Stateside fashion comes to Suffolk

The US couture home shopping revolution has arrived in Reydon - welcome to the visiting Carlisle Collection. VICTORIA HAWKINS reports.It's a concept which has been tried and tested in the States, which is home of exclusive designer label Carlisle Collection - and now it's arrived in Suffolk.

The US couture home shopping revolution has arrived in Reydon - welcome to the visiting Carlisle Collection. VICTORIA HAWKINS reports.

It's a concept which has been tried and tested in the States, which is home of exclusive designer label Carlisle Collection - and now it's arrived in Suffolk. Within four weeks of moving up here from London and settling into her new home at Reydon, near Southwold, the removals men had hardly left before Caroline Keith had set up shop - in her kitchen - and was open for business.

Just for a week. Her home became an instant showroom - complete with racks and stands - sporting dozens of pieces of the smartest designer label clothing. Then, almost as instantly as it had arrived, the entire travelling couture collection, which comprises dozens of different pieces from jackets to trousers and handbags to camisoles, was packed up and the 'showroom' dismantled again.

Then it was taken off by courier to its next date in a totally different part of the country and Caroline's new home was restored to normal.

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But the good news, especially for her new customers, is that she'll be hosting part two of this year's four season collection in May, when the next Carlisle Collection arrives. Again just for a week.

“They call them trunk shows in the States, isn't that ghastly! Certain words don't translate easily,” she said. Certainly 'trunk show' doesn't do the concept justice, because we're talking style, quality, cut and tailoring here. The detailing and finish are top notch and the fabrics lush.

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Also the pieces are not inexpensive - jackets coast along at the £400 mark, trousers around £100-120 and this season's equivalent of the classic Audrey Hepburn little black dress is £313, only this one in 90% wool, isn't actually black but a delicious bright pink!

Caroline was sold on the concept as soon as she saw it. She was making big changes in her own life, moving out of London to the coast and was looking to do something that would fit in with her new life. So she signed up.

“It's an American clothing company and I will get collection about four times a year with a variety of lovely clothes. One week the collection will be in my house and then it gets packed up and goes off on location - it could be to Scotland or Somerset - God knows where.

“I am really a London girly, though I have spent a lot of time here and used to live in this area. Now I have now come back but I have never done anything like this before - I used to do catering - so you can imagine I was having kittens when I moved!

“But,” said Caroline, “it's not hard sell, I absolutely hate it when you go into someone's house and feel you have got to buy something, it's not like that. The clothes sell themselves but you just have to get people in to see it. It's the detail which I think is fantastic.

“I am newcomer to all this but people do need to ring me for individual appointments because of the size of the collection. If you are a busy high-flier you could just pop round for a drink and look one evening.

“It's about knowing the clothes and knowing the people. I want people to come and enjoy the collection, have a chat - basically I can't stand going into people homes and feeling pressured. Nobody must feel that they have to buy.”

Invited customers browsing the first collection were also impressed. “It had great impact and everyone said “wow”. You really need one on one and that what it's really about.” The next collection to arrive builds on the previous one, keep key themes running through so that if you buy a key jacket one season, there will be items in the next collection which will go with it, which adds up to perfect wardrobe building stuff.

Holding up one jacket, which cost around £400, Caroline demonstrated how it would look equally fantastic dressed up or with jeans.

She also pointed out Per Se, an off-shoot label, which is described as closer fitting, a little zappier and a range “with attitude”. “That's is more one-off pieces which aren't carried through into the co-ordinated mainstream collection - more for someone who just wants to buy “a” jacket or “a” pair of trousers.” And while there are classic dark navy pieces there are some totally original ones too.

Take the very soft suede bomber jacket printed with an almost paisley-like pattern in pinks, yellows and greens. It comes with a price tag of £812, but says Caroline, she's pretty sure it would retail for at least four figures in a place like Harvey Nichols. And there's a matching handbag for £214.

As for other examples of Carlisle Collection she also had an eye-catching green gingham spun silk wrap over and tie shirt, with cuffs you could shoot back and a collar that would look best turned up, which costs £202, and a beautifully tailored skirt, made up of strips of grosgrain ribbon in pink and green stripes, which costs, £311, and that has matching fitted jacket.

Val McLaine, who'd turned up to help Caroline with her launch commented: “I've got a navy blue suit lined in green silk that I bought from the collection in 1999. I wore it out to lunch last summer and five people asked me where I got my suit from!”

The next collection will be on show at Caroline's home, which is almost next door to St Felix' School on the road into Southwold, from May 9th -14th. The autumn date is pencilled in for August 21-26th and then the winter collection arrives in October.


An American company Carlisle Collection has a design team which go round New York looking at trends and buyers who go to Europe and all over the place sourcing material. The clothing is made in Hong Kong and China.

There are beautifully styled fitted jackets, with a modern twist and fine tailoring details, including a chain (traditionally used by Chanel in their jackets) stitched in along the hem to weigh it. The chain will be replaced free of charge after three years if necessary - which can only mean that they expect the jackets themselves to last for years.

It has been going for over 20 years in the States and had a big re-launch here in UK back in 1999, the lastest collection is made up of about 300 pieces. Sizewise it goes from a UK 6 (which is more a generous 8 to 10) up to size 20.

Within the collection is a fitted range, as well as classic and more easy fit and each piece has an edge which appeals. Classic pieces in beautiful cloths, such as a cappuccino pale wool trenchcoat at £442, simply looks stunning on.

The Carlisle Collection is looking for a potential consultant in Essex, ring Balfour Wilson on 0207 589 8884 if you are interested. Caroline is the main consultant in Suffolk but she is looking to take associates on board.

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