LONDON — Oh, to have been a fly on the Chinese wallpaper at Winfield House.
William Susman, founder of the boutique advisory and research firm Threadstone Partners and son of the U.S. Ambassador to the Court of St. James’ Louis B. Susman, last week entertained 20 British retail moguls for dinner at Winfield House, the American ambassador’s official residence in Regent’s Park.
Among those invited to a dinner of English lamb and Winfield House pudding were Sir Philip Green, Sir Stuart Rose, Sir David Tang, Jack Wills cofounder Peter Williams, designer Duro Olowu and the chief executives of retailers including Sainsbury’s, Hobbs, Reiss and River Island.
“From an Internet-hits point of view, what are two of the most important trends globally? ‘Downton Abbey’ and the Duchess of Cambridge — two British institutions. Today Britain is in a wonderful position to be an exporter,” said Susman during a predinner interview at Winfield House, which has its own connections to retail. It was named after Frank Winfield Woolworth, founder of the five-and-dime stores.
Susman also believes it is Britain’s moment to shine on a global level. “There is great British design inspiration today. Retailers and brands have the ability to bring design, sensibility and newness. What is being done in Britain today is amazing — and has global appeal,” he said.
He said Topshop is blazing the trail for British retail in the U.S. “The successful push they’ve made into the U.S. market is evidence of demand for things British. They really opened the door for opportunity,” he said.
While the pound is rapidly losing ground against the dollar — it has declined nearly 7.5 percent against the U.S. currency since mid-January — Susman said the depreciation should not be a major incentive to expand abroad. “Currency is a little bit like the weather — people love to use it as an excuse. I don’t think it’s a strategic driver to new market entry decisions or acquisitions. I can’t imagine any U.K. retailer coming to the U.S. because it’s cheap. It may be more economic because of currency rates — but it is not the dog wagging the tail,” he said.
Currency fluctuations aside, he said the U.S. is looking particularly attractive right now. “It seems to be having a moment of economic stability. We are not aggressively talking about gas prices or reading about a housing crisis. The stock market is at record highs. The situation we are in could be fragile — but right now the sentiment is fairly positive.”
He added that going forward, transactions in the U.S. will be selective. “Seller expectations are high, and while there is a tremendous amount of capital, there is a gap between buyer and seller of some magnitude. Ultimately, can those gaps be closed or not? Time will tell,” he said, adding, “There is a very healthy bid out there on behalf of high-quality brands.”
And investors don’t have to worry about competition from the Far East — at least for now.
“Fundamentally, there’s talk — but no action,” he said regarding the appetite for acquisitions among Far Eastern investors.
“There is an active conversation with regard to Asian acquisition of brand and retailers. There is the desire to be closer to the end customer and offer vertically. But they tend to be price-sensitive and move very slowly. The exception is Fast Retailing, which has demonstrated itself as a global player. Beyond that, there hasn’t been that much activity,” he added.
As for valuations in the U.K. and Europe generally, he said they are higher than in the U.S. “There’s a much deeper base of luxury companies in Europe and the U.K. Multiples in the U.K. have been higher, but I think that’s reflective of the businesses that have transacted,” he said.
Despite the gloom on the U.K. high street and the wary consumer, Susman said he’s most certainly looking for opportunities here. “At Threadstone, we’re just at the point of reaching outside the U.S., looking to this market and to pick and choose opportunities.”
During his stay he was hitting the street, looking at companies ranging from Pretty Green, the casual and tailored clothing label founded and designed by former Oasis front man Liam Gallagher, to the Westfield London shopping mall.
“One of the most exciting things that is absolutely happening in the U.K. is Westfield. The parking garage is full, the stores are full. The U.K. customer is going to love mall-based shopping, which will create new store growth opportunities but may impact some high streets. I would not underestimate Westfield as a 10-year trend in the U.K. It’s going to be a phenomenon,” he said.
@fearofgod and @maxfieldla have teamed up on a pop-up installation. The store, located in the gallery space across from Maxfield’s Melrose Ave location, is the site of the brand’s House of God pop-up in which Fear of God founder @jerrylorenzo has created a church-inspired installation. A dozen vintage church pews sit in front of an LED screen playing 90s gospel singers in an effort to re-create an environment akin to a Southern Baptist Church, Lorenzo explained. Read more about the pop-up on WWD.com #wwdfashion (📷: Jennifer Johnson)
Known for his sleek, sophisticated American glamour, Norman Norell is the subject of an upcoming exhibition at @fitnyc. “Norell: Dean of American Fashion,” which runs from February 9 through April 14, will feature approximately 100 ensembles and accessories. His best work is exemplified by the designer’s glittering “mermaid” gowns frosted with thousands of hand-sewn sequins – like the one pictured. (📷: William Helburn) #wwdfashion
For pre-fall 2018, @balmain didn’t let go of the glitz. A crystal embroidered baseball jacket priced at around $40,000 hangs in the “couture” section of the brand’s first men’s pre-collection. Sporting the words “Balmain Army” across the back, the item took around two months to make. “When it was completed, it was like Christmas, it was like, ‘It’s done, it’s exactly what I wanted,’” said Balmain’s creative director @olivier_rousteing during a tour of the collection in a Paris showroom on Monday. #wwdfashion
Eighty degree temperatures and outdoor installations at the annual Art Basel Miami Beach called for bright, elevated beachwear. See more street style pictures on WWD.com. #theyarewearing #ABMB (📷: @lifeinreverie)
Following September’s emotional tribute to her brother Gianni, Donatella Versace wanted to bring the spring show’s deep sense of intimacy to her @versace_official pre-fall collection. Donatella found inspiration in Versace Palazzo in Milan and from Gianni’s opulent apartment. Archival patterns and new motifs were splashed on silk shirtdresses and fitted jersey frocks. See the rest of the photos on WWD.com. #wwdfashion
Demna Gvasalia continues to shake up the Paris fashion calendar — and experiment with new runway timetables for his @vetements_official brand. WWD has learned that Vetements plans to stage its next coed show for the fall 2018 season on January 19 during Men’s Fashion Week in the French capital. Details about the timing and venue have not been confirmed — stay tuned on WWD.com to catch the latest. #wwdnews (📷: @giovanni_giannoni_photo)
@zacposen's go-to holiday gift? Cookies! "I'll usually bake cookies and send them as a gift," said the designer, who recently released his cookbook "Cooking With Zac: Recipes from Rustic to Refined." Get the recipe for his Brown Butter-Chocolate Chip Cookies via link in bio 🍪🍪🍪 #wwdeye #cookingwithzac
For @monsemaison’s pre-fall 2018 collection, Fernando Garcia and Laura Kim honed in on the brand’s many signatures — men’s wear, which was tweaked and feminized through deconstruction, proportion play and lots of bare shoulders. See the rest of the photos on WWD.com #wwdfashion (📷: George Chinese)
On Friday night, @yohjiyamamotoofficial received the Design for Asia Lifetime Achievement Award in Hong Kong. The 75-year-old designer has been celebrated for many years and is best known for his dark and avant-garde tailoring. “In my long career, in design, architecture, [I’ve been to] so many parties, this is the very first time that I have such a warm feeling, I really appreciate this,” Yamamoto said. #wwdfashion (📷: @dominiquemaitre)