In my quest to better understand the trends of our town centre retail I speak with Victoria Rae (Vixy to her friends), Creative Director and Owner of Stewart Christie. I have to come clean and say I am a huge fan of this business; in Edinburgh it is well known for bespoke tailoring; the imminent shop refit will better showcase the extent of their collections for both men and women. If you’re ever in town and near the west-end of Queen Street it’s definitely worth a visit.
Tell me about you, who you are, what you do and what you love most about your life in Edinburgh?
I was born in Edinburgh and it has been my home all my life. It is definitely a culturally diverse city and one which is incredibly compact for all the amazing things it offers. Being the capital of Scotland it certainly has everything which London has but on a much smaller scale, very much like a big village. I am constantly hearing how friendly and welcoming it is from friends and visitors alike. There are few cities in the world which are located in such a location, with access to the Highlands and with a rugged coast line only a stone’s throw away, it really has a wonderful balance of both: urban convenience and rural beauty, this mixed with its historical importance means it is one of the most visited cities in the UK.
What is it you love most about retail?
I have been in retail since my teens, working on many a shop floor and being involved with everything from flowers, skate brands to tweed. My early days were spent learning the ropes from a lovely group of ladies in Crabtree and Evelyn, this gave me a solid grounding and a very visual eye. I became involved in the indie and skate scene, which got me involved in street wear and then became the owner of Odd One Out & Dr Jives and started to not just sell but also design and produce items for the store with my own label Oddities. I guess my love of retail is based around people and in Edinburgh you never know who is going to walk through the door. Today, I still enjoy meeting people and now owning Stewart Christie, I am able to create unique and bespoke pieces for people. I think I have always been an emotionally intelligent person, and I find it easy to meet people on a level and find out what they are ideally looking for. It is a challenge now with bespoke garments to really put yourself in the customers place and try to imagine what they are seeing in their minds eye. And I’ve developed a skill for not only measuring with my eyes, but working out styles and designs that work for all shapes and sizes.
Do you have a dream for retail in the future; what would you like to see?
Being an independent retailer but having worked for national companies there is certainly a return to people wanting quality products and good old fashioned customer service. Money is hard enough to earn, and when people spend it they want to spend it in the right way, ensuring they are getting what they want. Our client base is not so much worried about the price but like to know where the garment is made, about the ethos of the company and the cloths origins too. National chains seem to have a huge variety of products but they are the same in every city. It would be a dream to see smaller independent shops opening and (not closing!) selling unique products. I have huge respect for the people who still fight on and stay true to their beliefs. I certainly don’t want to buy the same churned out mainstream fashion. There seems to be a resurgence in the ‘craft’ sector in everything from beer and food, to toiletries and bicycles, so I hope there is a new mind set emerging with people who want to run a shop because it is their passion rather than just a way to earn money. I think most small business people have a certain drive and energy to want to see their venture succeed and it is not something which can be taught in school.
At Stewart Christie, we are about to embark on an apprenticeship scheme, so we can pass on our knowledge (and enthusiasm) to the next generation. If more businesses were able to do this I think there would be a shift in attitude to locally made products and a realisation that we need to be a nation who create not just consume.
If you were to walk into a Doctor’s surgery or Dentist waiting room (there is zero wifi or phone reception), which magazine would you instinctively pick up and why?
Which magazine would I be drawn to in the Dentist? hmmm? Well, I have never been one for social gossip, or celebrity for celebrity sake…although, I do have a strong interest in fashion and am constantly amused by current trends. I would perhaps be drawn towards the National Geographic or Vogue, as it is usually the only time I have a chance to stop for two minutes and read… Although, thinking about it these days, with my interests in tweeds, and our competition in country pursuits and the estate world. I might pick up the Scottish Field, to see what is going on in the country scene, hehe… although after my recent travels, I may also perhaps grab Conde Naste Traveller, a good way to distract me from an impending appointment with photos of tropical beaches and far off shores.
Being an owner and creative director at Stewart Christie & Co is like being a custodian of a rare jewel. It is the oldest bespoke tailors in Scotland and the second oldest business in Edinburgh, tracing its heritage back to about 1720. Located from its early days in the New Town of Edinburgh, it has serviced for generations the distinguished gentry of Scotland’s Capital and beyond. We Supply the likes of the Holyrood High Constables, the Royal Company of Archers and the Moderators of the Church of Scotland to name but a few.
After four generations in the same family, a new era has dawned, under our careful and respectful new ownership. What has been a sleeping giant is awaking from its slumbers.
As the business has remained unchanged for the past 40 plus years, there are some exciting new directions to be explored. It is rare to find such on old and long standing business running happily and quietly away. To many it has been un-noticed and we are now entering into a new age of social media and the internet which has given us a new audience and a way to communicate with our established clients too. With this new opportunity of developing an established business on the web, we are finding a surge of interest from America, Australia, Germany and Japan for our tailored garments. It is really a whole new angle, using our expertise to create unique garments without seeing the individual in person, and with the advent of ‘facetime’ we can do remote fitting’s and talk about cloths easily with customers abroad.
There are far more opportunities to generate interest and custom than there were even 20 years ago. People like the idea of ‘belonging’ and with local authentic brands with real people behind them it makes them feel part of whatever we are doing. I think there is a bright future for unique quality products and services, and thinking out side of the retail box, will be the way forward to regenerate an area of business which has reached a generational shift. The nicest compliment recently was from a gentleman in his late eighties who commented on how much he enjoyed reading our monthly newsletter on his electronic mail, which proves it might just be a way of thinking rather than an actual shift in bricks and mortar. I certainly want to spend the next 10-20 years, making sure that the store is a really special place for people to visit and continue to offer a traditional shopping experience for all of our customers and visitors.
‘’To move forward positively, we should never lose sight of the past.’’ Vixy Rae – Owner & Creative Director, Stewart Christie
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