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The Drapers Interview - Pier Paolo Righi

Karl Lagerfeld chief executive Pier Paolo Righi on why it was time to add a UK store to the brand’s retail kingdom.

From the number of photographers crowding outside 145-147 Regent Street, you would think the Duchess of Cambridge was out shopping with Prince George, but the level of interest in the first Karl Lagerfeld store in the UK is testament to the curiosity the brand and its famous founder evoke.

“The interesting thing with Karl Lagerfeld himself is he’s such a recognisable, iconic personality,” says the brand’s chief executive Pier Paolo Righi on the store’s opening day last week. “Everybody knows him, awareness is very high and people are very curious about him and want to find out what the brand is about. Curiosity is high and so we have a lot of people looking for us.”

With 26 worldwide stockists including Colette in Paris and Printemps in Marseille, the Karl Lagerfeld business is one to be reckoned with. But its presence in the UK is only small, with concessions in Harrods and Selfridges and a presence on etailer Net-A-Porter. In the past 12 months the menswear and womenswear label has made a concerted effort to focus on its retail strategy, and the London store is Karl Lagerfeld’s 17th in a flurry of openings across the globe from Europe to the Far East. “Our strategy is very much to manage spaces ourselves [as opposed to wholesaling] and to grow with a retail strategy either owned and operated or with partners,” explains Righi.

And this retail agenda looks set to be maintained. “We will continue with the fast opening pace. However, for us it is important that we find the right locations and apply the learnings we made last year.

“In the stores we have opened we have performed extremely well and to our expectations, with many above expectations, but there are still learnings in terms of the brand adjacencies and consumer profile. We will have to make sure that wherever we expand we are going to the locations that correspond to where we want to be.”

Karl Lagerfeld has stores in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Turkey and China - its five China stores opened in the last 12 months. “In China we have a joint venture, which we operate ourselves but we work with a partner that knows the local market very well,” he says. “It is good in the sense we can translate our concept ourselves as we want to in the market but at the same time we have the knowledge of the local partners. So we have the best of two worlds and therefore it’s good.” The business has established a partnership with Veronica Chou, president of brand management company Iconix China.

The next region Karl Lagerfeld has its eye on is the Middle East, with stores in Saudi Arabia and Qatar planned for later this year. It is also set to launch its own global transactional website in the next 12 months.

Karl Lagerfeld’s Regent Street entrance is the latest in a series of high-profile openings on the London thoroughfare over the past 18 months. It is now home to US retailer J Crew’s first UK menswear and womenswear store, Burberry’s flagship and Longchamp’s third London store.

David Shaw, head of the Regent Street portfolio at landlord The Crown Estate, says the newest arrival - in a space formerly occupied by Hackett - is good news for the district: “Regent Street is proud of its retail renaissance over the last decade and the decision of Karl Lagerfeld to open on our street is a great endorsement to our vision and retail execution.”

Righi, who joined two and a half years ago from Nike, says the opening is one of great importance for the business. “It’s the window to the world as it has a large international audience,” he says. “However, London in itself has a large opportunity that goes beyond one store, that’s for sure.” Although hinting at a second London store Righi would not expand further, saying there were no concrete plans.

The UK debut will raise the company’s profile, according to Nicola Ko, senior luxury analyst at consultancy Ledbury Research.

“[The brand] has always been overshadowed, to an extent, by Karl Lagerfeld himself - as a creative being in his own right, and also [in his other roles] as designer for Chanel and Fendi,” she says.

Ko says Regent Street is also a strong choice in terms of location, as it is a key tourist destination: “Regent Street has flourished under [Business Improvement District] New West End Company and attracted brands such as Burberry and Michael Kors. The clientele of these brands is younger and more digital-savvy so this location is a great showcase for Karl Lagerfeld’s accessible luxury collections.”

And these collections are more accessible than you might think, retailing from £40 for a baseball cap up to £1,120 for a rabbit fur and leather jacket.

For spring 14 the range is dominated by a monochrome palette with pops of bubblegum pink and cobalt blue. Leather features heavily, particularly on jackets, and key pieces include tailored tuxedo dresses and cotton sweatshirts for woman while the menswear features a wide selection of suiting.

The business has also been exploring opportunities beyond clothing; earlier this year it launched a line of fragrances and last year a watch collection.

“We’re giving accessible, affordable designer luxury with a key focus on accessories,” says Righi. “We are expanding the accessories offer and have grown the offer on bags. We’ve had an amazing response and will continue to expand it.”

Righi says the non-clothing side makes up around half of the Karl Lagerfeld business at present, but that he sees potential for bags and accessories to account for a much larger proportion in the future.

In another brand extension, earlier this month it was announced that Lagerfeld will design a 270-room hotel in Macau on the southern tip of China, and Righi hints other similar projects could be in the pipeline. “For Karl it is also another great opportunity and challenge to design an entire hotel according to his DNA. It’s the first project but could be one of several.”

Despite being the head designer and creative director of Chanel and Fendi, Lagerfeld is creative director of his own label and is very much involved. Righi says he has an influence across all design elements, from clothing to store concepts.

Considering Lagerfeld is now 80, are there any signs of him retiring? “No, not at all,” laughs Righi. “I will probably retire before him.”

A designer boutique that’s Lager than life

The cult of Karl: outside on opening day

The cult of Karl: outside on opening day

Cool but not cold,” is how Righi describes the concept behind the Regent Street store. It is as sleek as any other designer store but digitally minded and with touches of Lagerfeld irreverence.

The white walls of the 2,691 sq ft shop provide a stark contrast to the shiny black shelving, dark fireplace and mirrored detailing.

There is also a mixture of textures throughout the shop, with plush carpets in some parts, stained black wooden flooring in others and fluffy charcoal-coloured armchairs.

Alongside the womenswear collection, which occupies the ground floor, and the menswear downstairs, a large proportion of the shop is dedicated to accessories, handbags, footwear, perfume and even the occasional Karl Lagerfeld doll.

There is also a significant digital presence, with an iPad attached to each clothing rail, enabling the shopper to browse the full collection. The changing rooms are also fitted with iPads so customers can take selfies in their Karl Lagerfeld outfits and upload them directly to social media.

Lagerfeld’s presence radiates throughout, from the monochrome palette he is famed for, to the glitzy gold staircase, to the cushions embroidered with his face - it feels like a glimpse into the fashion Kaiser’s world.

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