Laurel Herman: ‘Cara Delivigne wears a red dress and everyone wants to buy it. Why?’

Laurel Herman of Concept Shopping. Picture: Paul Buciuta

Laurel Herman of Concept Shopping. Picture: Paul Buciuta - Credit: Archant

Laurel Herman has dressed countless women since starting her business 45 years ago. She talks to Zoe Paskett about how to look your best

In the hours running up to meeting Laurel Herman, the nerves set in. I ran out of the house in a hurry without ironing my trousers and I’m wearing a man’s shirt that’s at least three sizes too large. Not what you put on when you’re about to interview a professional image consultant.

Perusing the Twitter page of Concept Shopping, I noticed a “no cropped trousers for short legs” rule, a “no clothing that’s too big” rule and a “no flat shoes” rule; consider all three broken in one fell swoop.

“Young people follow fashion because you think it’s cool,” she says, gently. “That’s fine; I was like that in my day.”

“Fashion is here today and gone tomorrow but style lasts. Why because Cara Delevigne puts on a red dress do people want to go and buy it? They don’t look like her. Why would they want it?”

Herman officially set up Concept Shopping 45 years ago as a way to help women dress to their best. Based in Belsize Park, the studio contains around 3,000 items of designer clothing described as “very gently worn”.Her job as an image consultant is to make sure every woman who comes through the door leaves with something that “enhances” them.

It has, until now, been a closely guarded secret. With customers exclusively learning about her service through word of mouth, Herman has only recently decided to offer up her sartorial guidance to any interested and discerning woman.

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The seeds of Concept Shopping were sown many years previously when she began to sell her own clothes.

“I had no intention of being in business. I was young, I was married by the time I was 20 and girls like me didn’t need to have a career. I went to Henrietta Barnet, I was very bright but I didn’t feel I had to prove anything.”

Having two sons fairly soon after she was married, she realised she “didn’t enjoy coffee mornings and tea parties” and made the decision when she was 23 to advertise her clothes in a magazine.

“I came home and my mum said: ‘What have you done? The phone hasn’t stopped ringing.’ I’d written that I had a group of friends who have clothes to sell.

“The truth was I didn’t have any clothes and had forgotten I’d put the ad in at all.”

After a while of shipping her clothes around the country, some of the ladies expressed interest in being dressed by Herman in person, and travelled to her flat to meet her.

Soon she was dressing

such people as the first female mayor of Enfield, who brought all her councillors with her for the same treatment, and Lady Jean Denton, rally driver and founder of the British chapter of the International Forum for Women.

“She was so pleased she brought all of her top women to meet me. I started dressing these women and I got involved in a completely new arena.

“I came to know about the corporate world. It was the time when women were coming up in business.”

By now, Herman was enjoying great success. She had been presented with many opportunities including putting her name to a range at Marks & Spencer.

“I turned them all down because I wanted to keep my husband happy.

“My marriage ended very painfully and very acrimoniously after 30 years and my life was blown apart.”

“I realised I had to pull myself together financially, because my husband kind of screwed me in the divorce and I realised how much money I had earned and didn’t have anymore.”

The success of Concept Shopping led to Herman becoming the go-to image consultant for high ranking executives at firms such as PwC and Clifford Chance.

“I don’t know how I had the audacity to take these men shopping because I had only ever dressed women,” she says with a smile.

Herman does admit that Concept Shopping might not be right for everyone, saying that those who are happy to shop online or on the high street have no reason to use her services.

“Anyone who thinks they are making themselves look the best they can by buying clothes on the internet needs to have their brains tested.

“It serves a purpose because of time and ease, but if you really want to find out how to make yourself look your best, it’s probably not the way to go about it.

“We just don’t have customers that don’t find something. People think I’m going to tell them what to wear, but I’m not. Pull out ten jackets and I promise you you’ll find one that you like.

“You’ve just got to have time.”

Concept Shopping is available by appointment, 02075867925.