The future of the high street looks like it’s set to change, which could perhaps make way for more independents to flourish. So, it was with this in mind that I caught up with Fi Coe, who manages women’s fashion for the independent department store, Coes, from their flagship retail outlet in Ipswich, Suffolk. Womenswear was introduced here in September 2002, nearly a century after the family-owned store originally opened in 1928. And, with a variety of high quality brands from Barbour to Ted Baker, you can discover a treasure trove from designer dresses and jackets to statement shoes and scarves, which you can choose to buy in-store and online. So sit back and relax, then read my exclusive interview with Fi who reveals a snapshot of her life from the exciting work she does to essential expert advice on the latest seasonal trends for women’s fashion at Coes.
Where did your love for womenswear begin?
I think I was brought up around fabric. When my sister and I were growing up, my mum made all our clothes. Needlework was part of my early days – after all, it was my mother’s passion; from embroidery to lace making, she always had something on the go. As a young person I loved fabric. I would relish the chance to go to a traditional haberdashery, choose a pattern, trimmings and fabric and sit there and construct a garment. I don’t ever remember wearing many of the pieces though.
How would you describe your work at Coes?
Gosh, varied would be the word that springs to mind! No one day is the same as the next when it comes to women’s fashion at Coes. I generally split my time between the shop floor, buying and visiting our branches. Admin always gets pushed to the back burner. I have a fabulous team in each of our shops, who I trust implicitly. The best research is always done on the shop floor, chatting to customers and discovering their wants and needs.
Tell me more about the brands and styles you offer?
Our unspoken motto for women’s fashion at Coes has always been ‘forever 40’. Our core market are women who are looking for everyday stylish clothes that they aren’t going to find everyone else wearing. They trust our brand for quality and expertise. We have found that it’s very difficult to judge what women want by brands these days.We would sell the same Ted Baker dress, for example to a 60-year-old mother of the bride one day and a 30-year-old going on the holiday the next. Our brands include Ralph Lauren, Scotch & Soda, Samsoe & Samsoe, Levi, Superdry, Ted Baker, NYDJ and many more. Many of our customers buy items just because they like them and they fit well, rather than what it says on the label.
What are your top tips for creating a stylish look for dinner out with friends?
The need to feel comfortable in your outfit is definitely number one. There is no point dressing up if you are completely outside your comfort zone. If I was dining out with friends, I would go for either smart jeans and a pretty top or blouse and then accessorise with heels or jewellery. Alternatively I would wear a dress but make it less formal by wearing smart trainers or platform shoes (as most of my friends know I do love a platform!).
How could you jazz up an ‘everyday’ outfit to transform it into something for an evening out?
If I was going from work to an evening out, I would wear a plain black jumpsuit in the day with trainers. I would then throw on a faux fur coat. This immediately adds a bit of texture and glamour to any outfit. Change into a pair of heels, grab a clutch bag or pouch and some statement earrings and you are well on your way to creating an evening look.
It is possible to add a touch of luxury to your wardrobe on a budget?
Absolutely, the high street and supermarkets are full of brilliant steals. Think texture and sparkle. There are so many brilliant designer re-sale businesses out there now too. This is a great way of adding that extra luxury to your wardrobe at a fraction of the price. Locally, I love Matisa Market in Grundisburgh. The environmental impact of fast fashion is becoming a big talking point now and the desire to buy less but buy well is something we all need to consider going forward.
What advice would you give to someone looking for a new style?
I am definitely one for advising our customers to get their classic wardrobe right first. Key pieces such as a good fitting pair of jeans, a white shirt, a blazer, black and navy trousers, a black dress, a selection of basic t-shirts in core colours will see you through many occasions. Before people think about changing their look, they need to consider their lifestyle and what they need their clothes to do. The needs of a travelling businesswoman are very different to those of a full-time mum. You can definitely be stylish in both camps but you need to be realistic about where to best invest in your wardrobe.
Is it important for your clothes to reflect your personality?
I think it’s less about personality and more about confidence. So many women we talk to find clothes shopping a challenge as they feel uncomfortable making choices and don’t want to look out of place. When you feel good in what you wear, you have an inner confidence and your personality radiates through. I would always encourage comfortable elegance before high fashion.
What is your favourite must-have accessory?
At the moment, definitely a platform shoe or trainer! I’m not a big one for lots of jewellery or bags. I do like a nice purse though; my current orange Anya Hindmarch is gorgeous.
Do you have any fashion no-no’s or styles you prefer to avoid?
I’m not that tall, so I feel really odd in a long maxi dress. I am willing to give most things a try. But I know straight away, once I put something on, if it is or isn’t for me. I’m not very good at following the crowd, so will always look for something a bit different or quirky to wear.
Tell me about which spring-summer fashion trend is your favourite?
I’m really guilty of being a bit boring with colour but I absolutely love the limes, yellows and oranges that are around this season. I’m also partial to a bit of animal print so I am loving that current trend. Spring Summer clothing can sometimes be problematic in the UK as we are so dependent on the weather but I would recommend buying early so when that rare hot sunny day comes you have the perfect outfit ready and waiting for you.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
All over the place! I tend to use Instagram a fair bit; I love Sara from ‘welliesandchampagne’. I obviously spend lots of time visiting fashion showrooms, which gives me plenty of inspiration for the season’s trends. Whenever I visit a new town, whether in the UK or overseas, I always search out the local independents to see what they are selling. I do also love the high street – Zara, Weekday and & Other Stories are my go-to places.
What are the latest trends to look for, in ladies fashion this year?
I would say the biggest trend is colour, including pop neon and zesty hues. After so many seasons of greys and neutrals, it’s so fantastic to see such a vibrant mix of print and colour together. The wider leg jeans are definitely making a comeback; cropped in length and worn with a turn-up. Shorts are big for spring summer in all lengths and colours. There are still plenty of pleats about (particularly skirts) and we will see fringing on jackets, bags and tops (think Western inspired!).
What’s next for Coes Womenswear?
We never stand still; we see ourselves on a constant journey of discovery. Our industry moves at such a pace and, to stay relevant, we need to be one step ahead all the time. Watch out for more brands, a larger gift and accessories offering and hopefully lots of inspiring products that people just can’t live without! Be sure to follow us on Instagram to keep up to date.