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.
“These collections continue to build on that vision, empowering differently abled adults to express themselves through fashion,” said @tommyhilfiger of his line of adaptive apparel, which launches today. The line consists of 37 men’s and 34 women’s styles based upon the pieces from the spring Tommy Hilfiger sportswear collection. #wwdnews
“Stranger Things” is getting a new cast member for season 2. Meet @sadiesink_, the 15-year-old who will be joining the Netflix series for its new season. You may recognize her from “The Glass Castle” with Brie Larson and Woody Harrelson, but the Texas native’s next role goes in an entirely different direction. She describes her character, Max, as “a rough and tumble skater girl [who] becomes friends with the boys at school.” The second season debuts on October 27. (📷: @jgreenery) #wwdeye
Amid the Harvey Weinstein controversy, there’s another sector that’s being put under the spotlight for sexual abuse: the modeling industry. While rumors about abuse and sexual harassment of female and male models — and the photographers, agents and others who perpetrated it — have circulated within the fashion world for years, model @cameronrussell started posting stories from models on Instagram last week about abusive situations they’ve encountered — from sexual harassment and molestation to attempted rape. Over 75 have weighed in so far. Read more on WWD.com. Link in bio. #wwdnews
To celebrate its 16th anniversary, @dylanscandybar tapped designers and celebrities to create mosaics out of candy. The mosaics will be auctioned off to support the philanthropic cause of each participant’s choice. Pictured here is the mural created by @aliceandolivia's Stacey Bendet. For a first look at some of the other artwork being unveiled tonight, go to WWD.com. #wwdeye
The annual Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic in Pacific Palisades this weekend drew Kate Hudson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Laura Dern and more. See pictures of the star-studded event on WWD.com. (📷: @chelsealaurenla) #wwdeye
In his new book “Hollywood Royale,” Andy Warhol’s Protégé Matthew Rolston celebrates the Eighties revival of Hollywood glamour. Featuring more than 100 portraits taken by Rolston from 1977 to 1993, the book contains photos of icons like Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, and @drewbarrymore, pictured here in 1991. “Hollywood Royale,” out today, will be accompanied by an exhibition opening at Los Angeles’ Fahey/Klein Gallery on March 1. #wwdeye
"Nowadays when life is not so happy with everything going on in the world, I think people come to me for a little bit of whimsy and color and fun." - Designer Rebecca De Ravenel on her cult-favorite jewelry line. (📸 : @vsteves) #wwd40
“Everyone is talking about how the retail industry is struggling, but I think it’s an incredible time because brands who are doing something different and innovative are setting themselves up for the future,” said @adamgoldston, who founded the luxury athletic brand @apl with his brother @ryangoldsten. The Goldston’s are part of WWD’s 40 under 40: a group of industry notables. See the rest of the list on WWD.com. (📷: @vsteves) #wwd40
@eyeswoon blogger Athena Calderone debuted her first-ever cookbook, “Cook Beautiful,” which is heavily centered on the presentation and visual expression of food. Pictured here are her miso glazed carrots from the book. Get the recipe on WWD.com. (📷: @johnny_miller_) #wwdeye