LONDON — L.K. Bennett, the British footwear and ready-to-wear company, is looking to international markets for growth, and one of the biggest targets is the U.S.
Next month, the privately held company that began life as a shoe retailer with customers ranging from the Duchess of Cornwall to Kate Moss, will make its U.S. debut at four Bloomingdale’s stores, in Manhattan; Hackensack, N.J.; King of Prussia, Pa., and Tysons Corner in McLean, Va.
Clothing, shoes and accessories will be sold through the 400- to 600-square-foot shop-in-shops, and will be managed by L.K. Bennett as concessions. L.K. Bennett’s positioning in the U.S. will be similar to that of Eileen Fisher and Tahari.
“We have 100 stores in the U.K. right now — and in the long term we’d like to have the same number of stores in the U.S.,” said Robert Bensoussan, executive chairman, in an interview at the brand’s slick headquarters near Oxford Street here.
The company has set up a U.S. subsidiary, L.K. Bennett Inc., run by Tony DiMasso, whose title is president. DiMasso is the former chief operating officer of Jimmy Choo, which Bensoussan previously headed and in which he still owns a small stake.
Meanwhile, Mary Ann Wheaton has come on board as head of U.S. business development. Wheaton has held a variety of executive positions at companies including Karl Lagerfeld, Warnaco and Christian Lacroix, and was most recently interim chief executive officer at Marchesa.
In 2008, Bensoussan’s Sirius Equity and Phoenix Equity Partners purchased the 20-year-old L.K. Bennett from founder Linda Bennett. Current sales are about 80 million pounds, or $123.2 million at current exchange.
Bensoussan also plans to expand in continental Europe and the Far East, where the shoes are already sold at stores including Lane Crawford in Hong Kong and Shanghai. He is in discussions to set up franchises in Malaysia, China and the Middle East.
Continental Europe offers additional potential: L.K. Bennett already has a shop-in-shop for rtw at Printemps in Paris, and later this month will open a similar one for footwear only. In November, the brand will open separate shoe and clothing concessions at the Printemps Parly in Versailles, France.
L.K. Bennett’s international business could make up “at least 30 percent of overall turnover in the next two to three years,” said Bensoussan.
In London, the brand is opening units in high-profile locations such as Longacre in Covent Garden and in the Duke of York Square on the Kings Road. That store will be the first to have a VIP/personal appointment room.
Meanwhile, the company will unveil an ad campaign early next month that focuses on professional women who are not celebrities. Dubbed “Life Is the Occasion,” the campaign was shot by Anders Overgaard, and aims to capture women, on location, in their working environments.
“It’s beautiful, aspirational and features the kind of women who actually buy the product,” said Bensoussan. The women are mostly in their 20s and 30s, have never modeled before, and their jobs include chartered surveyor, geophysicist, circus set designer and literary editor. The campaign will break in the September issues of titles including British Harper’s Bazaar and Red magazine. During Fashion’s Night Out on Sept. 8, L.K. Bennett will set up casting booths at its Brook Street and Regent Street stores to find the faces for the spring 2011 campaign.
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