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Christina De Mercado

Frank Usher’s head designer tells Laura Lovett about her career, and how family connections made it seem her fate to work at the brand.

You have worked in Germany, the US and the UK. How do these markets differ?
The European market is far edgier, particularly in France and Italy, while the US is clean and sophisticated.

In Frank Usher’s market, the UK sits somewhere in the middle. I know there is a stereotype of the American look, but I still think it’s true. There will always be distinctions between the areas and although everyone is slowly becoming more trend-led, the regions still contrast in terms of style.

What are the challenges in the occasionwear market?
We are in price-conscious times because of the economy. People aren’t splurging £600 on a dress when the high street can compete so keenly with trends, so you have to set yourself apart with other qualities.

We work at a level of sophistication that is driven by price. There is a feasible limit on what you can do with fabrics, so you reconsider how to cater for customers in both your design and in fabrics.

We try to create more classic wedding suits with separates that give more options to the wearer. They can wear the piece again, and in this way it becomes an investment rather than an extravagance.

What are the plans for Frank Usher in terms of brand image?
Frank Usher is based on sophisticated, classic designs that are not too trendy, with a focus on occasionwear. For autumn 08 we offer snappy pencil skirts mixed with beautiful blouses and evening jackets.

The slim trouser is still going strong and dresses are getting shorter. Sequins and beads are more colourful and black and bright ombres make a statement. Our present target market is 35 years-plus, but we hope to go into a younger market by introducing those aged from 25 years to the brand.

It is not just mother of the bride – we are now pushing into the friend of the bride age bracket. The team is doing a good job of getting us known in this sector, and we are using our experience in Europe, where formal dressing is much more glamorous than the UK, to help us understand what younger customers want.

How has the womenswear market changed since you started designing?
There was a trend for dressing down, for jeans to be worn everywhere. Now there is a return to dressing up, to changing for an evening out and putting a dress on. The industry is much more responsive than it used to be, spotting trends and creating the looks.

Although we don’t have to follow trends closely, the manufacturing volume is much larger than it used to be. In Germany we produce a mid-season range, and while the UK doesn’t demand this yet, at some point it will be something we consider.

Being from Sweden, what do you think of the success of Scandinavian brands in the UK recently?
It is great they are having such a big impact. I think this is because Sweden has historically had a good eye for design, for style, shape and colour.

The Swedish government invests in education for designers, and now designers have the option to go out and try to open their own stores outside Sweden to find a bigger audience. It seems to have happened all at once, but it has been a long-term trend that I think has exploded quite quickly.

Was this role your first introduction to Frank Usher?
My father was the Scandinavian agent for Frank Usher for many years back home, so I knew the brand while I was growing up. When I returned from working in Germany for Escada’s Laurel brand it seemed totally natural for me to come to Frank Usher. My father retired last year, so I’ve now taken over the family mantle for Frank Usher.

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