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Forever young

Pringle creative director Clare Waight Keller explains how the brand's renamed 1815 label mixes youth with sophistication

It may be 192 years old this year, but Pringle still has some growing up to do, according to creative director Clare Waight Keller. It is the brand's younger range that she aims to mature. A crucial step has been its renaming from Red Label to the more sophisticated 1815, which celebrates the year Pringle was founded.

Such heritage-plundering could sound dusty, but Lisa Karamouzis, owner of Body Basics in Cardiff, says the mix of experience and youth is what customers crave. "The 1815 line is a definite improvement on Red Label. It's polished and competitively priced - the mix of couture-style design with an edge of fun gives it a Balenciaga-type feel. I've bought knitwear, jackets, trousers, dresses and tops from the first collection."

This was always Waight Keller's plan. "The range had too much of a junior feel," she confesses. "There have been too many T-shirts and jeans. Now knitwear is back at the core and it is more sophisticated."

Waight Keller also aims to bring 1815 in line with the mainline to complete the brand's rejuvenation, a process started by former chief executive Kim Winser, who was recruited by Hong Kong clothing magnate Douglas Fang when he bought Pringle in 2000.

Waight Keller is full of praise for Winser, who hired her, but says: "My take is slightly different. Kim generated a huge amount of interest and did a phenomenal job of getting people to notice the brand again. I'm taking it to a global audience." While Winser upped the style, Waight Keller is working on the substance.

The strategy echoes that of UK brands such as Aquascutum, Burberry, Jaeger and Daks. With founding dates of 1851, 1856, 1884 and 1894 respectively, each has twisted its archives into sharper shapes more relevant to today's customers.

But Waight Keller says there is one difference - 1815 is not modelled on the sub-brand blueprint chosen by labels such as Burberry London. "It's less a diffusion range and more of a sibling collection," she says. "The relationship should be like that of Miu Miu to Prada, where Miu Miu is not a sub-brand but a younger sister with its own personality."

As Pringle's sister brand, 1815 undoubtedly shares DNA with the mainline. "Both are sophisticated, but 1815 is less precious. It has more edge," says Waight Keller. She points to two men's pieces, both chunky salt-and-pepper-effect knits. One is from the mainline; the other from 1815. The latter transforms a sober cashmere roll-neck into a snowstorm-style cashmere wool mix cardigan.

This swagger is what makes 1815 the rebellious younger sibling adopted by pop bands such as Dirty Pretty Things and The Kooks. As she mentions the young musicians, a smile betrays Waight Keller's excitement at the brand so squarely hitting its target.

There are 150 pieces in both the men's and women's 1815 ranges and prices are roughly half that of the mainline, at between £40 and £200. The launch is being seeded through select department stores and independents, but the brand has ambitions to grow its distribution in the future, making it easier for independents to buy into 1815.

Consumers will also find it easier to get their hands on the brand as the company develops a retail fascia for 1815. The strategy will kick off with a store in Asia, with Pringle also planning to rebrand its store at Bluewater in Kent to the 1815 fascia.

Waight Keller has scaled the heights - her CV shows stints at Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren, before being head-hunted by Tom Ford for Gucci. But what is she most proud of? "That's easy - my work at Pringle. I thought there would be more resistance to what I wanted to achieve, but there was none. I'm so proud of how we are making this small British brand into a global one."

PRINGLE REJUVENATED

Before 1815 was born, Waight Keller's first mission at Pringle was to update the mainline and drive out the ghosts of golf, which included a 20-year sponsorship deal with golfer Nick Faldo that ended four years before she joined.

Harrods luxury collections buyer Rebecca Dobbin says the shake-up has been a success. She describes today's Pringle customer as "young, sophisticated, high class and aware of trends," adding that Pringle has risen to a new level from its classic appearance only a few years ago. "The evening dresses are strong with great detail, and the hand-knitted sweaters and cardigans have been winners," she adds.

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