The involvement of daughter Beyoncé may imply that Tina Knowles’ House of Deréon is just another celebrity brand, but Knowles has the skills to silence the sceptics.
With a second grandchild on the way and her House of Deréon womenswear label set to launch in Selfridges during London Fashion Week, it’s as if all of Tina Knowles’ Christmases have come at once. “I’m excited,” she says in her warm, Texan drawl. “I have a grandson but we all fight over him, so we need another one.” This “one” will come courtesy of her daughter, pop princess Beyoncé Knowles, who is the muse for House of Deréon.
“It’s been a dream from the beginning [to launch in Europe] and Selfridges is one of my favourite stores. Plus it makes sense as Beyoncé sells more records internationally than in America,” she adds.
Unlike the US collection, which is produced under licence by Li & Fung-owned parent company Beyond Productions, the UK range is designed by Knowles herself as creative director, together with a small team of designers, one of whom is British. “She’s been with us for a long time but it’s good to get her opinion [on the UK consumer],” says Knowles. “She says they’re more open-minded and a little more fashion-forward [than the US shopper].”
As a result, the autumn 11 collection, which launches exclusively at Selfridges in London this month before being distributed by Icer Brands to a further 30 stockists later in the year, represents a more complete collection than the dress-led range in the US. “Selfridges wanted a more active collection, so we have a dress that is, I guess, a mixture of a hoodie-type thing that we turn into a dress,” Knowles explains, referring to the kimono hoodie (pictured). “I think the pleated, lace-back dress in the Holiday [Christmas] collection will do really well in the UK too.”
Knowles says that much of the collection is inspired by her team and Beyoncé herself. “What’s cool about House of Deréon is that the girls who work here are the cutest and so fashionable – they’re hot! It makes my job a lot easier,” she laughs. “I sent them home the other day and asked them to come back with pieces from their wardrobes. And Beyoncé comes in too. We raid her closet and try to incorporate it into the collection. Beyoncé has the advantage of travelling the world and I go with her. And we shop! Then, we put together sketches and she approves them.”
A family affair
Getting her daughter’s approval is important to Knowles, and rather touching as a result. “We disagree sometimes. Beyoncé will say: ‘I think this should be shorter or looser.’ Usually, I let her win because I want her to like the collection,” she says softly.
Not that Knowles would compromise on the quality and fit of her brand, named after her mother Agnés Deréon, a seamstress who made clothes for private clients in the American south.
“I’m a dressmaker and very attentive to how clothes make the body look. Most of the pieces are fitted at the waist. We also make our own prints,” she says.
It’s this expertise [Knowles designed the costumes for Beyoncé’s former band Destiny’s Child] that she hopes will silence the sceptics, who claim it’s merely a celebrity brand. “Yes, it’s inspired by a celebrity but I have a dressmaker and designer background. At the end of the day, it’s up to the consumer [to judge].”
Tony Pessok, managing director at Icer Brands, is also keen to keep the focus away from the celebrity angle when it comes to securing stockists for the brand, prices for which range from £16 to £40 with a mark-up of between 2.7 and 2.8. “The product speaks for itself and we’ve had a really good response to it,” he says.
“We’re not just looking at brand adjacencies but also at the store, its pricing structure, how it’s merchandised and whether the people running it are passionate about their business. We don’t want someone who’s just interested in Beyoncé – that’s short-lived.”
Pessok hopes to increase the stockist base in the UK to between 45 and 50 stores for spring 12, which he believes will be an even better season for House of Deréon. “It’s really developed for spring 12; it’s more feminine and separates-led, with beautiful prints,” he explains. “The designers have taken note of the European market and have been coming over on a regular basis.”
Foundation for expansion
European expansion is a key part of parent company Beyond Productions’ strategy for growth. “We picked London for the European launch because it’s an international city and solid platform to enter other European markets,” says president Philip Davis, who declines to be more specific, adding only that “we are well ahead of our plans”.
He does, however, reveal that the collection will double for spring 12, up from 81 SKUs for autumn to 140 for spring with a further 89 for the high-summer drop.
Davis’s decision to launch with Selfridges mirrors the company’s US strategy, where House of Deréon launched exclusively with department store Bloomingdale’s in October 2008. “This way we create a visual presence to show what the brand extensions look like, with shopfits. It creates a more powerful image,” he explains.
And what else does spring 12 hold? Could it include, perhaps, a maternitywear line? “We’re working on it,” Knowles reveals. “Beyoncé has expressed an interest in it and she’s started sketching ideas. Hopefully we can execute it very quickly for spring 12. She’s excited about it.” You can tell Knowles is, too.