By  on July 20, 2007

LONDON — Oli, an online clothing retailer and mail-order brand based here, launched this month with a roster of five celebrity and guest designers and aims to tap into the U.K.'s increasing appetite for fashion with stars' seals of approval.

Alongside the company's own label collections, which it plans to update every week, its Web site, oli.co.uk, and catalogue carry ranges designed by models Jodie Kidd and Jasmine Guinness, and London designers Maria Grachvogel, Ann-Sofie Back and Central Saint Martins student Thomas Vicary. But Neil Sansom, brand director of Oli, which is owned and operated by the Otto group, a multichannel retailer based in Hamburg, Germany, said the company wasn't simply jumping on the high street's celebrity designer bandwagon.

"All [our designers] have strong fashion credentials. They are rooted in fashion and understand it," Sansom said. "We're being sensible about the trend. Consumers have always wanted inspiration [from celebrities], and our customer has belief in these ranges."

At the brand's launch Wednesday, Grachvogel, whose 11-piece collection includes ruffled chiffon dresses and tops and tweed dresses, which retail from about $80 for a pencil skirt to $240 for a wool coat, said she welcomed the exposure to a different demographic that her range for Oli would bring.

"I think it attracts a younger customer who will then aspire to the main-line collection," she said.

Kidd, whose 10-piece collection of sporty basics includes a leather biker jacket for $300 and trenchcoat for $180, said the quality of the materials she worked with for her collection were a welcome surprise.

"I chose mother-of-pearl buttons for the shirt and beautiful leather for the bag — it's great quality for the price."

Sansom said he expected customers to browse the guest designer lines, called Oli Fusion; the brand's own label collections, which start at $10 for a T-shirt, and other brands on the site such as Warehouse, Diesel and French Connection. "It's the idea of democratic fashion, that the customer can come to one place and put their outfit together," he said.

The company has designed the Web site with an editorial feel, with profiles of the designers, style guides and a look book where customers can try clothing items together by dragging images into a virtual changing room.Sansom said the busy schedules of the brand's 25- to 35-year-old target audience were driving them to online shopping."The high street has become more difficult, with parking and congestion charging. We can deliver direct to customers the next day."

The company estimates that Oli, which also carries men's and children's ranges, small electrical items and beauty products, will reach sales of 300 million pounds, or $603 million at current exchange, within the next five years. It has invested $50 million in the brand's launch, and advertisements are set to break on U.K. television, fashion Web sites and in magazines. All the designers will create collections for spring 2008, and Sansom said the company plans to introduce more guest designers.

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