Your browser is no longer supported. For the best experience of this website, please upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We use cookies to personalise your experience; learn more in our Privacy and Cookie Policy. You can opt out of some cookies by adjusting your browser settings; see the cookie policy for details. By using this site, you agree to our use of cookies.

Editor’s Comment: the Karen Millen store cull was hard to watch

Kirsty McGregor

It was a sad moment walking past the closing Karen Millen store on the corner of Regent Street and Princes Street in central London last week.

An undressed mannequin lay abandoned on the floor in the window, behind brash red and yellow signs that read “full clearance Sale” and “last six days”.

Karen Millen was a brand I aspired to when I was a young professional starting out in my career. It was premium, sexy and empowering – reflecting its glamorous founder. I fear a very different proposition will emerge through its reincarnation as an online-only brand owned by fast fashion behemoth Boohoo Group.

Karen Millen’s entire atelier team has been axed – in fact, only 100 people will be left in the new London office it will share with stablemate Coast, which is also being taken online only. Some staff have relocated to Boohoo’s Manchester headquarters, and many others have left.

A new design team and sourcing structure will inevitably bring a new direction for the brands, not to mention the push to grow Karen Millen from 400 styles to “thousands”.

Yet, while it is sad to think the Karen Millen of old has had its day, this change may have been necessary for its survival.

Former CEO Beth Butterwick had begun to make some progress in her turnaround plan – reducing its operating losses by 85% to £1.4m in the year to February 2018, its most recent results. But like its Aurora stablemates, Karen Millen was hit hard by the collapse of parent company Kaupthing during the Icelandic banking crash. It has also struggled to keep up with the competition in a market flooded with contemporary and premium womenswear brands servicing the same customer more nimbly, and with better product.  

The Boohoo Group acquisition means Karen Millen and Coast can be quicker to market, and have a much lower cost base. Other improvements will include additional payment methods and improved delivery, which will help the brands to keep up with the demands of today’s consumer. 

However, the swift closing down of the stores and concessions by the administrators has been hard to watch. It only serves to devalue the two brands and their product in the eyes of the consumer, which is the last thing they need.

It feels like the end of an era for two much-loved British brands, and a poorly timed kick in the teeth for the already struggling high street. 

Readers' comments (1)

  • Hi Kirsty, understand your sentiments, and KM is not alone. L.K.Bennett was another.... pioneering and successful in their time.. but the market is rapidly changing and brutal if the 'story' isnt perfect. The change towards a much more casual product has finished a number of brands. The message as always is to stay relevant and know exactly who you consumer is.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.