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RIXO: Darling of Dresses

Brand of the moment, Rixo is the darling of dresses.
Josh Sims meets the designers…

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“There are,” admits Henrietta Rix, cautiously, “so many friends that I wouldn’t in a million years set up a business with. It could be a recipe for disaster – and a lot of my family said we had to be really careful. But, you know, people often actually think me and Orlagh are twins. We live together. We hang out together. And so she’s someone I 100% trust. And that’s just as well, because the business has really become our lives.”

Indeed, when Rix and friend Orlagh McCloskey set up Rixo just a couple of years ago – the name comes from conflating their surnames – they probably hadn’t expected it to do so well quite so quickly. But Rixo’s angle – vintage-inspired, all-silk, prettily printed, slightly bohemian dresses and blouses – seems to have tapped into an unexpected demand. “Whether you’re a mum looking for something to wear to your daughter’s wedding, or a young woman saving up to have something to wear to her graduation,” as Rix puts it.

It was precisely their brief experience as fashion buyers for high street brands TK Maxx and Asos – brief because both are still in their early 20s – that convinced them there was a need for something more than fast fashion. “Ten years ago, the idea that you could buy something current and cheap, wear it out that night, and never wear it again seemed like a really exciting one,” explains Rix. “But if you shop that way, you soon get frustrated by seeing four other people out in the same top that evening. And customers are that much more switched on now. They want better value – something they can wear for years. But they also want something distinctive. There are so many brands out there now, you have to stand out.”

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Rixo attempts that by offering romantic and decidedly feminine clothing at a price perhaps twice that of similar high street products, but with a touch of hand-craft – the duo hand-paint each of the prints they design in their kitchen, in a way such that no two of their all-silk dresses will be identical – and exclusivity. Each garment is manufactured as a limited run, and when it’s gone, it’s gone. It’s a bold and brave strategy – not least from a couple of young guns who were told they needed more industry experience before launching their own brand. The duo figured that free of family ties – and still with plenty of energy – it was advice they could ignore.

“Making everything in small runs and sticking to that has felt a bit risky at times,” Rix explains. “We already have customers coming back to us saying, ‘that print from last season, I love it, can I get some more?’ And we just have to say ‘sorry, no’. That causes some frustration. But it does encourage customers to buy what they like quickly when they see it.  “It would be easy to over-saturate the market with something successful, we saw that in fast fashion and the second season, around half of it ends up in the sale. We don’t do sales either. And I speak as someone who personally likes to wait it out for the sales too…”

This is not to say that Rix and McCloskey have not had to scale a steep learning curve over the last couple of years. They’ve learnt the importance of staying on top of cash flow, for example. “When we set out, we were big on keeping care of overheads, really on doing everything on a shoe-string, but with a lot of common sense too,” says Rix. Ensuring stockists receive their deliveries on time quickly became an essential too, while the designers have also increasingly finessed precisely what Rixo is about, all too aware that the notion of making ‘vintage-inspired’ frocks has come to be a somewhat loaded one following recent years’ interest in all things period.

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“There are a lot of those tea-stained, Betty Boop, vintagey brands out there, the kind of thing you see at the Goodwood Revival and similar events,” says Rix. “And we’re definitely not about that. We certainly look to the past – we both love the designs and prints of people like Ossie Clark, Pucci and Celia Birtwell, for example. But you have to make what you make in a modern way – in terms of the cuts or the colour combinations, for example. We’re not revivalist.”

The past, in other words, informs the present, rather than just giving an opportunity for recreation. Rix says that, at the behest of her fashion and interiors-obsessed grandmother and mother, since the age of 12 she has spent most of her weekends hunting through flea markets – “my mum says she trained my eye,” she laughs. And, like McCloskey, over the years, she has amassed a tidy collection of vintage womenswear and accessories (some of which Rixo also sells on).

“When we were buyers we both got fed up with not feeling as passionate about the product as we felt we should be,” says Rix. “And yet whenever we pulled some
old thing out of the wardrobe, we did get excited. I think that’s when we realised that the things we really love were those that didn’t follow trends, that weren’t part of that cycle of big fashion brands dictating what we wear and being ripped off by [the high street]. Clean vintage style up, make it more contemporary, and there’s a real timelessness to it.”

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It’s an idea Rix and McCloskey have more recently extended to swimwear – launching this autumn/winter – and also to knitwear and jersey pieces, which should be available next year.

“We’ve got plans. We want to grow,” says Rix. “But first of all we’re getting the business out of our living room – and actually finding an office space.”

Shop the full collection online here.

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