Reiss launches its first sub-brand this week, aimed at a younger, edgier customer. Founder David Reiss (pictured left) and brand director Andy Rogers share their vision for the premium chain’s global future
About two-and-a-half years ago, David Reiss was in talks to sell the eponymous fashion chain he created 38 years ago to US fashion giant Liz Claiborne. He could have walked away £150 million richer, but something made him stop.
“I just woke up one morning and changed my mind,” he says. “I thought the timing wasn’t right. This business still had so much potential and I still had a strong vision of where I wanted to take the brand.”
Today, Reiss’s drive and passion are still the force behind the 56-strong premium high street business that has carved a niche for itself with its individual, clean, design-led handwriting.
The retailer’s latest development is the new Reiss 1971 sub-brand, which is set to launch this week. Aimed at a slightly younger customer than Reiss’s mainline, the range aims to bring an edgier, more youthful element to the product offer, and provide Reiss’s customers with its first significant denim range. Wholesaling the brand is being considered while standalone stores could also be on the cards.
David Reiss says: “We were very strong in certain areas – we had great tailoring and great womenswear and dresses, for example, but we were not so good on daywear and some other areas. We want to be cooler, edgier and provide a complete wardrobe.”
Reiss 1971 will also provide some entry-price points lower than the mainline. But David Reiss rejects the idea that appealing to increasingly price-conscious shoppers in the recession was a motivation for the launch. “There are some lower price points with Reiss 1971 but there are also some higher, more luxury price points,” he says. “If someone wants to spend £200 on a jacket, we want to make it look like a £500 jacket.”
For the year to January 31, 2008, sales at Reiss rose 18% to £67m but its operating profit fell to £8.8m from £9.8m, after investment in the UK and international infrastructure.
David Reiss declines to talk specific figures for this year but acknowledges that the economic downturn has inevitably had an affect. “I can’t deny it’s been challenging,” he says. “We took a view that the first half of the year would be relatively soft and that the second half would be more normal, and that’s what we’ve found. We are where we expected to be.”
Andy Rogers, who joined the business as brand director from designer brand Stella McCartney last year, has played a key part in the creation of the new sub-brand. Both David Reiss and Rogers are keen to make clear that the 1971 range is part of a much more comprehensive vision to develop the business into a truly global brand.
Rogers says: “We’ve looked at every part of the brand and the business to understand exactly what Reiss stands for, so we can develop its potential. You have to protect your brand and not give it away. We want to do everything in-house, from the marketing to the website development. The head office itself is like a stake in the sand. This is a statement for the next 10 years about where we want to go.”
Walking around the retailer’s headquarters in Barrett Street, central London, which it opened at the end of 2007 on the former site of the London College of Fashion, it is clear that this building is more than just a head office. It is a brand statement.
From the huge glass facade to the light-filled, airy modern spaces of the design studios, boardroom and buying areas, this is an office that would befit a global luxury brand, not just a high street chain.
The business has also been quietly building up its team with a raft of strategic new appointments, mainly from designer and luxury businesses.
In addition to the appointment of Rogers, David Reiss also appointed former Selfridges head of contemporary buying for womenswear, Lina Basma, into the new role of head of buying. Other recent appointments include Ruby Victor, who joined from the Gucci Group as head of brand communications. The design team has also been considerably beefed up.
But this does not mean David Reiss is now less “hands on” as an owner. It is clear one of the main criteria for joining the business is to understand and share his vision for the brand that shares his name. “When I get excited, everyone gets excited,” he explains.
And although Reiss 1971 is the business’s newest baby, David Reiss seems just as, if not more, excited about the retailer’s mainline. “We’re not a follower of fashion,” he says. “We are like a designer brand. We want to cater for a wider audience. We’ve worked on the pricing architecture and the product mix. Now, the product has to work in LA, Miami, Dubai and Hong Kong. Everything to do with the business and the product has got to have a reason behind it.”
The retailer’s first major print advertising campaign, set to break this autumn, features the Reiss mainline, rather than the new 1971 range. Rogers says: “There is a lot of respect for the brand. Everyone has bought Reiss clothes at some point. I bought my first suit at Reiss when I was 22. It had enough design intent but I could also wear it to work without looking staid. Now we want to communicate about Reiss more.”
The retailer has shot a video film to promote Reiss 1971 and has launched a competition in collaboration with style magazine Dazed & Confused asking readers to design a T-shirt for the new range which, if successful, will be sold in store.
Rogers has also helped revamp the brand’s website, which is set to relaunch in the next week, and a US web launch is planned later in the year.
As well as its 58 standalone stores in the UK and Republic of Ireland, Reiss has concessions in Selfridges, Harvey Nichols, Fenwick, John Lewis and Galeries Lafayette in Paris, and is sold online via Asos. There are also 10 company-owned stores in the US and 12 other international stores in the Middle East and Far East. More UK stores are planned for next year in Liverpool, Cardiff and the City of London.
Never say never
International expansion is still a long-term focus, although the economic downturn over the past few years has slowed down its progress. David Reiss says: “In the US they really have to understand the brand and this is more challenging outside big cities. Stores in the Middle East and Far East are doing very well. We were going to open a European flagship store in Copenhagen in Denmark last year, but the timing was wrong.”
A European store debut is planned for next year although no locations have been finalised. David Reiss is also hoping to launch the business in Australia some time next year.
And if he received another £150m offer, would the timing be better now that he has a strengthened team? “Never say never,” he jokes. “But I have a very strong vision and it is hard to
let go. But you have to have a new generation of excitement. We need this team if we want to get it right and it makes my life easier. I didn’t want a situation where people would think, ‘What happens if David Reiss goes?’ or that it was a one-man band. I had to know that if something happened, the business would be able to take its natural course.
“This year has been about consolidation and looking at the business to prepare for going forward. Last October [when retail sales collapsed across the world] was a wake-up call for everyone and just sped up the whole process that we had already begun. This autumn you’ll really see the result of it all. The mainline is looking great and for spring 10 it’s even better.”
2009 Launches sub-brand Reiss 1971
2005 First Reiss store in US opens
2002 Launches Reiss womenswear
1973 Takes full control of Reiss after death of his father
1971 Reiss is founded. Takes over family shop
2008 Joins Reiss as brand director
2000 Store planning and visual director, Stella McCartney
1998 Head of European visual merchandising, Tiffany & Co
1994 Head of visual merchandising for Tiffany & Co, Asprey Group
David Reiss Q&A
Who in fashion do you most admire and why?
It’s got to be anyone who sticks to their beliefs with conviction and determination. What Giorgio Armani and Ralph Lauren have done with their brands is truly exceptional.
What is the most successful product you have worked on?
There was a point early in the 1990s when we were selling shirts from our King’s Road store in west London at such a pace that as soon as they hit the floor they were selling out week
on week. In the end we licensed the shirts within the UK and they continued to achieve exceptional results.
Which is your favourite shop?
The Reiss Barrett Street store in central London. It took three years of planning, from purchasing the land to creating the building. Now, the stature and energy of the store continually excite and surprise me.
What has been the proudest moment of your career?
Winning the British Style Award for our womenswear collection and the Drapers Multiple Retailer of the Year Award in 2005. It was only three years into the womenswear collection and to receive such an accolade and recognition from the fashion industry at that stage was very rewarding.
What would be your dream job if you weren’t in fashion?
The other passion in my life is Arsenal Football Club. So, 30 years ago, it would have been to be a player. Ten years ago I’d have loved to be manager; now I’d settle nicely into the chairman’s position.