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Lacoste owner must 'reinvent' The Kooples

The acquisition of The Kooples by Swiss group Maus Frères provides fresh impetus for the French fashion brand to reinvent itself and deliver “something special” to justify its high price points, industry experts have told Drapers.

The group announced earlier this week that it had purchased The Kooples. It now plans to add the men’s and womenswear label to its international brands division, which includes Lacoste, Gant and Aigle.

“As our president Thierry Guibert stated, acquiring The Kooples is part of Maus Frères’ strategy of developing and acquiring premium yet affordable luxury brands with the goal of creating an international fashion and luxury group”, Fergus Patterson, managing director of northern Europe at Gant, said.

“Maus Frères must have researched The Kooples and looked at its other brands and decided it fits into what they want for the group going forward. It’s an interesting sector to be in because you’ve got LVMH taking on luxury brands, but I’m not sure who else is focusing on the affordable luxury sector and acquiring new brands.”

Patterson added: “We don’t see it as competition to Gant – instead, particularly in the current climate, it’s nice to be part of a company that feels confident in retail brands. It’s nice to work for a business that’s growing and expanding: so, it’s not a bad position to be in.”

However, industry experts have told Drapers the brand must reinvent itself and offer a clear identity to succeed in an overcrowded market.

One retail expert, who has worked for several retail giants across the UK, said the brand sits within an increasingly difficult premium/sub-designer market, with more competition than ever before from brands such as Maje, Sandro, Me&Em, Ba&sh, All Saints, Cos and Ted Baker, among others.

She said: “Their initial angle of ’a couple, both dressed in The Kooples’ with a focus on sharp tailoring was very innovative at the time – nobody else was doing anything quite like it. They have struggled to remain as innovative as time has gone on, and now their ranges are not so different from the competition as they were.”

She added that The Kooples is likely to have been sold because it had been struggling with margins and overall sales. “It has the same issues as other brands – expense of standalone sites in terms of rent/business rates plus other costs – lack of strong fashion trends, increased competition and balancing out bricks and mortar against ecommerce.

“I believe they will also have suffered from a decline in their concession business within department stores across Europe.” 

Retail analyst and author of Retail Therapy: Why The Retail Industry Is Broken – And What Can Be Done To Fix It , Mark Pilkington said: “It may be that the owners decided to get out while the going was good, and not wait for the cracks to show.”

In its announcement, The Kooples said that it had hired former Louis Vuitton vice-president Romain Guinier as the brand’s new chief executive.

Retail experts believe the new CEO needs to reinvent the brand and to offer “something special” to justify the price.

“The Kooples needs a very clear identity because I think this has been lost over recent years,” one retail analyst said.

“There is a place for the brand in the UK market, but in a reinvented form. The market is sadly not very ‘exciting’ at the moment – very much same old, same old, at price points from value through to designer.”

She added: “At the price points at which The Kooples operate, it’s important for them to bring something special, either in trend, or quality, or design, to justify the price.

“I also think the new team needs to think very carefully about price points now, in light of the competition and the fact that customers shop around brands and are less brand loyal than ever.”

Pilkington added: “The Maus Frères group is a fairly safe pair of hands for a fashion business like The Kooples: its better than being milked by a venture capital firm.

“On the other hand, there is nothing in its portfolio, nor the background of the new CEO that suggests the digital skills needed to take it forward in the teeth of the online revolution that is sweeping away a lot of retail brands.”

The Kooples was founded in 2008 by brothers Alexandre, Laurent and Raphaël Elicha. It reported a turnover of €227m (£195m) in 2018 and is sold in in 32 countries worldwide, primarily in Europe and the US.

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