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Perfect Fit

The founder of Girl Meets Dress, Anna Bance, explains to Ruth Wyatt the joy of fi nding the perfect outfit at a price that suits.

The idea behind Girl Meets Dress (GMD) is elegant to say the least. When you need a drop-dead designer dress for a Champagne occasion, but have a prosecco budget, borrow it, don’t buy it. Ascot? Sorted. Wedding dress? No problem. Christmas party? Done. GMD has more than 4,000 designer dresses and accessories for every occasion, day or night, summer or sub-zero.

“Hiring dresses makes complete sense and means you don’t feel guilty for spending money on something that might lie in your wardrobe after one use. For example, you may love the latest Alexander McQueen bright pink ruffle dress, but once you’ve worn it to a wedding attended by all your friends, you may not keep wearing it all summer. There are so many amazing designer dresses, and given they are sometimes prohibitive price points, instead of having to choose only a few to buy, we enable women to wear all of them for the same price as shopping at H&M or Zara,” enthuses founder Anna Bance when we meet in her Fulham showroom.

Anna and her business partner Xavier de Lecaros-Aquise set up GMD in 2009. The Chelsea resident has a strong pedigree in fashion, having studied at the London College of Fashion and worked at InStyle, The Telegraph magazine and Harper’s Bazaar. She was Head of UK PR for French luxury brand Hermès when the idea came to her.

“Celebrities have always borrowed dresses for awards ceremonies and special events, and I noticed that with the proliferation of social media everyone was becoming a mini- celebrity in their own world, adding increasing social pressure to women’s inherent desire not to wear the same dress twice,” she says. “Girl Meets Dress gave all women access to this luxury – being able to easily wear more relevant, trend led, time-sensitive fashions, while continuing to invest only in those classic pieces that will stand the test of time.”

GMD was the first company to rent luxury fashion online and it helped to establish online rental as an e-commerce category of its own. “When Girl Meets Dress launched back in 2009, the recession mindset dominated. It meant ‘cost per use’ was a huge driver, as being smart with money and where to spend it was highly regarded. But it was also clear that people have since realised that experience and time are the most precious commodities we have, and that consequently ownership is becoming more irrelevant than ever before,” she explains.

Just because Anna is a fully paid-up member of the fashion pack – you’ll find her at all the important catwalk shows for both established and emerging designers – don’t for a moment think of her business as fluffy. “We fall within the larger fast-expanding ‘Sharing Economy’, and together with Airbnb, Zipcar, Uber etc we are helping to evolve retail and consumer habits, which are changing significantly, both in terms of expectations and value. The growth in rental is testament to that change and highlights our growing preference for experiences over ownership.

“Since the middle of the 20th century, economic prosperity has been equated with a consumerist society, with ownership at its core. In the past most people lived a predictable, structured life. Most consumers aspired to own a home, and a car or two. Today, what seems increasingly important to people is quality of experience, selection and convenience – and that means having access to things when and where you want them, often without the overhead of ownership,” she continues. “As children, many of us were used to bartering, swapping or trading. But these networks are now wired up globally, so this kind of networking and exchanging is second nature, even between strangers.”

The vast majority of GMD’s business is done online, but the Battersea showroom provides a useful service for women who want to try on lots and lots of dresses rather than ordering a small selection to try at home. It’s also popular with celebrities’ stylists (she has many celebrity clients but is too discreet to name- drop) and a useful space for press shoots. Anna is a great ad for the business with the lithe limbs and easy grace of a model. More often than not you’ll find her in a frock, as she tends to get stick when she pulls on anything else. “For weekday events in London I wear a lot of dresses. I love to promote the new styles we stock and try any new designers that we are stocking for the first time. Occasionally I will go to something in trousers or a skirt and top and I’ll get comments about it not being a dress,” she notes.

Anna may be long and lean, but her customers come in all shapes, sizes and ages. Her youngest devotees are about 12, arrive with their mothers, and are looking for a dress for the school prom or a wedding. A lot of her clients are 75-plus and “the other day we had an appointment enquiry from a 95-year-old and her daughter”. The bulk of her customers are aged 25-40 who are looking for day and evening wear for personal or professional use. Sizes range from 6 to 18 and for those of us who can’t make statuesque even in five-inch heels, a team of stylists is on hand to recommend specific dresses that work for petite women.

The majority of UK transactions are outside London, Anna says, enabling women in all parts of the country, sometimes far away from large shops, to have global designers delivered to their doorsteps. Orders for the festive season start flowing in as early as September as the more organised ladies reserve partywear for office Christmas parties and New Year’s Eve. Vintage gowns, 1920s-style dresses and sequinned cocktail numbers always prove popular. But even at this kind of notice Anna reckons she can still find you the perfect dress if you fancy rocking a red carpet look to the company Christmas bash.

To hire your own statement dress for the season visit www.girlmeetsdress.com or email showroom@girlmeetsdress.com to arrange an appointment at their Battersea showroom.

Photo by Paul Husband