Lucinda Chambers spent nearly 40 years at British Vogue, rising to become the publication’s highly respected, and recognised, fashion director. But today, she’s learning how to file accounts, pitch for finance, apply for trademarks, design a website and market a brand as co-founder of startup Collagerie.
Chambers (pictured above, left) departed Vogue in 2017 as the title was on the brink of a titanic shift. Her exit was reportedly at the hands of editor-in-chief Edward Enninful, who had a drastic new vision for Vogue.
In a now-infamous interview with a little known fashion publication called Vestoj shortly after her departure, Chambers lamented that she “hadn’t read Vogue in years” and the clothes it featured were "irrelevant" and "ridiculously expensive.”
"There are very few fashion magazines that make you feel empowered. Most leave you totally anxiety-ridden,” she was quoted as saying.
"I know glossy magazines are meant to be aspirational, but why not be both useful and aspirational? That's the kind of fashion magazine I’d like to see."
She later told The Guardian that though they weren’t inaccurate, her words were taken out of context.
Regardless, if her view was that the high-fashion glossies were beginning to lose touch with what women really wanted, her new venture aims to be the antidote. It is the kind of fashion magazine she wants to see.
It’s been christened Collagerie and was created in partnership with Chambers’ Vogue colleague of five years Serena Hood (pictured, above right) with the very clear aim of cutting through the increasingly complex fashion world.
They describe their new digital shoppable platform as a one-stop place to find advice on trends, styling, brands and products as well as inspiring fashion stories.
“What we became aware of during our time at Vogue was how overwhelmed people were about fashion, styling and the amount of product out there,” Chambers says. “They don't know where to begin so they check out. [Collagerie] will navigate the waters and cut out all the hard work for you with a beautiful digital space where shopping becomes a real pleasure.”
This is not necessarily a new concept for the fashion world. Plenty of magazines have tried to make the move from editorial to commerce, with varying success. Grazia launched, and later shuttered, a website of shoppable “curated” products from its editorial team while now-defunct Marie Claire also attempted a similar venture with Fabled.com. Even Vogue is trying to make more money from affiliate-linked shoppable content through VogueWorld, a digital sub-brand combining the title’s celebrity and street style content with e-commerce.
Chambers shrugs off any attempts to compare what’s gone before to her vision for Collagerie: “We're drawing on our own experience. [Myself and Serena] don't think we're so incredibly individual that there aren't thousands of women like us. We know women save up for an investment piece and the rest of the time it's a mix of high street and mid-market wear. That's how women shop. And that mix is what we want to bring to Collagerie.”
So how will it be different? Chambers has built a reputation for incredibly styled fashion shoots and so, unsurprisingly, at the heart of the website will be beautifully crafted images made in partnership with her black book of famous and up-and-coming photographers, make-up artists and hair stylists.
Every eight weeks, it will reveal a new concept. And alongside each image from the shoot will be multiple options for similar products, ranging from budget high street to top-end luxury.
“What was difficult with print was spending money on a magazine and there's nothing you can afford or you've not really fallen in love with anything. But what we're offering is that you see the shoot, you might love it, and there will be products underneath that are similar,” Chambers explains.
The business plan is relatively simple. Like other publishers experimenting with shoppable content, Collagerie will work on an affiliate marketing model. Every time someone buys through a link on the website, Chambers and Hood will take a cut.
But that’s a substantial number of shoes it will need to sell to fund the expensive bi-monthly fashion productions it has planned. So, a second arm of the money-making plan centres on taking Chambers’ talent for styling out on the road.
Hood was the orchestrator of widely successful live events at Vogue, such as its annual festival, where women of all ages would flock for fashion advice and inspiration. So, a part of the Collagerie offering will be the opportunity for it to be presented ‘live’ through a physical "system" designed by Fran Hickman.
“We're building a Styling System that we'll take to brands and events,” explains Chambers. “It's a three-walled touchpoint where we can show accessories, clothes...it's like show and tell. It's a really nice way to bring everything to life.”
It’s also doing collaborations where it will partner with brands to design products under the Collagerie name.
“We’re already doing a capsule collection for a brand and something for a lifestyle brand as well. Already things in the pipeline,” adds Hood.
“And then further down the line we'll do pop-up, content curation and curated stories from other brands. And we’ll launch our own podcast series.”
Ambitious, yes, but the duo – backed by a team of just three employees – are unfazed at experimenting with everything and anything they can.
“We want to be a part of every decision right now,” enthuses Hood.
“We're juggling finance, website builds – we're across everything and if someone had said that five years ago...,” Chambers cuts short. “We're learning new things every day. And what's been incredible about this journey is that everybody helps everybody. There’s so much goodwill.”
Their five-year plan is equally bold. “I see it being bought,” says Hood, while Chambers imagines a fleet of chic Collagerie-banded vans delivering products around the country. The next Net-a-Porter or Matches Fashion, perhaps.
Whatever the end goal, they want it to grow with integrity and to unite a community of people who finally feel “relaxed” around fashion.
“I just want people to feel like they can come on a journey with us,” ends Chambers.