I'm pretty sure I can remember when it all began.
At primary school our class had a huge dressing up box with vibrant pieces spilling out of it, fit to bursting. I remember scrambling to pluck the same item out of the box with my chubby fingers every playtime.
It was a pillar box red flamenco dress with sequined black polka dots and undulating ruffles in the skirt and sleeves. Always suitably over-dressed, even at five years old. It swished and flared as I span around and even at that age I recognised the thrill that adorning yourself with beautiful things could bring.
The art of dressing up has inspired me ever since and I’ve had a shot at replicating my very own dressing up box wherever I live - elegant vintage pieces, bold pieces of jewellery handed down, ordered online or purchased from travels around the globe, a rainbow-coloured spectrum of shoes, fringed, printed scarves and thin and chunky belts. You get the picture.
So discovering Gigi's Dressing Room in Walthamstow, London for the first time felt like finding a hidden dressing up box, blowing off the dust and striking rich. In a modest but fitting area of Wood Street Indoor Market, there are clothes, shoes, hats and jewels literally dripping from the ceiling. Each arranged piece is unique and splendid and simply made for trying on.
The owner Galina Sherri (or Gigi to her friends) is the master of the magic. About ten years ago, like most women no doubt, she realised she had far too many clothes (Hmmm. Can you ever have too many, I wonder?) and worked at vintage fairs and markets to sell some of her wonderful vintage finds. Some clever networking at Spitalfields Market helped Gigi hook clients who didn't like the act of shopping itself but needed assistance with styling outfits for exciting parties and performances. Seamlessly becoming a personal shopper and stylist, Gigi went to their homes to save the day and in turn they came to her.
Then, in February 2012, Gigi learned of Wood Street Indoor Market, formerly an old antiques centre and soon to be renovated into a local centre of arts, craft and vintage treasures. Gigi had the foresight to rent a small room there and as if by magic, the dazzling Gigi's Dressing Room was born.
Things got bigger and better and before long, at the beginning of 2014, she moved her emporium in the middle of the market and The Dressing Room became the dazzling centre piece.
Gigi used to source her beautiful pieces from markets and vintage shops but as she got busier, she started buying into the shop. Clients and excited shoppers would bring their grandmother's prom dresses and fabulous evening gowns (from another dazzling, glamorous era. Believe me, I've seen them and they are stunning) and she also bought from acquaintances who work in the theatre and cinema.
Gigi's pride in the business means she takes personal care of her customers. She wants to make it fun to dress up for parties and events - which is exactly what it should be. Fashion is a hoot; outrageous and fabulous, and it's not to be taken seriously even if it does infiltrate and take over your life quite often.
On my first visit to the Dressing Room, I looked around in silent awe at the items that dripped from the rails. Inwardly vowing not to buy anything because I DID NOT NEED ANY MORE CLOTHES, I smiled politely and got ready to leave after a brisk perusing, a waft of a dress here, a peek at the odd pair of shoes there. Within an hour (yes, I stayed an hour and nearly missed an important appointment) I had been utterly charmed by the quality and variety of pieces on offer and was chatting to the fabulous Gigi like an old friend. She's a clever one; having quietly observed my careful studying from the sidelines, she noticed I couldn't quite leave a beautiful yellow, green and peach satin dress alone and began a gentle, persuasive nudge for me to try it on - you know, just to see what it looks like, just try it on, it'll be fun! Like dressing up.
Unable to resist, I was in the changing room, trying it on and it was in the bag before I knew it. Gigi gifted me an oyster grey and pink pearl ring in a charming vintage box which made the experience even more special.
Fashion addiction can be an expensive habit, but do not despair; since last year outfits and costumes from Gigi's Dressing Room can be hired out as part of her continued effort to discourage consumerism. There's also a lot more to Gigi than dressing up. She runs small sewing and knitting groups and organises fashion events three times a year.
Shopping at Gigi’s Dressing Room is a truly wonderful spectacle. A place to trawl through alluring clothes that coruscate and beckon you from the rails, pop your feet in a pair of retro shoes, admire your fingers in dazzling cocktail rings and much more. It creates the opportunity to try things on, play dress up, fall madly in love with a special piece and have it customised to suit your unique shape. You can float out feeling a million pounds, knowing that you won’t bump into anyone else at that party / gig / performance / festival / wedding in the same outfit you have safely folded in your shiny new bag.
Thank you Gigi, and long live the art of getting all dressed up with somewhere to go.