As a little young un', I lived in Camden Town and would drive past Greater London House – what I called the "Egyptian Cat Temple" near Mornington Crescent pretty much everyday. It's the sort of place that would hold mystique for most kids with its art deco feline columns and imposing size. Later, I thought a secret part of the government were in there. Neo-fascists perhaps, plotting away at some evil plan. Paranoid much? Me? Never‚Ä¶
Of course, now most fash-on people will know it as the ASOS building. ASOS occupy only the 2nd and 4th floors but given the space, that's still quite an empire they've got going on there. Today, they opened their doors to a stampede of UK and European bloggers armed with a DSLR, myself included so that we can poke and prod around their departments as well as getting an overview for what's coming up for A/W 12-3. ASOS of course have quite a unique set-up in high street terms in that they house a large buying team (for all their multi-label offerings), a design team and they shoot everything in-house in their own studios, which makes it quite the workforce to behold in action.
I loves me a good old fashioned school tour so I dutifully followed the head girls of ASOS (in this case, Sarah Wilkinson, head of womenswear design team and Stephanie O'Reilly from the PR team) to go exploring the depths of ASOS HQ.
Whilst I had a rough idea of ASOS' size, you only understand the scale when you're confronted by rails upon rails of clothes, piles and piles of bags and row after row of people glued to their screens, pretending not to look at the gawking bloggers.
In the design room, we were guided through the process of formulating the trends for the season. They were quick to emphasise the fact that the acquire a good amount of vintage clothing as research and reference points for the collection. They plan on properly cataloguing their collection so that this vintage resource can go out on loan for shoots. The emphasis on vintage perhaps detracted focus away from catwalk *ahem* "inspiration". The truth is though ASOS have to start working on their seasons long before the shows come out. For instance, the design team are currently working on S/S 13, thinking up seasonal stories, moods and vibes, using their research from travels, vintage buys and blogs. As I walked around the design team, there was definitely a lot of blog lovin'. When journos ask me about the influence of bloggers on trends, I never like to over-exaggerate but of course it's hard to tell how much blog-scrolling goes on in amongst design teams unless you see it for yourself. There there. Pat yourself on the back. Your DIY studded denim cut-offs may well have influenced one of the ASOS A/W 12-3 "Hard Baroque" trend stories.
When shows do come along of course, that's when the stories are confirmed and tweaked. Therefore, A/W 12-3 is a reflection of that. Stories like Baroque, Nowhere Girl, Empire all blend catwalk, vintage updates and what the design team themselves are bringing from their own personal observations. Their moodboards also deliberately avoid direct catwalk referencing, preferring editorials and atmospheric images to inspire the mood.
Then you get something a little out of the blue such as a "Superheroes" theme for the A/W 12 ASOS Revive collection. Late 80s to early 90s memories of superhero films and directional music video collections informed the sequin and leather filled collection. They showed us this sequin number (which reminds me of something that Poison Ivy might have worn‚Ä¶) and all its accompanying development sketches.
Afterwards, we shuffled through to see the studios and looked at the very recognisable casting of ASOS with all its tiers and categories determining what sort of face you'll see. The more "high fashion" and established faces will be wearing the designers and then younger faces will be doing the high street stuff and ASOS own-brand looks. Then there's the sexy category of girls, who do a great job of selling the body con dresses that aren't really up my street. It's interesting to see how ASOS deal with so many different types of models under one umbrella, in the same way they do with their breadth of product.
The marvel of ASOS is of course the way they update their site on a daily basis, which relies on their in-house studios shooting product pretty much every hour of the day. It's a well-timed process which they have perfected. Made-up and haired-up model goes in. Photographer takes four shots (full-length, close-crop, back and detail). Model comes out. Goes into the ASOS catwalk room to do their walk. Bam. Product shots and mini video are done. The shooting takes no more than ten minutes, if that. There's no getting away from the factory feel of ASOS' ongoing photo and video shoots but it's also difficult not to be impressed by such efficiency.
I did ask whether there was an ASOS rulebook of posing. It depends on the product of course but right now they're apparently well into "Cool Sexy", which isn't to be confused with sexy-sexy. Nay. "Cool Sexy" is that Rita ora, Rihanna vibe that is so hot right now for summer festival gear.
We then went back to snoop around the A/W 12 collection where there was a distinctly tomboyish feeling influenced by designers like J.W. Anderson, coursing through many of the pieces – particularly in the ASOS White collection and some of ASOS core. Then it went in the opposite direction where bejewelled pieces a la Dolce & Gabanna in the 90s would pop up. There's a lot of love for leather, particularly coloured leather pieces and printed leathers, thanks to the ASOS Black collection, which sees designer Markus Lupfer returning to his first love of leather with a capsule collection of ten pieces. ASOS Revive, as I said focuses on superheroes and of course a pair of space-appropriate pair of leather trews with padded geometric shapes are par for course. These are pretty immense. ASOS Africa has delved into William Morris this season and is getting stronger and stronger with a lot of slubby sweatshirt pieces. Lauren McCalmont, who designed the current ASOS Black S/S 12 collection is back with some winter warming foil printed scarves and gloves.
For a lot of bloggers present, the temptation to enquire when this stuff would be going live on site was too much as it felt like we were all in there knocking up personal wants lists. Thankfully unlike the norm of looking at product months and months in advance of release, we won't have too long to wait. This stuff will begin to hit the site as early as August.