Home » ‘Deeply concerning’: Vampire’s Wife closure shows battle faced by independent British fashion brands

‘Deeply concerning’: Vampire’s Wife closure shows battle faced by independent British fashion brands

By midday last Friday, a large queue had formed in Mayfair, London, as shoppers lined up for one last shot at getting their hands on one of the Vampire’s Wife’s signature and highly coveted Falconetti dresses, once called “the dress of the decade” by Vogue.

Earlier in the week, the London-based brand, founded in 2014 by the former model Susie Cave and whose designs were worn by everyone from Kate, Princess of Wales, to Kate Moss, announced it was shutting down, ending its tenure with a three-day “goodbye sale”.

The then Duchess of Cambridge wore a green version of the Vampire’s Wife’s Falconetti dress on a trip to Ireland with her husband in March 2020. Photograph: Shutterstock

“Despite a period of positive growth and sales, the upheaval in the wholesale market has had dramatic implications for the brand,” read a statement. Its closure was preceded by the collapse in March of one of the Vampire’s Wife’s biggest stockists, the online luxury fashion retailer Matchesfashion.

Founded by Ruth and Tom Chapman in 1987, Matches originally existed as a single bricks-and-mortar store in the London suburb of Wimbledon. It later expanded to 14 stores, introducing luxury international brands including Prada to the UK capital alongside championing emerging homegrown designers. In 2006 its e-commerce site launched, and in 2017 the Chapmans, who held a majority stake, received about £400m after selling Matchesfashion to private equity investors in a deal valuing the business at £800m.

Now its demise has set off seismic waves in the fashion industry. “Fashion is an ecosystem – there is always a chain reaction,” said Olya Kuryshchuk, the founder and editor in chief of 1 Granary, a fashion education platform and creative network. Another fashion insider claimed that half of the independent brands previously championed by the online giant would not make this month’s payroll.

When Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group announced its £52m acquisition of Matches late last year, its chief executive officer (and Ashley’s son-in-law) Michael Murray said he was confident that the group would “unlock synergies and drive profitable growth for Matches”. Less than three months later, in a move that blindsided staff and suppliers alike, the group called in administrators from Teneo. In April, Frasers Group bought back the intellectual property but not the stock. Few have escaped the site’s implosion, with everyone from CEOs to cleaners affected.

This month, another Matches-stocked London-based designer, Roksanda Ilinčić, announced she had sold her namesake label, Roksanda, to The Brand Group (TBG), with “recent volatile market conditions” given as the reason.

Roksanda Ilinčić announced this month that she had sold her label due to ‘recent volatile market conditions’. Photograph: David M Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images

According to a report from Teneo, Roksanda was one of more than 500 unsecured creditors. Teneo said the brands owed money by Matches were unlikely to be paid back and, if they were, the amounts would be “very low … less than a penny in the pound”. Most of the brands have also been unable to access unsold inventory, which continues to be sold on the site at heavily discounted prices.

The collapse of Matches has affected established and emerging luxury British brands. Burberry is owed more than £500,000, Anya Hindmarch more than £200,000, and Paul Smith and Samantha Cameron’s Cefinn each more than £100,000. The independent London-based jewellery brands Alighieri and Completedworks are owed more than £70,000 and £110,000 respectively, alongside losses from new-season orders.

“The UK is the worst market for fashion in the world right now,” said Stefano Martinetto, the chief executive of Tomorrow, a fashion brand development platform. “The independent brands are terrified. We’re at a tipping point. I’m receiving hundreds of requests for financial support and new agreements. We have injected more than £25m into the independent designers in the past five years and almost £1m in grants. Our aim is now to preserve those businesses.”

The downfall of Matches has been exacerbated by the economic fallout from the pandemic, alongside Brexit and the removal of tax-free shopping for tourists. The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, and industry leaders including executives from Harrods and Selfridges have backed a renewed call for the UK government to reinstate VAT-free shopping for international tourists, which was scrapped in 2020.

Matches began with a single store in Wimbledon, south-west London, and expanded to 14 stores plus an online retail platform; its collapse has set off a ‘chain reaction’ across the fashion industry. Photograph: Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

“We have plenty of tourists in London. They eat ice-cream and go to museums but to shop luxury fashion, they jump on the train to Paris for the day,” Martinetto said.

Some insiders describe the state of the industry as “deeply concerning”. In December, another online luxury powerhouse, Farfetch, narrowly avoided bankruptcy in a fire sale to South Korea’s Coupang that wiped out the majority of shareholders.

Some British clothing makers are now in financial freefall. Mustafa Fuat, the founder of Gosia London, which specialises in the manufacture of luxury womenswear pieces and until recently supplied Matches-stocked brands including Roksanda, described it as a “double whammy”. The same brands that owed him thousands of pounds were also unable to place future orders, he said. “We have a huge gap from now until August, and there is no work to fill it.”

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Fuat has had to reduce his staff’s hours. “It’s really difficult – they have been with me a long time and have families and mortgages. If my business goes, that’s another 12 people gone down with me.”

Faut described the British fashion industry as imploding. He was hit by the collapse of the London-based brands Ralph & Russo in 2021 and Christopher Kane in 2023, which left him with a combined deficit of £85,000. With 30 years’ experience in the textiles industry, Faut said current conditions were untenable.

It is a sentiment echoed by Roy Powley who, alongside his partner, Helen, runs Riverside Design & Textiles in Leicestershire, a business specialising in jersey fabric. Oversized rugby shirts sewn by Powley himself for Matches’ in-house label Raey were once one of the brand’s bestsellers. He now has an unpaid invoice of more than £13,000. With a “nonexistent cashflow”, the 70-year-old, who has been in the textiles business for more than 50 years, said he had been forced to trade in his pension in order to keep the business afloat.

Many express frustration at what they say has been a lack of government support for an industry which contributes more than £60bn to UK GDP, and claim government support is better in Italy and France.

Anna Jewsbury’s Completedworks jewellery brand is said to be owed £110,000 in the collapse of Matchesfashion. Photograph: David Fisher/Rex/Shutterstock

Libby Hart, an adviser to the UK board of trade, said British brands and factory owners had been left trying to “figure it out for themselves”. Powley has contacted his local MP, while others such as Anna Jewsbury, the founder and artistic director of Completedworks, drove to the Matches warehouse to try to speak to the administrators. While Jewsbury was not able to reclaim any stock in person, representatives sent by Victoria Beckham reportedly were able to do so.

While international brands seem to be developing a penchant for hosting major shows in the UK – last year, Chanel headed to Manchester’s Northern Quarter, Gucci hosted a show at London’s Tate Modern this month, and in early June, Dior will hold an event in Perthshire in Scotland – reports of a mass British fashion exodus are rife. London fashion week’s 40th anniversary schedule in September will be indicative of what homegrown talent survives. The June edition of men’s fashion week in Milan has already tempted many London-founded brands to Italy, with Martine Rose, David Koma and Dunhill joining the schedule. Paul Smith has pivoted to the Pitti Uomo platform in Florence as a guest designer.

“Design jobs are scarce. Art schools are receiving few student applications, and many creatives have already relocated to Paris,” said Kuryshchuk. “These are complex issues, and it doesn’t help that everyone is trying to battle them on their own.”

Teneo was approached but declined to comment. Frasers Group previously said that Matches “has consistently missed its business plan targets and … has continued to make material losses. Whilst Matches’ management team has tried to find a way to stabilise the business, it has become clear that too much change would be required to restructure it, and the continued funding requirements would be far in excess of amounts that the group considers to be viable.”