Woolrich’s creative director tells Marie Davies why the premium menswear brand’s heritage is vital to its global lifestyle ambitions
Woolrich is celebrating 180 years in the business. As creative director, how are you steering the brand’s future?
Woolrich has such a rich archive to reinterpret for today. It has product with a purpose in terms of its quality and functionality and this is something I always ask my designers to consider when building a new range. Over the past five years we have been developing as a global lifestyle brand and we want to continue this.
How have you done this?
We played with the iconic designs of Americana [reflecting Woolrich’s US heritage], and began broadening our offer by strengthening and uniting our product categories. About 10 years ago our European market was strong, particularly the Italian market, but we didn’t have a global presence. We didn’t want to start lowering the brand profile by over-distributing so the only way to grow was to find new markets.
There has been a huge trend for heritage over the past couple of seasons in the menswear market. How do you see this evolving?
There is a risk when you focus on heritage of just looking at the past, but innovation is just as important. We are constantly looking at upgrading our traditional materials. In terms of identity we look to our heritage but if you stop innovating, sooner or later you will encounter problems.
Who else do you admire in your market?
Moncler does a good job in my opinion and is also moving from being an outerwear brand to a lifestyle brand. In terms of strategy as opposed to product, we look to Ralph Lauren. We have to be conscious of what it has done and how it has successfully made the transition to a global lifestyle brand.
Woolrich exited the UK between 2003 and 2006. Why?
The UK has always been a difficult market as it has a good branded offer and is sensitive to price point. We decided to stay out of the market, as we weren’t happy with our agent, and focus on Germany, Holland and Belgium while looking for the right UK partner [to return with].
How is business at the moment in the premium menswear market?
Woolen Mills [Woolrich’s premium sub-brand] has an emphasis on simplicity and authenticity and is made totally in the US. Its Americana heritage has had a fantastic reaction with UK premium menswear stores and has allowed us to get into some of the most important independents such as Oi Polloi in Manchester and The Shop at Bluebird in Chelsea, west London.
How much potential for expansion is there in the UK?
At the Woolen Mills level there is a smaller amount as it is more directional and stores want regional exclusivity, but we still have a lot of stores to cover with John Rich & Bros [Woolrich’s mainline]. The UK market likes the integrity of product so the expectation of brands is big in this market and we want to position ourselves as best we can.
How do you relax?
Spending time with my family and travelling in my VW camper. I also relax while fishing from my boat at the seaside.
What was the last item you bought?
A [Japanese denim label] 45rpm sweater in Tokyo and a beautiful book on vintage cycling in Paris.
What is your favourite part of your job?
Travelling and meeting talented people.
Where do you like to shop?
Tokyo (pictured) for the Japanese sense to innovate heritage products and New York for understanding the trends that major players are following.
Andrea Cane is creative director of premium menswear brand Woolrich