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Oliver Bonas is right to put design at the heart of the business

Traditionally home to an eclectic mix of womenswear brands, Oliver Bonas has made a great move in appointing an in house design duo, writes Ruth Faulkner.

Oliver Bonas opened its first store in Fulham back in 1993 but it wasn’t until May 2011 that it launched its first own-label womenswear offer in the form of in-house brand Poem.

At the time, the retailer’s managing director Oliver Tress said he wanted to create something that was unique to Oliver Bonas, helping the retailer to increase its fashion credentials.

The launch of Poem was certainly a success insofar as it complements the retailer’s staple of existing womenswear brands, which include Vila, Vero Moda, Selected Femme and Trollied Dolly, in terms of look and styling.

In fact, it fits in with the rest of the mix of brands so well that I am not sure some people even realise it is an Oliver Bonas’ own brand. Poem’s success at blending in with the existing brands means there is no connection with the Oliver Bonas name in the minds of the shoppers - despite being a central part of Tress’ strategy when setting up the label.

The decision to employ an in-house designer and print designer (with a fairly impressive pedigree between them) suggests the retailer is still looking to build in this area.

There are still questions to be answered regarding what proportion of the mix Oliver Bonas’ own brand label will become - as we went to press it wasn’t clear whether the hires would see the creation of a separate brand (perhaps leveraging the strength of the Oliver Bonas name) or simply bolster Poem. Crucially, it remains to be seen what will happen to the buying team in the wake of Linda Molnes’ departure earlier this year.

But anything that demonstrates a move by a fashion retailer to put design at its heart can only be a good thing. A serious fashion retail player should have its own design team and so Oliver Bonas’ decision to expand in this area should be applauded, not least because, as everyone in this industry will tell you, it pays to offer something different.

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