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Lee Cooper

The original UK denim brand hits a hundred this year, with centennial plans creating a buzz around its repositioning.

When Lee Cooper enrolled French ‘It’ girl Lou Doillon to design and front her own line for the brand, it generated column inches on both sides of the Channel. But that was just for starters. In its centenary year, the US-owned, British-born denim brand, with offices in Slough and Paris, is cranking up its newsworthiness.

Lee Cooper has roped in designers, celebrities and sports heroes to design one-offs for a charity auction in aid of the Red Cross. The list includes designer Paco Rabanne, fashion magazine WAD and athletics star Linford Christie, with the brand offering support for retailers that want to piggyback the scheme.

It is all designed to raise awareness of Lee Cooper’s repositioning. Previously owned by Matalan, which had pulled the brand from its 400-plus UK accounts and installed it as the retailer’s in-store denim label, the brand was acquired by Florida investment company Sun Capital Partners and has traded upwards with a three-tier product programme. The Originals line takes care of the classic five-pocket market; the Red Diamond range (a nod to the brand’s logo) is pitched higher to do battle with Energie and G-Star; and Platinum is aimed squarely at the top end and includes the Lou Doillon range and another by Jean-Charles de Castelbajac.

Price points are intended to be competitive. “Pound for pound, we want to be the best value in the market,” says marketing and licensing boss Andy Rigg. With Paris-based marketing manager Audrey Beylemans, Rigg has toiled to ramp up the brand’s profile.

“We invited the Cooper family to the Paris launch,” he says. “Brand founder Morris Cooper’s great, great grandson Tim was so taken with the project that he quit his job (he was working for Prime Minister Gordon Brown) to work for Audrey in Paris. He didn’t care about how much he would get paid.”

But the brand’s activity is not just a PR push – Rigg says the product has been well received by buyers. “If warm feelings generated cash, we’d be fine,” he says, but he knows the next hurdle will be vital. “The difficult prospect is key indie and department store accounts. The challenge is that the denim trade is saturated – there are a lot of brands doing a good job, but we have to dislodge them. The UK market is underdeveloped for us in indies, but there’s room to grow.”

Rigg says China, India and eastern Europe are all big growth ventures for the brand, but the time has also come to enter the US. “The brand has not been in the US before – there was an agreement with denim brand Lee that Lee Cooper would not trade there. But that’s expired and it’s a big opportunity.”

In the next year, Rigg says the brand will have created “a massive PR buzz”. Beylemans adds: “The industry will know who we are and what the brand stands for. This is only the start. Japanese retailer Isetan has taken the brand on, and such a well-respected retailer helps increase the brand’s desirability.”

Lee Cooper 0033 1 44 76 82 16

Number of UK accounts that have reintroduced Lee Cooper over the past 18 months
£300m: Overall global turnover for the brand, including licences
70: Number of territories globally in which the brand sells

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