My life in fashion: Lalita Russell-Smith
PUBLISHED: 13:57 29 September 2020
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For this Midhurst boutique owner, fashion is not just about dressing up, but how she presents herself to the world
This dress is a Me and Maya piece made out of a sari, so it’s a one-off. This was the very first dress I made for my Me and Maya limited edition label so it has a lot of sentimental meaning to me. I started the label in 2004 but it has evolved since then - when I first launched we did mother and daughter clothes and then it evolved into womenswear.
I decided I wanted to add something that was part of my background so I went to buy some Indian fabrics and started from there. I bought these saris and I thought I would make them into blouses and see if people liked them. Well, they loved them. The fabric, although it’s called a polyester silk, is very lightweight, it doesn’t crease, you put it in a cold wash and you don’t even have to iron it, so it’s just the best thing for travelling.
I then started doing the dress and it was a sell-out, everyone loved it. I think people like the fact that it’s a one-off, it’s not mass-produced and it’s a classic shape that doesn’t really date, plus you can dress it up or down. It’s so important for women to build on their wardrobe to complement things they already have: accessorising can change an outfit completely.
Red is my favourite colour – my husband loves me in red. As you age you ned to put a bit more colour into your dressing because it’s so uplifting. I wore this to a drinks party in West Sussex and this absolutely gorgeous man came up and started chatting to me. I thought well, at my age I can’t look that bad! It started there and stopped there, I might add. This is a dress that’s given me a bit of attention and it always makes me feel good.
A lot of the clothes I design under my own label are inspired by the 1950s because it was such an important turning point in fashion – you suddenly went from wartime austerity to fashion becoming very elaborate again. I like ladylike dressing.
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I used to work for Matches and I still buy clothes there. I also love Zimmerman. I like Emilia Wickstead as well, and I adore Chanel - I love the structure because being petite I need structure in my clothes.
I would say about 90 per cent of my customers come in looking for something to wear to an event. They might be going to Ascot or a big party, or they’re going on a luxury holiday. My core customer is 40+ with disposable income, she has a social lifestyle, she goes on luxury holidays and she goes to events.
I think the fashion industry is changing because of Covid, but in fact even before that we’d started to see signs. People don’t want to buy something that belongs to a certain look, women want a bit of mystery around their dressing now. They want to buy now and they want to wear now. The whole idea we had in the 70s and the 80s that you bought your winter coat in July, that’s gone. Customers do not want to shop like that any more. I think people are also so much more conscious of the environment now. People are conscious of what they buy, of how often they’re going to use it, and I think also because of Covid they are so aware of where it’s made. The factory I use is a small factory based in Wimbledon and I see who she employs, it’s the same girls on the machine each time and they’re paid well.
I have a huge collection of clothes and I was hoping that my daughter would be interested in fashion, but she’s not. I have Yves Saint Laurent, I’ve got Gucci, Armani, Donna Karan and loads of Chanel. Maybe one day I’ll just sell it all off, I don’t know. To me, fashion is in my blood (my late father was in the textile business), so it’s not just about dressing up. It’s how I present myself to the world.
Lalita’s boutique, Me and Maya, is at 1 Knockhundred Row, Midhurst and online at meandmaya.co.uk