Arcadia boss Sir Philip Green led tributes to Browns co-founder Sidney Burstein, who died last week aged 93.
Burstein, who founded the iconic London indie designer department store in 1970 with his wife Joan, known as Mrs B, was described by Green and others in the fashion industry as an eccentric character whose influence on the sector will long survive him.
Green told Drapers: “When I first met Sidney in 1982, he said to me, ‘Have you got three As?’ So I asked him, ‘Three As in what?’ and he said, ‘Are you aware, alert and alive?’ That was typical of him. He was very alert and was always walking the shopfloor. He had a great relationship with his staff: they all loved him and he loved the business. He loved fashion. He was larger than life, very philosophical and very funny. He loved a good debate. I’d often sit down and debate issues with him.”
Harold Tillman, chairman of the British Fashion Council and owner of premium retailer Jaeger and British Heritage Brand Aquascutum, said: “Sidney was devoted to fashion for the whole of his life, from his Neatawear [women’s young fashion] chain to the establishment of Browns.
“He and Joan and of course the whole Burstein family have had a huge impact on the industry and his influence will now live on through his family’s management of Browns.”
Philip Start, co-owner of London designer indie Start, said: “I knew Sidney well in the 1990s. He wasn’t greedy and was happy with what he’d achieved at Browns. He used to say, ‘Some people try to own the world but I need one meal at a time, what’s the point in having more?’
“Sidney was a fun man and an eccentric character. He and Joan were a great team. Although she gets the credit for most of the achievements at Browns, Sidney was the backbone behind a lot of the decisions she made and as such was instrumental in a lot of the risks Browns took to get where they are.”
Sidney and Joan Burstein built Browns on an innovative yet sometimes risky strategy, backing emerging labels and often taking on new designers.
One such designer was Mary Katrantzou, who runs the eponymous luxury label. She said: “Sidney Burstein was a true visionary. He and Mrs B revolutionised what a boutique should be. They took on designers such as Alexander McQueen and Christopher Kane straight after graduation, which is a big risk. Browns was my first stockist and the stamp of approval you get when they embrace you as part of the Browns family opens doors internationally.”
Sidney Burstein co-founded Browns in 1970, but his fashion retail career began long before that, when he, Joan and his brother Willie opened a lingerie shop, Wilbuer, in Apple Market, Kingston upon Thames, in 1948. Sidney Burstein then ran Neatawear in the 1950s and 1960s, again with Joan and Willie, before the chain went bust in the mid-1960s.
Undeterred, the Burstein trio went on to open a fashion indie on Kensington High Street in southwest London called Feathers, before Sidney and Joan’s son Simon suggested they take over the business where he was working.
The small South Molton Street store, called Browns after its owner Sir William Piggott-Brown, has grown into a force to be reckoned with in the global designer market, with five interconnecting shops and the additional edgier Browns Focus and Labels for Less stores in the same street. The group also comprises Browns Bride on Hinde Street, Browns Shoe Boutique on Brooke Street and a smaller Browns store on Sloane Street.
Simon Burstein took over as chief executive of Browns in 2008 but his father remained active in the business until his death after a long illness on April 5.