Rous Iland: The Soho House of style
In about a decade, when the High Street - and even Bond Street and Sloane Street - exist merely as showrooms to try on clothing that we will then go home and buy on the internet, the non-virtual fashion businesses which will remain will be the ones like Rous Iland.
A kind of Soho House for fashionistas, it is a private members' boutique created by Clare Rous and Kara Iland, and is based in a grand town house in Dover Street, just a few hundred Louboutin-shod paces from The Wolseley and Le Caprice.
What should guarantee its survival is the genius concept of the enterprise: part smart boutique, part image consultancy, part personal shopping service, and all the clothes are hand-picked to ensure they are different from what the mainstream offers. They are also selected specifically with members in mind, and many are exclusive in the UK, or available in only a tiny number of other shops.
Kara, the Jewish one, is Australian. She grew up in Sydney, where she studied law, working in Brussels and The Hague, before arriving in London eight years ago and finding herself working so flat-out she had no time to find the clothes she wanted for work and for her off-duty life.
"Like thousands of women who work, I was incredibly time poor. I didn't know where to find clothes I wanted. London is great for the High Street and the high end, but not so good for more individual pieces. When we had the idea for a members' boutique, we wanted to offer a real alternative to the mainstream, and we wanted to be able to help women who were maybe stuck in a rut, to help them experiment with a new look which they can do here safely."
Their boutique is light and airy with sofas and large, well-lit changing rooms. Membership is free, but you need a referral. Once you have joined, expect to be greeted by name (maybe with a hug) and given a mint infusion or a glass of wine to ease you into the shopping.
The collections they carry are not Topshop cheap, but nor are they ruinously pricey. They have gorgeous, on-trend but decidedly not fashion victim frocks of the kind you would love to find for an afternoon wedding or a party. They range from the low-£300s up to about £600, with a few straying up to the £700 mark and more for full-length evening gowns.
Many of the day/workdresses are under £300, and trousers - selected for a really flattering cut - are in the £150 to £250 range. Most collections go up to size 18, with their own collection going to size 20. They also carry a small, carefully edited range of shoes and bags, as well as fashion jewellery created by the prodigiously talented Denise Manning .
"We travel a lot," says Kara, with heavy emphasis on the second half of that sentence. "We like to find up-and-coming designers, who are not established here. We have lots of Aussie designers, and for winter, several Scandinavian labels."
Leading Australian label Rachel Gilbert is exclusive to Rous Iland in the UK, as is New York-based handbag designer, Lena Erziak, whose suede bag with gold chain handles is not only the most desirable inanimate object I have ever seen but, with its clever interior pockets, is also one of the more practical.
The pair have unearthed other brilliant designers in Brazil, Russia, New Zealand, Ireland and even in the UK, finding designers like Teatum Jones, whose indisputable talent has, so far, been overlooked by mainstream buyers who insist on buying only what everyone else has bought.