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Indies see windows of opportunity

Jessica Brown

Department stores and the internet are now “100 times” more powerful routes to market than destination boutiques, said Maria Luisa Poumaillou this week, following the shock announcement that she would close her cult designer indie Maria Luisa in Paris in August after 22 years.

Department stores and the internet are now “100 times” more powerful routes to market than destination boutiques, said Maria Luisa Poumaillou this week, following the shock announcement that she would close her cult designer indie Maria Luisa in Paris in August after 22 years.

Instead she will focus on working with French department store Printemps and a web venture to debut with www.corner.com later this year.

Maria Luisa has long rubbed shoulders with the likes of fellow Parisian indies Colette and Merci, Milanese boutique 10 Corso Como and London’s very own Browns in inspiring fashion leaders worldwide with its bold pick of young designers. Poumaillou’s words and the disappearance of the store in Rue Rouget de L’Isle mark the end of an era.

Last week, a conversation with one of the UK’s leading super-indies threw up a similar conundrum. “Store performance is dire but the internet is flying,” he said, warning that many traditional bricks-and-mortar indies would not see Christmas because trading conditions since the general election had sunk to levels “worse than” post the Lehman Brothers collapse in October 2008.

Meanwhile, etailer Asos posted record results (again) this week, with pre-tax profits up 44% to £20.3m. Interestingly, it is in the throes of launching a “marketplace” selling platform for indies.

So is the destination boutique dead? Not according to Kantar Worldpanel Fashion (see News, p3 for its positive autumn 10 outlook for brands and indies).

Poumaillou is right to say the changes to retail have been “colossal”, but there is life in indies yet. In fact, as prices rise and shoppers trade up, the indie market is ripe with opportunity. Much of that opportunity is online - a window to the world - as footfall continues to fall. But a window on your local high street and face-to-face service remains a highly valued retail format.

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