We step into Simply French, a compact boutique on Holywell Hill. Four mannequins fill the window display draped in dresses, tunic tops and trousers awash with vibrant autumnal colour, newly designed and ready for the coming season.

Inside, the white walls and white tiled floor create a bright blank canvas for all of the colourful clothing and accessories. The boutique is clean and uncluttered, with slender mirrors and framed fashion illustrations dotted about decorating the walls; trousers and knitwear are neatly folded on metal stands and two smaller wire mannequins are decorated with scarves and bold jewellery.

There’s such an eclectic mix of designs, from elegant Paris brands with huge variety of tailored women’s wear at affordable prices and generously discounted in the sale. The clothing has been carefully selected and is unique, with stylish tops that you can integrate into your own wardrobe with a pair of jeans and maxi dresses perfect for a warm summer’s evening.

A small bouquet of fuchsia and white flowers and an oval stand-up mirror decorate the glass counter. We chat with Leslie, the owner, who tells us that Simply French has been in business for more than ten years and how most of her clothing is seasonal and from Parisian prêt-à-porter brands.

Leslie worked in the fashion industry for years then decided to set up a business of her own. “I love dressing women of all ages. Fashion gives you confidence,” she says. I smile back at her, as that’s the sign of a true Fashionista; the rest of us just muddle through and struggle with dressing ourselves up, never mind anybody else!

Leslie has lived through the hippy era of Biba and Mary Quant. I love chatting with her as she is so passionate and knowledgeable and her enthusiasm doesn’t appear to have waned over the years. “The clarity of colour and the fabric is so important to us. You can’t really assess fabrics and colour online.” Leslie maintains. Simply French has a customer base and that is kept in mind as she makes her selection. “…and of course, we’re well known for our trousers.”

My daughter is having a look in the sale section and has found a pair of trousers that she’d like to try on. They fit perfectly, mould around her figure and are a good length. “They look great!” I enthuse. “It’s so hard to find a pair of trousers that fit well in the world of fast fashion, they’re either too short or baggy in the wrong places.”

It looks like I have triggered a “fast fashion” conversation between my daughter and Leslie about the subtly unethical way in which it operates. Leslie is totally in the know and they talk about the sheer quantities of water required to manufacture a single pair of jeans.

As the two of them have hit it off, I get distracted and start trying on jackets and scarves. I imagine what it would be like to have this boutique all to myself for an entire evening. I’d try on the whole damn shop; I’d go delving into every box of necklaces and drawer of scarves; piles of dresses would go flying through the air in a crazed fashion frenzy!

Boutiques like this can take us right out of our comfort zones, giving women the opportunity to experiment and try on things that are different to what they might usually wear. It’s not a question of just ‘liking’ everything - on the contrary, we might try on a dress splashed with orchids and peonies or a fun jumper with some diamante on it that looks amazing on us and that we’d never have dreamed of choosing online.

The temptation is all too much but I manage to pull myself away. I feel like I’ve just been teleported into the mind of Becky Bloomwood in Sophie Kinsella’s classic chick-lit Confessions of a Shopaholic empathising with how she convinces herself that she is perpetually in need of a new bag, top or pair of shoes!

As we leave, we realise that an hour has zoomed by in an instant. Leslie has the last word. “Come and see us again soon. The autumn collection is on its way!” We wave goodbye and my daughter is all smiles carrying her trendy new trousers.

  • Marisa Laycock moved from south west London to St Albans in 2000. She enjoys sharing her experiences of living in the city.