For many women – and a growing number of men – fashion is so much more than just clothing. It amounts to more than simply choosing the right outfit. As with many of the things we desire and aspire to, fashion – like fast cars and dream homes – is all about making us feel good.
But there’s a difference: clothes maketh the man, or rather, the woman, for few things affect the way the world sees us and the way we feel about ourselves as what we wear and how we wear it. To look great in a stylish new outfit is to feel comfortable, trendy, attractive and confident. Without wanting to read too much into it, this is the sense of wellbeing that feeling good in your (second) skin can give you.
Begoña Buqué is a woman who understands the very human impulses that drive fashion. From an early age her mother’s boutique in Valencia was her favourite place to be, surrounded by a wonderful world of fabrics, colours, textures and motifs. “It was a world of endless possibilities, where form follows imagination and the senses are fed by the tactile and visual qualities of different materials.”
Couture in the jungle
Given this interest, one might have assumed that she would have followed in her mother’s footsteps or joined the ranks of hopefuls at a design school, but Begoña’s adventurous nature won out as she found herself travelling through the Guatemalan jungle and hit upon the idea of setting up a specialised textile factory there. While still in her mid-twenties, she and her then husband succeeded in creating a Guatemalan-based brand that would find a welcome market in Europe through the likes of Natura and Pepe Jeans.
“We wanted to bring back the kind of handcrafted products that are no longer affordable in Europe,” says Begoña, “but equally to convey the Latin American sense of colour, design and the kind of informal lust for life they display in their music, their mannerisms and in this case their clothing.” In setting up a successful business within the very trying conditions of a Third World country, Begoña and her partner were able not just to provide solid employment for a small community, but also established a community school and day-care centre in the village.
Still not quite thirty, she returned home to bring the Latin American theme directly to the Spanish public, opening two shops, Puerto Limon and Playa Limon, in the coastal resort town of Javea. Still working largely with suppliers from Costa Rica and Guatemala, she showed her talent for creating winning collections and built up a loyal customer base. “We even suggested certain product lines and styles to the suppliers and it was gratifying that they listened to us and produced many of them.”
A new kind of retail therapy
Having thus built up her confidence and beginning to feel the pangs of homesickness for her native Valencia, Begoña moved back and established the Siete Mares boutiques in a prominent shopping district from where she would build up a very loyal clientele and make a name for herself. “I travel a lot, to Milan, Paris, Barcelona, New York. It’s fantastic, like taking a child to a sweet shop, but it’s also tough work, as you see thousands of items in a short period of time and have to be pretty decisive under considerable pressure. If you get it wrong, you can mess up a whole season and bring yourself to the brink of ruin – these collections don’t come cheap.”
Such has been her success rate at picking ‘the right thing’ that clients started asking her to bring them entire collections. “Like a personal shopper,” laughs Begoña, though it adds to the pressure. “I don’t mind, though. It fits with my philosophy. A lot of women shop for clothing when they’re feeling a little down, to try and perk themselves up a bit and give themselves a confidence boost. It would be very easy to take advantage of this and sell them what you like, but I tell my staff that this is not the way to build lasting relationships and customer loyalty. If we look after the person and give her honest advice, rather than simply selling clothes, then she will emerge looking and feeling great.”
It’s a philosophy that has brought her success, and one that very much stands at the heart of her latest venture. “The financial crisis, and all its implications of addiction to meaningless materialism have created a bit of a catch 22. On the one hand people are down because times are hard, and on the other they aren’t sure they want to go back to the mindless spending spree that caused it all. It’s up to everyone to find the right balance for themselves, but I wanted to created an experience that would bring the fun back into shopping and make it less about hardcore consumerism and more about discovering unusual things that you don’t see everywhere.”
Inspired by similarly unique concepts in Paris and Milan, she is thinking of a ‘shop within a shop’, where the fashion boutique is central but there are other collections such as accessories and decorative pieces that share a freshness and love of design as a common thread. “I also thought of those poor husbands and boyfriends who are dragged from shop to shop and feel horribly out of place. Few shops cater for them, so why not make a couple’s shopping experience more of a shared thing, and have collections that will appeal to all sexes – as well as a coffee bar where you can relax when it’s all getting a bit too taxing. Now that’s what I’d call retail therapy.”
Bringing her usual energy, enthusiasm and driving force to the project, don’t be surprised if Begoña Buqué enlivens the Spanish retail scene with a fresh new concept – it wouldn’t be the first time. Watch this space.