wish to see customers in the evenings, so a retail shop was the right move.
What made you different?
I love to create a look and not be bound by branded ranges to this day – although I do stock just a couple of brands, but they have to fit my brief. On the whole I am creative and always put together my own collections from many dozens of different sources to get the look my clients want.
Then you opened in Chigwell in 1984…
I have always loved the area – we are accessible to central London, yet next to Epping forest. The area certainly had more of a village feel, but surprisingly the parade has always been buoyant.
What kind of experience do you offer customers visiting today?
We are very friendly and passionate about what we do, our team are professional and spend whatever time it takes to get things right, and for customers to feel comfortable with their choice. We are often like a busy club, it’s buzzy and happy, a nice atmosphere to be in.
What looks are you loving right now?
Generally speaking, certain things don’t change: elegance, easy wearability, and it’s always about the shape to flatter your figure. Right now I love the colour lilac, it’s not been worn for years and looks fabulous and fresh for the summer. As for styles we have such a huge selection I really can’t choose!
Finally Debra, where do you go from here?
Today, I dream of having time to do other things, like family time of course, and time to take a breath and do all the things I’ve been unable to do due to a busy working life. It’s a double edge sword so let’s just see how I feel tomorrow morning!