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Val Lacey adored making clothes as a young woman but went into a career in finance. Now she’s come full circle and is loving making women feel fantastic at her Arabella boutiques in Cheshire.
Val Lacey’s success in the world of retail is clearly derived from her love of fashion.
It’s a love which she passes onto her clients, that inspires her to seek out talented new designers to blend with her already successful brands including Annette Gortz, Oska, Crea Concept, Rundholz, Sarah Pacini, to name just a few.
Val works hard to create the whole look, to include striking luxury accessories to complete the outfit.
However, it hasn’t exactly been a straightforward journey for the 52-year-old, who had a successful career in finance before she took over Arabella, a boutique in Macclesfield five-and-a-half years ago and never looked back.
‘I really do feel it is what I was meant to do,’ says Val, who has added to her portfolio an Arabella boutique in Nantwich, an outlet store also in Nantwich, offering clients previous seasons’ collections at cut prices, an online store and a diffusion business called Bert & Bella aimed at younger customers and run by her 24-year-old daughter Jade.
‘When I was young, the family hadn’t got a lot of funds. I was the eldest of five and when we were short of something to wear I would scurry off to the market for fabric and run up outfits on my grandma’s sewing machine. I loved making clothes.’
With her then unconventional choice of designer Vivienne Westwood as inspiration, Val enrolled in needlework classes and surprised her teacher - a Miss Wharton - by announcing she wanted to make a punk tweed suit with a wide leather belt draped in chains.
‘But I got on so well with Miss Wharton,’ says Val.
‘She was an inspiration and could teach me all the technical aspects I’d been unable to work out for myself.’
Like many young women of her generation, an early passion for fashion was tempered by the need to make a living and she ended up being recruited as PA to the young branch manager at the Abbey National ‘back in the days when managers were scary,’ she says.
One day, he asked her to take down a memo to the regional manager about the branch’s unwillingness to fill quotas but as the letter progressed Val couldn’t help herself.
‘Do you want to keep your job?’ she piped up.
‘Look. I will get you these targets by lunchtime,’ she told him. ‘You’ve got nothing to lose.’
And that was the beginning of a 25-year career. However, it was the banking crisis in 2008 when ‘things began to get ugly’ so she decided it was time to quit.
She’d had her eye on a modest boutique in Macclesfield called Arabella and spurred on by its potential, struck a deal with the soon-to-retire owner to buy it.
‘I was back to where I began ,’ she says. ‘Back in fashion. But I had to learn the ropes and spent the first two or three years making sure I understood the business properly, especially from the client’s perspective. I discovered that women want their clothes to work for them. There’s no such thing as keeping something for best,’ she explains.
‘What we are delivering is stylish, comfortable clothing that works from day to evening. We want quality, we want to feel good and we want accessories that set us apart and footwear that is not only comfortable but provides the finishing touch.
‘My wonderful team and I have the best time ever with our clients. We endeavour to understand what they want to achieve - maybe a new look, to freshen up their wardrobe, or find an outfit for a special occasion. We take time to present lots of options and we use our vast years of experience to mix up our collections and create the best look for each individual client.
‘We strive to create an uber-desirable wardrobe for the modern woman.’
Of course, many modern women are now time-poor and computer savvy and so moving into online retail has added yet another dimension to the business.
‘We are now having great success with our online store arabella.uk.com with clients dotted all over the world,’ says Val.
‘Our online clients are encouraged to liaise with us, so again, we can help them select the very best options. ‘We are trying to make the internet feel as personal as shopping in our boutiques. We want people to feel like they’re getting something extra. We want them to feel they are special.’
Article by Janet Reeder
FASHION, LIFESTYLE, CONCEPT STORE