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Q&A: Emma Wisden, European managing director, Urban Outfitters

European managing director Emma Wisden discusses her ambitions to amplify the Urban Outfitters offer.

Emma Wisden

Emma Wisden

Emma Wisden, European managing director, Urban Outfitters

There have been significant changes at Urban Outfitters over the past year. In May, Topshop buying director Emma Wisden left Arcadia after 16 years to become European managing director. She was joined by new heads of women’s and men’s design, Lizzie Dawson and Will Anstee, in May and July respectively. Drapers finds out about Wisden’s agenda for 2016.

What drew you to the role at Urban Outfitters?

I’ve always loved and admired the brand, and I’m really excited to be here. I remember discovering Urban Outfitters myself many years ago and I’ve always been intrigued by how they put their offer together. In terms of my career, when I was looking for a new challenge, it was the only retailer I would ever consider going to because it’s a brand I absolutely love, and feel I can support and endorse.

The founders are also still in the business and that’s really important for me. They respect the culture, take an interest in everything and they’re not ready to abdicate their DNA for a commercial deal.

What’s at the top of your to-do list?

The first, most important thing is to refine and amplify what the brand stands for. Everyone is chasing the same market and I think it’s really obvious that we can offer something completely different. I think the customer will fall in love with our spring 16 edit and what our new designers, Lizzie and Will, can offer in terms of design quality, refinement and uniqueness.

In terms of expansion, we’re looking to open a store in Paris in 2016. We’ve tested the market by opening concessions in Galeries Lafayette in 2013, so we now know what they like. We know there’s a massive appetite for us and we have confidence for the investment to go full steam ahead.

What else is on your agenda?

We’re expanding online, but take-up depends on the country. It’s anything between 20% and 30%, but ecommerce is growing. We want to get the product and creative teams together to make sure that the concepts are clear all the way through to the customer. We have creatives in every store working on a local level, tailored to every market.

Urban Outfitters spring 16 collection

Urban Outfitters spring 16 collection

Urban Outfitters spring 16 collection

I’m also really interested in retail theatre. While we’re not ready to launch them just yet, we’ve got some amazing ideas to turn the top floor of our Oxford Street store into an experiential space. Whether it be Shoreditch meets Oxford Street or weekend markets, pottery lessons or collaborations with emerging photographers, we have so many ideas.

Can you tell me more about the revamped spring 16 denim collection?

My background is very deep rooted in denim. During my time at Arcadia I set up Topshop Denim and I was the first person to introduce the programme lines, so early on at Urban Outfitters I wanted to look at denim because I knew we could add enormous incremental sales and credibility. Lizzie and I started working with buying and design experts on our vision for denim in spring 16, spanning boyfriend styles and dungarees to skinny jeans and jeggings.

For us there is absolutely no room for compromise, so we went to some of the best mills in the world that work with the likes of Victoria Beckham and J Brand. We know our BDG brand can deliver the best denim on the high street.

Take our mid-rise skinny jean that’s going to be called Breeze. We worked on this jean for two months looking at every stitch and wash. There are about 15 techniques involved in a really good-quality pair of jeans. Prices will range from £38 to £65, so it’s accessible, –not the cheapest on the high street, but you get what you pay for.

Spring 16 womenswear

Spring 16 womenswear

Spring 16 womenswear

What else can we expect for spring 16?

My vision when I came into the business six months ago was to push the in-house designed collection and grow the team. Across the EU we employ 1,600 people, with around 350 of them in buying, design and planning. Currently around 20% of our offer is our own-brand edit and the rest own buy. The mix of both is really important.

For spring 16 we’re working on an authentic, preppy look, pulling together a strong palette of indigo, baby blues, soft peach white and ecru. We’ve really looked at the detailing, like our casual, oversized pinny dress that’s all about the low, elastic back. We’re looking at textures and layering for an architectural look.

The whole maxi shirting area is going to be huge, especially ”shirtigans” or shirt coats. Baby cord and stripes are a massive deal for us. Another big thing for us is verbiage, as we want to bring fun back to the high street. We also want to take the boho look to the next level. Plunging necklines feel really important and linen finished with Ukrainan-style cross-stitched embroidery. We’re also really excited about our collaborations, in particular a pair of exclusive super-flare flooded jeans from Cheap Monday.



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