The founder of landmark fashion brand All Saints explains how he fell in love with fashion again during a break from the business before launching Bolongaro Trevor.
Stuart Trevor is not feeling himself and he is the first to admit it.
“I’m sorry, all this was meantto be a bit of fun but it has gone ballistic,” he says, looking on edge.
In five hours’ time Trevor is relaunching the iconic Blitz club night, a tribute to the days of New Romantic music, Flock Of Seagulls hair styles and glamorous Goth-rock fashion in London’s East End.
“The stress of organising this reminds me of the old days when we used to do catwalk shows,” he says. “I would have to take the day off because I’d get so nervous.”
Trevor calls Drapers the next day to say that the launch of the club night went with-out a hitch, adding yet another string to his creative bow. Whether it is through the resurrection of a legendary club night or via the launch of his brand Bolongaro Trevor, after 22 years in the fashion industry Trevor is still regarded as a purveyor of cool.
As a young designer, Trevor trained at Nottingham Trent University and was awarded the coveted Smirnoff Fashion Award for his menswear designs. The event was televised and it so happened that David Reiss, owner of high street chain Reiss, was watching the programme.
Reiss called the college and offered Trevor a job as menswear designer, which led to Trevor staying with Reiss for seven years, where he became head of menswear.
“David was a great teacher, I really enjoyed the opportunity,” says Trevor. “The business was made up of mostly suiting at the time. Reiss wanted to use me to grow the business. He wanted someone young and interesting working for him.”
After leaving Reiss in 1994, Trevor began a small start-up label called All Saints, which eventually evolved into a landmark fashion brand in the 1990s and remains a high street leader today.
From its inception, the brand was embraced by style leaders, with the characteristic religious iconography, draped jerseys, sexy structured tailoring and skinny jeans evolving into All Saints’ signature style.
“We were designing clothes that we wanted to wear and that we could not buy anywhere else,” recalls Trevor. “We became designers’ designers, all of the kids who dreamt of being cool fashion designers decided they were going to wear something that stood out from the crowd. People wanted something different.”
The profile of All Saints was rocketing and the business caught the eye of Kevin Stanford, a serial retail deal maker and the co-founder of womenswear chain Karen Millen.
“We had built the company up over the years with turnover at about £13 million with a £2.2m profit. We were looking for a business partner to come in, help us go forward and take the business to the next level,” Trevor says.
Attracted by Stanford’s business acumen, Trevor says he went into business with the entrepreneur in January 2005. But Trevor’s relationship with All Saints ended in December that year.
He says of the buyout deal: “We sold all our shares in All Saints to Kevin Stanford. He was the majority shareholder, having already bought out the other partners that year. We originally had no intention to leave but we were made an offer we couldn’t refuse.”
After the buyout Trevor and his partner Kait Bolongaro, the former creative director of All Saints, took four months off to contemplate their next move. They thought about buying a Winnebago and driving to Tokyo and the idea of emigrating to Melbourne in Australia was also mooted.
Severing their ties to London was easier said than done, particularly as they were raising a family in the capital and still loved its fashion and music scene.
“During that break we fell in love with fashion again,” says Trevor. “We launched Bolongaro Trevor because fashion is our passion, it is what interests us. People might say it is a fickle industry, but when you walk in a shop or a market and you see product you haven’t seen before, it lifts your heart. I think fashion is art and a form of expression, and that is what we do. You can make someone happy and that is great.”
The pair met at trade show Première Vision in 1995. By Trevor’s own admission Kait brings a level headed approach to the partnership and along with their three children the duo reside in an achingly hip pad decked out with taxidermy, black tiling and designer wallpaper just north of London’s trendy Hoxton.
“The idea of Bolongaro Trevor is to create something the children can eventually get involved in,” says Trevor. “They can start by packing boxes like I did though. The best thing for me is to spend time with my children. When we started the brand Kait became pregnant six months into the project. Trying to juggle that was hard, but we did it. The ideal would be to have a family business and grow it. I’d like to take this further.”
Bolongaro Trevor seems older than its years due to the progress it has made in the four seasons since its launch. The brand hit the market in spring 07 with a collection of vintage-inspired tops and dresses and sales have grown 40% season-on-season since then. Turnover stands at £1.2m and the brand has 100 stockists.
The brand is run from an east London headquarters by a team of six with manufacturing in India, Portugal and also England. “There’s little factory in Leyton, east London, and we have been working with it since All Saints,” Trevor says proudly.
“When you are producing 50 to 1,000 pieces it is cheaper to make them in England. Once you have shipped the fabric, trims and added on courier charges, you can be better off making it in England. We are patriotic and try and play up on our Britishness so making it close to home is important. There are always production issues but if you can run around in your car it makes it easier to be hands-on.”
“When I look back at when I first came to London and started working, people like David [Reiss] and Joseph [Ettedgui] were very hands-on people. Most people who have been successful are hands-on,” Trevor says.
The autumn 08 Bolongaro Trevor range has matured into a more complete collection comprising up to eight styles in each category.
On womenswear, silk chiffon dresses, semi-structured tailoring and draped silhouettes combine to create an elegant yet directional aesthetic. The menswear features Trevor’s trademark jerseys, skinny denims, detailed slim-fit shirts and shrunken tailoring.
The brand has been picked up by celebrities and stylists – model Daisy Lowe, Courtney Love and Liam Gallagher have all worn the label. The celeb following has helped raise the brand’s profile and the fashion press are also taking notice. “Grazia is such a major thing now,” says Trevor looking bemused.
“On the back of Grazia using one of our shirts we were inundated with phone calls. We had an incredible response.”
In order to build on the response the brand received from the market and the media, Bolongaro Trevor and young fashion brand Religion joined forces in September 2007 and launched a new retail concept, called B+R.
Initially the partnership had three stores, two in London and one in the Victorian Quarter in Leeds selling both brands side-by-side. However, as the credit crunch hit the high street, trading at the Leeds store, which was turning over on average £20,000 a week, has fallen in recent months. The rent on the shop has risen and the store will close.
“We had an offer for the lease we just couldn’t refuse,” he says. “We had plans to open more stores but due to the current climate we are going to put them on hold.”
Going forward, building the Bolongaro Trevor brand is the focus and its commercial yet distinctive handwriting has seen the brand secure an impressive network of
wholesale accounts selling the menswear and womenswear ranges globally.
The likes of Selfridges in London, Atrium in New York and Fred Segal in Los Angeles are all stockists alongside a clutch of quality independents such as Wolverhampton-based Diffusion, and York independent Sarah Coggles buying into the brand.
“I think it is going to be a massive label,” says Mark Bage, owner of Sarah Coggles, which stocks the menswear and womenswear range. “It has been a key brand this season and has been flying out of the store. It has had one of the best sell-throughs and attracts fans of Vivienne Westwood’s Anglomania.
“I think Kait and Stuart get that commercial look right. It can be worn kooky or dressy and it is sexy without being tarty. I think the customer loyalty is going to be strong in the future. It could be one of the brands to watch out for, as long as it has plenty of funding.”
Selfridges in London has also bought into the men’s collection and assistant menswear buyer Sam Lobban says it is a good performer and needs to build on the collection to continue the momentum. “The brand sits in our men’s contemporary floor and it is a good mid-price label. T-shirts are the strongest part of the range having sold out in three weeks. That is the only category I am repeating on,” he says.
“The brand has a good non-high street vibe. It needs to concentrate on growing with strong pieces across each category in the collection. That is when you create a solid commercial brand with its own identity. If it does that Bolongaro Trevor will build on its success.”
Next season the brand has introduced a collection of men’s fashion-led jersey polo shirts with design details such as stud fastenings, which will build on the strength of the T-shirts, and knitwear will also be an area that will be built up going forward.
However, Trevor admits that at times coping with the demand is tough as the orders exceed the capacity to produce the items. “Our sales agents tell us that retailers are selling out of so much stuff. We need the structure to be able to act on it and take it forward. We are happy to carry on as we are but it’s frustrating sometimes.”
It is for this reason that Trevor is, for the second time in his branded career, looking for a financial partner. “We are looking for investment to grow the business,” he says. “The market today is different than it was five years ago. We are looking for the right type of partner to take it to the next level. We have laid the ground work and achieved a lot and everybody in the business knows the brand, whereas with All Saints it took 10 years to achieve that following.”
2006 Sets up Bolongaro Trevor with his partner Kait Bolongaro
2005 Sells All Saints
1994 Leaves Reiss as head of menswear and launches All Saints
1986 Lands his first job, working for David Reiss at Reiss as menswear designer
1981 Leaves school