South African retailer The Foschini Group (TFG) is planning to open 100 UK stores and concessions for Damsel in a Dress after acquiring the womenswear brand this week.
TFG, which also owns Phase Eight and Whistles, also intends to open 100 Damsel in a Dress stores and concessions internationally. It did not give a timeframe for the expansion.
Damsel in a Dress does not currently have any stores, but trades from concessions in 33 John Lewis stores and one in Arnotts in Dublin, as well as online with John Lewis and House of Fraser. It also sells through damselinadress.co.uk.
“We see it growing substantially,” said Ben Barnett, who is chief executive of Phase Eight and TFG’s UK holding company TFG London, and chairman of Whistles. “Online will be a significant part of that but we’re looking for flagship stores, so we’ll be moving into the physical environment.”
The group will use its international relationships to open Damsel in a Dress stores abroad, specifically in Germany, Spain and the Middle East.
“We’re in 25 countries with Phase Eight and both Phase Eight and Whistles are both performing well [internationally], so we think Damsel in a Dress will do well abroad,” said Barnett.
Barnett said TFG has the resources to take Damsel in a Dress, which had sales of more than £7m in 2016, “a long way” within the next 12 months.
“The Damsel team has done a great job with the brand so far so it’s now up to us to take it to its next phase in life and grow it into an international brand,” he added.
”We have the financial resources to support our partners and really invest in the brands. We can enable the teams to get on with growing the brands without having to worry about cashflow for stores and online.”
Victoria Snepp, previously senior womenswear buyer at Phase Eight, is the new creative director of Damsel in a Dress and leads the existing team of 12, following the founders’ departure from the business.
Phase Eight brand director Judith Bremner will oversee its strategic direction while retaining her existing role.
Autumn 17 will be the first collection for the brand under the new leadership and will launch in July. New branding and a new website will coincide with the launch.
Bremner said there was a gap in the TFG portfolio for Damsel in a Dress: “It does something that neither Phase Eight nor Whistles covers. The Damsel customer is more sassy and bolder than the Phase Eight shopper – she likes a statement print.
“Animal print, for example, doesn’t feature for Phase Eight, but will be key for Damsel. We have a clear view on where we want to go with the product proposition.”
Bremner said the team is giving the label a “stronger identity” for autumn 17 with a focus on premium quality, statement prints and tailoring “with an edge”. Its main high street competitors will be Karen Millen, Reiss, Ted Baker and LK Bennett.
Price points will stay largely the same as they are now. For autumn 17, retail prices will range from £49 for a jersey top to £299 for a coat.
Damsel in a Dress was launched in 2010 by Alison Mansell, Amanda Seabourne and Marshall Doctors.
The Hargreaves family, which owns Matalan, Wolsey, Nicole Farhi and Fenn Wright Manson among other fashion firms, bought a 50% stake in Damsel in a Dress in 2013.
The Foschini Group agreed in January 2015 to acquire 85% of Poppy Holdco, which trades as Phase Eight, from private equity firm TowerBrook. The deal valued Phase Eight at £238m. The South African retailer went on to acquire a substantial majority shareholding in Whistles for an undisclosed sum last March.
Barnett said TFG London was on the look-out for more acquisitions in the UK, including potentially menswear firms.
“Our parent company TFG was built on growing brands and bringing new labels on board, so they have a similar aspiration here in the UK. They have the resources to back further investment and acquisitions and to grow the London business.
“We’re looking at each case individually to see what will work for us, as we want to create strong brands.”