London is a city known for its style extremes, from vast fast-fashion emporiums such as Topshop and Primark to the out-there collections on Central Saint Martins’ grads’ runways.
But two labels with a subtler take on British style have been quietly cornering the more luxurious end of the country’s high street. Reiss and Jigsaw — both of which were founded around 30 years ago — are whipping up collections that don’t slavishly follow trends. Now both labels are expanding their brands outside the U.K.
Reiss, which Londoner David Reiss founded initially as a men’s wear line in the Seventies, recently appointed Andy Rogers, formerly visual director at Stella McCartney, as brand director. Meanwhile at Jigsaw, Louise Trotter, formerly senior vice president, creative director of H Hilfiger, took over as that brand’s creative director in 2006.
During an interview at the company’s sleek headquarters just off Oxford Street in London, whose striking facade is made up of shimmering layers of glass and has been nominated for an award at this year’s World Architectural Festival, David Reiss said his brand will achieve sales of close to $200 million in fiscal 2008, while profits last year reached $20 million. The company is privately owned by Reiss.
Now he plans to expand his network of stores, with a series of openings in the U.S., adding to the label’s 10 existing stores there — the brand’s latest location opened in Miami’s Aventura Mall in August. “Because of the state the market is in now, there’s this massive void opening up between the high street and the designer boys,” said Reiss. “In the States it’s different to trading here. It’s mostly the big multiples and the department stores and there’s not that many niche retailers. We see a gap in the market to open in the big cities, just above the high street but with a very powerful, strong identity, giving people affordable luxury at good prices.”
Despite the economic downturn, Reiss believes now is the right time to increase his brand’s exposure to the American market. “I’m sure the whole world has been affected [by the economy], but we take a positive view, in that we see even more pickup in the market,” said Reiss. “The person who tends to lean toward buying designer clothes, maybe paying 800 pounds [$1,280] for a dress, will [now] lean toward buying one of our dresses for 250 pounds [$400], having that affordable luxury. We’ve moved further and further away from the high street.”
Indeed, Reiss’ spring collection spotlights pieces such as a deep sky blue, 100 percent silk bustier dress with intricate fringe detailing; a dusky-pink open-collar jacket; and blue high-waisted silk and wool shorts. Prices range from about $50 for a jersey top up to around $1,000 for a wool coat.
Reiss said the brand’s pricing in the U.S. will be broadly similar to that in the U.K., and that he hadn’t seen price resistance among U.S. consumers. He added that as Reiss doesn’t have the marketing costs of a designer brand, it can offer quality fabrics at more accessible price points.
Alongside the U.S., Reiss plans to enter territories including Europe — he has just opened a concession in Galeries Lafayette in Paris — Australia and Russia, and will soon open in Beijing. The label has over 50 stand-alone stores in the U.K. Currently, U.S. sales make up 12 percent of the brand’s revenues, and Reiss said he could see that growing to 25 percent with up to 50 stores opening in the region. “At the moment we’re in Washington, but we plan to be in Chicago, in Atlanta, in Houston, Dallas, in Vegas.”
He also plans to open concessions in U.S. department stores.
Trotter at Jigsaw said in light of the faltering economy, her brand’s customers now shy away from stockpiling cheap fashion finds.
For the label’s fall collection, which Trotter said was inspired by the Alfred Hitchcock film “The Birds,” she’s used rich fabrics such as jacquards, damasks and tapestries from Italian mills. “Jigsaw has never been about following trends,” said Trotter. “Part of its heritage is fabric and color.” Pieces in the fall collection include silk polkadot shirts, shimmery wool checkered dresses and snug leather biker jackets. Prices start at 24 pounds, or $43 at current exchange rates, for a jersey T-shirt and run to 365 pounds, or $658, for a cashmere coat. Silk taffeta dresses retail for 125 pounds, or $225, while a moleskin peacoat is priced at 159 pounds, or $286.
Jigsaw, which currently has nine stores in the U.S., mostly on the West Coast along with stores in Alabama and Tennessee, also plans to increase its U.S. presence. The label has recently launched a transactional Web site in the U.S., jigsaw-london.com, alongside a separate U.K. site. “We’ve had a phenomenal season in the U.S., with double-digit comparative growth,” said Trotter. Jigsaw is also privately owned, by husband and wife John and Belle Robinson. The label also launched a bath and beauty products line earlier this month.
Trotter said items that do well in the U.K. tend to do well in the U.S., too. “More than anything the fashion-forward pieces do better in America.”