January 02 2010
It was a pleasant dilemma – having to choose between Valentino and Dior cocktail dresses, knowing that I could afford either. Normally, neither would be remotely within my grasp, but this was at Britain’s chicest discount outlet, Bicester Village. This is very well known, but its personal services are an insider’s secret, and also available at the company’s stores in Europe. I had a significant birthday approaching, and they seemed the best way to find a top-quality, realistically-priced dress that could be wheeled out in years to come (evening wear seems less trend-dependent than most fashion).
I met up with personal shopper Fiona Huntingford and I cannot praise the service highly enough. A preliminary chat over coffee in Villandry elicited the kind of item I wanted (or you can email ahead so Fiona can scout), followed by a tour of relevant shops – superbrands such as McQueen, Westwood, Dolce & Gabbana, DKNY, Versace and Marni, as well as the two I finally hesitated between, in each of which I was taken straight to the knowledgeable manager for the best advice.
Fiona was endlessly patient, advising honestly and getting dresses put aside for a revisit. The only thing she couldn’t magic up was a place to try on all the choices together, but the shops didn’t mind how often I came back and they are only a few steps apart.
In the end my one-off, ex-catwalk dress proved (when Googled) to be a year old, but it is unique, beautifully decorated and timeless – at a fraction of its original stratospheric cost. Now the Village has added Armani and Gucci. For an amazing party dress, look no further – but at busy periods it’s best to choose, as I did, a weekday morning to go if you want to shop in tranquillity.
The service is not available over the Christmas period and throughout January, but resumes in February.