By conventional retail standards, it is nothing out of the ordinary for Barneys New York to hire Yasmin Sewell.
A fixture on the British fashion scene since the mid-Nineties, Sewell began her career in retail, opening her own store in London’s Soho, followed by senior positions in the buying offices at Browns and Liberty London. Two years ago, she launched Être Cécile, a streetwear collection she designs. She’s also creative director of Paper Mache Tiger, the showroom owned by her husband Kyle Robinson, and has her own consultancy.
Brands such as Chloé, Acne and J.W. Anderson routinely hire her to steer their collections, making them more exciting or relevant, which is what Barneys sought when enlisting Sewell to work on a private-label fall capsule collection. The store went a step further by having her not only design the collection based on her own style, but also making her the name and face of it: It’s called Yasmin Sewell for Barneys New York; she modeled for the look book and looks gorgeous in it.
“I can’t define my career, sorry,” said Sewell by phone from London, where she moved to from Australia at age 20. But she can safely be called an insider, whose natural beauty — fine bones; loose, cropped curls — and distinct personal taste have made her more public in the age of street-style snaps and Instagram (Sewell has 42,000 followers), when “likes” are parlayed into real work.
Instead of enlisting a star blogger or buzzy model, Barneys wanted someone with retail acumen to jump-start its private label, which it’s been workshopping for a while. “We were thinking of a lot of people, but I thought of Yasmin in particular because she has a very strong sense of personal style — she’s mindful of trends but isn’t trendy,” said Tomoko Ogura, Barneys’ senior fashion director. “I knew she would understand that we’re a store at the end of the day and we need to sell.”
Sewell didn’t need to be told twice. “They wanted to, for the first time, do something that was going to build more awareness, have a bit more impact but not be so radical that it wouldn’t work on a commercial level,” she said. “It’s part of my job and my company to do a lot of trend analysis to be able to know what’s going to be right.”
The Italian-made collection, priced from $295 to $1,495 and hitting sales floors now, reflects Sewell’s “perfect casual winter wardrobe.” It’s heavy on outerwear — three of the 18 pieces are coats, including a classic car coat in bonded Neoprene and an oversize mannish style in aqua-striped alpaca. “I quite like those days that you can put on a great tracksuit, patent trainers and the coat makes it look awesome,” said Sewell, who was striving for womanly sophistication on the defined waist of an off-the-shoulder black dress, full skirts and cropped knits and tops. “It was initially, ‘OK, what do I want? What pieces and silhouettes are very me?’ Then I thought, ‘OK, what do I feel is relevant for the winter this year?”
It stands to point out that, while well-known in fashion’s inner circles, Sewell is far from a household name, though this collaboration will surely raise her profile. Does the average Barneys customer care?
As Ogura put it, “In terms of her image, maybe they might not know her name, but certainly when they see her in the clothes they will find it aspirational.”