The Oasis creative director has proved she has an innate ability to select a winning style for the feminine yet fashionable high street womenswear chain
If the expression “keeping up with the Joneses” was used within the fashion industry, then it would surely be directed at the Oasis creative director Nadia Jones and her brother Kim, creative director of luxury goods label Dunhill. The pair have two of the most enviable jobs in fashion, and one wonders if they come from a family of incredibly talented, artistic types.
“My dad is a hydrogeologist,” says Nadia Jones, initially putting an end to that theory. “But my mum used to draw beautiful pictures of princesses for me and make her own clothes, so I learnt how to knit and crochet. I used to buy The Face and ID [magazines] and loved going to jumble sales. I’m five years older than Kim and would take him shopping with me and tell him to buy Levi’s - I was really bossy.”
Jones’s uncle is photographer Colin Jones, who danced in the English Royal Ballet before becoming a photojournalist. Creativity, then, is clearly in the genes and helps to explain Jones’s innate ability to pick a winning style. Her interview with Drapers is interrupted by her design team, who ask her to edit a range of prints they have picked for spring 11. Jones needs only seconds to say “yes” or “no” to each design.
“You have to have a sixth sense,” she says, when trying to explain the rationale behind backing certain trends and adapting them commercially. “We have a ‘design week’ where we shut ourselves away and the team can be truly creative. My role is to always push. Once I left college I wanted to do high street but with quality.”
The key to that combination lies in the detail - and in sheer determination - says Jones, who admits to having a button obsession. “They can’t be cheap,” she laughs, explaining how small details can lift the quality of a product. “At Next I had to design 200,000 polyester blouses, but I wanted them to look like crêpe, so I drove our Hong Kong [sourcing] office mad. I’m a bit geeky.”
But she needs to be. Oasis and sister chain Karen Millen are the two biggest chains in parent company Aurora Fashions’ portfolio, which also includes Warehouse and Coast. In October, Aurora said it had annual global sales of about £720m and net debt of about £110m. Oasis represents a large chunk of that, with some 242 stores in the UK and 235 overseas.
Luckily, Jones has none of the airs and graces that often characterise some designers, and is the first to point out the importance of being commercial. “My job is to make fashion credible,” she says. “I’m the elephant they roll out because I remember what sold years ago. I joined in 1997 when Oasis had only 50 stores and the team was led by Maurice Bennett - they were all incredibly talented. You have to know your best-sellers and be able to update them to make them fashionable. You have to design with your customer in mind.”
But who is the Oasis customer, exactly? The autumn 10 collection, which was previewed to the press last month, marked a sharp contrast to spring 10. Next season, the Oasis shopper will be treated to pared-down silhouettes in luxe fabrics, compared with the current collection, which features a range of different stories geared towards a more girly customer.
Jones insists that the autumn 10 collection isn’t more grown-up than spring; instead it reflects larger, international catwalk trends. Aurora chairman Derek Lovelock agrees and both have a point - February’s catwalk shows unveiled a new mood in fashion, one with a sophisticated, less flamboyant aesthetic and more commercial focus.
“Our customer has a certain mindset rather than a particular age,” says Jones. “She’s savvy and does her research - shopping is her hobby. Autumn 10 is a more focused collection.”
It will also be a more price competitive one, following feedback from customers that Oasis needed a better price architecture. “We’ll introduce a good, better, best structure, and a silk trim vest that was £15 will now be £10.”
Jones is pleased with the feedback from both press and the rest of the Oasis team to the autumn 10 collection. “We’re going to have an amazing coat season,” she says, and the retailer will certainly offer an impressive range of styles, from an £85 simple camel design to Burberry-inspired shearling jackets. “Sarah Mower [long-time fashion journalist and ambassador for emerging talent at the British Fashion Council] said the collection didn’t look high street - it looked designer.”
As for Oasis’s rivals, Jones admits that Warehouse is the closest, followed by Zara and Topshop. “But we’re the girl and they’re the tomboy,” she says, explaining the difference between Oasis and Warehouse. “We’ll sell a bit of utility; they’ll sell shed-loads. We’re cleaner, they’re more urban.”
Lovelock adds: “Oasis is looking for the trend but translated in a feminine, flattering way. Equally important is the fit, cut and detail.”
Lovelock admits that the business has been working with a brand consultancy to better understand the customer and market changes, with the results seen in a more focused autumn 10 collection.
Jones insists that the Oasis and Warehouse teams don’t work together and that Oasis has its own, unique identity. “Gemma [Metheringham, joint managing director of Karen Millen] is a friend of mine, but we’re rivals too.”
For now, Jones says customers are responding well to spring 10. “We backed maxi dresses this season and they’re flying out from £35. Jersey is performing well too and dresses are phenomenal - we’ve really established ourselves as a great dress option.”
She adds that design plays a key role in all high street retailers’ strategies now. “A high street designer has to be so knowledgeable, so commercial and able to forecast future trends.” It’s a big ask, but one Jones seems able to respond to.
What consumer trends have you picked up on this season?
The consumer mindset is changing compared with last year. Shoppers have a buy now, wear now mentality. No one is investing in their winter coat in August anymore. Shoppers either want wardrobe staples or affordable luxury.
Aside from the creative aspect, what do you enjoy about your job?
The people who work here. They are really talented and go the extra mile - we all work as a team.
How is Oasis’s online business performing? It’s our biggest store and it’s doing fantastically well. Becoming the first retailer to launch an iPhone app last year was really important for us because it showed how pioneering we are.
Aside from Warehouse and Zara, do you think Oasis has other competitors?
We nibble at Ted Baker, French Connection and Miss Selfridge.
Are you close to your brother Kim?
We may not see each other regularly but we’re very close. I think he’s really talented. When he was interviewed by Drapers, I sent a copy to our granny.
What would be your dream job (apart from your current position)?
I thought about doing architecture but when I finished my A-levels I got an A in art but didn’t do as well in maths and economics.
I couldn’t decide, then my dad got fed up and asked: ‘What are you going to do?’ So I said fashion. He hit the roof - it was much easier for Kim later on.
2007 Creative director, Oasis
1999 Design director, Oasis
1996 Senior designer - dresses and wovens, Next
1993 Designer - knitwear, jersey, casualwear, Richards
1992 Roles within casual trousers and print skirts, Dewhirst (supplier to Marks & Spencer)
1992 First class honours BA Fashion Design, Kingston University