British retailing firm
Established: by Lucille Lewin, in George Street, London, 1976. Lewin studied fine art in South Africa, moved to the U.S., sold furniture in Cambridge, Massachusetts; joined Conran Group, London; worked for Harvey Nichols as a buyer, until 1976. Company History: In-house range of clothes introduced, 1985; stores in the UK and in-store boutiques at Harrods, Selfridges, and Fenwicks, all in London; began exporting to U.S., to Nordstrom, Big Drop, and Charivari; opened two stores in Japan; introduced acessories line; sought location for first U.S. store, 2000. Awards: Design Led Retail award, 1994. Company Address: 12 Saint Christopher's Place, London W1M 5HB, England.
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Uncomplicated, classic, and comfortable are words often used to describe the clothes designed by Lucille Lewin and sold under the Whistles retail label. Lewin combines her own moderately priced designs with other top name designer garments to create individual style for what is described as the confident and independent woman. Inspired by the fine arts, history, and culture, Lewin's collection is designed along a narrow color range, setting the foundation and tone for each season in Whistles' shops. In many respects, Whistles may be compared with other British retailers such as Terence Conran and Joseph Ettedgui—all of whom are concerned with creating identities and consistency of style.
Lewin was originally a fine arts student from South Africa. After a brief period in the U.S., Lewin and her husband moved to London and opened the first of the Whistles shop in 1974. Lewin gained considerable retail experience at Harvey Nichols' 21 Shop in London, and developed an aptitude for finding new talent. Owning her own shop provided an opportunity to stock clothes by young, often virtually unknown designers. In the early 1970s the careers of British designers Wendy Dagworthy, Betty Jackson, Ally Capellino, and French designer Myréne de Prémonville were launched by Lewin and have proven to be major sales successes.
To reinforce the Whistles identity, Lewin began producing her own range of clothes in 1985. The collection consists of tailored garments, knitwear, swimwear, accessories, and shoes, with cuts ranging from classic to baggy. Natural fabrics, such as cotton and linen, were the mainstay of the collection, but Lewin is not averse to experimenting with new synthetic fabrics she deems appropriate to achieve the looks and the feel of a collection. Lewin draws inspiration from a variety of sources reinforced by her training as an artist. Morocco, India, and Tunisia have inspired desert-colored jersey sarong skirts and wrapover tops. In contrast, her designs of crisp, sporty navy-and-white garments in gabardine, linen, and cotton were influenced by baggy sailor trousers and tailored jackets from the 1920s. Another influence may be traced in her tweed suits, which are reminiscent of Chanel's simple and classic tailoring.
Lewin promotes her designs as mix-and-match pieces—not only with her own designs but with those of other designers. In effect, Lewin is acting as fashion "editor," both buying and designing garments. Her approach provides greater flexibility and choice in responding to individual preferences and budgets. In addition, through carefully considered color groups and fabric selections, overall moods may be more easily and effectively established than if garments were designed as self-contained sets. Her approach is similar in attitude to the collections of American designer Donna Karan, and has provided British women with affordable, casual apparel preserving classical appeal.
In the middle 1990s there Whistles shops dotting the UK, two freestanding stores in Japan, and growing international recognition. Exports to U.S. retailers such as Nordstrom, Scoop, and Big Drop had also grown sustantially, making the country Lewin's biggest wholesaler. To further capitalize on demand, Lewin launched a coordinating accessories line of handbags, gloves, hats, and footwear. Next on the agenda were swimwear and an innerwear collection, and a more integrated range of separates for the U.S. market. By 2000, Lewin was scouting locations in the U.S. to open Whistles' first freestanding American store.
Lucille Lewin's contribution to British fashion can be recognized on at least two levels—first, she provided a moderately priced retail shop for women who want to create an individual look without succumbing to trendy fashions; and second, her unique approach to fashion retailing has enabled her to design under the Whistles label, thereby establishing and maintaining a strong and consistent foundation for the each season's garments. This combination of retail and design distinguishes her work from other contemporary British fashion designers.
updated by Nelly Rhodes