LONDON — Tanner Krolle, the high-end British accessories brand whose clients include the royal families of Britain, Brunei and Norway, is making a quiet comeback.
This story first appeared in the April 29, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The business, which in 2007 was struggling under a load of debt, has restructured its operations. It now has a clutch of individual private investors on board who are eager to relaunch the label on a small scale, according to John O’Sullivan, head of sales and marketing.
Even during its most troubled times, O’Sullivan said, the brand continued to sell bespoke leather accessories to private clients through a small showroom here. There are now plans to return to the wholesale business and to launch an e-commerce Web site within the year.
“The brand tried to grasp the mass market, and that caused us some problems. We were never going to have a long-term appeal to the ‘It’-bag customer. We are about classic styles,” said O’Sullivan during an exclusive interview at Tanner Krolle’s showroom in Berkeley Square. “The company has always been operational, and our inner tier of customers has remained with us.”
O’Sullivan said the strategy going forward is to keep the business as simple as possible. He hopes to generate about 60 percent of revenues with luggage and travel accessories and gifts, and the remaining 40 percent with handbags.
He plans to continue selling the brand’s most popular models — classic styles such as the Eva, Sam Browne and Cutter bags — and to introduce just three new styles each year. The focus, he said, is on first-rate materials and workmanship rather than on keeping up with seasonal trends. The company uses only vegetable tans and organic leathers, and manufactures the collection in France and Italy.
“Going forward, we’re also going to be able to experiment with our designs and materials. Our factories in Italy are keen to experiment, and are also willing — in these times — to deliver smaller orders, which is great for a company like ours,” he said.
O’Sullivan plans to involve the customer more in the design process. “I want them to help curate the collections and be involved in product development. I have some clients who are doing that already,” he said.
The entry-level price for the collection is 395 pounds, or $580 at current exchange, for a leather folio. A small leather suitcase with wheels costs 1,400 pounds, or $2,058, while a hand-stitched leather briefcase costs 2,500 pounds, or $3,675.
O’Sullivan expects to launch the Tanner Krolle e-commerce site at the beginning of May, and return to the wholesale business by the end of the year. Tanner Krolle already has a small wholesale business at Harrods.
In the U.S., O’Sullivan plans to target stores such as Bergdorf Goodman, Louis Boston, Maxfield and Neiman Marcus. He said he’d also like to replicate Tanner Krolle’s private selling showroom in New York, the Middle East and Hong Kong.
“At the moment, it’s good not to have the overheads of retail stores,” he said, adding the brand may go into retail in the medium term.
The brand, which has been compared with Hermès due to its fine leatherwork and bespoke products, was founded in 1856 by Franz Frederick Krolle. Its clients have included English royals, Indian maharajas and American presidents. Princess Diana took bespoke Tanner Krolle luggage on her honeymoon, while Princes William and Harry went off to boarding school with Tanner Krolle luggage in tow.
The brand was owned by Chanel until 2002, when it was purchased by the London-based fashion executive and investor Guy Salter and the private equity group Rupert Hambro & Partners.
Albion Investors, the U.S.-based private equity firm, took over ownership in 2005. When Tanner Krolle fell on hard times in 2007, Albion tried to sell it — but could not find a buyer at the time. The new investors are private individuals who have chosen to remain anonymous, and Albion remains a minority investor in the brand.