LONDON — Britain may be looking to break from the European Union, but that doesn’t mean cross-Channel, cross-cultural partnerships aren’t flourishing despite all the anger, angst and Brexit uncertainty.
An example of that is Pink, the London-born luxury shirtmaker that’s relaunching under LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, which purchased the brand in 1999, kept it ticking along, and then hired luxury experts Christopher Zanardi-Landi and John Ray to give it new life.
The brand, which was founded in 1984 by three Irish brothers, James, Peter and John Mullen, relaunches this week with a store on Jermyn Street stocked with a collection by the creative director Ray, and a fresh take on everything from packaging and production to retail and the in-store experience.
Zanardi-Landi, who’s worked around the world for LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and for companies including Cartier, Dunhill and Lanvin, said Pink wants to offer the sort of product — and customer experience — that he believes is missing in the industry.
During an interview at Pink’s polished offices in Victoria Zanardi-Landi, whose title is president and chief executive officer, said he embraced the project from the start. It was all the color and optimism around the Eighties shirtmaker originally known as Thomas Pink that got under his skin.
Pink’s bright, striped shirts became the badge of a generation of financiers who profited from the Big Bang, a money-making moment that followed the deregulation of London’s financial markets in Thatcherite Britain.
“London was booming and the three brothers who founded Thomas Pink were challenging the old establishment. It was a cult brand then, full of color and with a positive energy in the stores,” said Zanardi-Landi.
While he’s out to channel all of that color and high energy, Zanardi-Landi is adamant that Pink stand for some old British values, too, including quality, longevity and value for money.
“There has to be an honesty about the product and the shirts need to be fit for purpose. We are very confident in who we are, and our point of view, and we don’t want to compromise anything,” said Zanardi-Landi, who compares Pink’s luxe cotton creations to a Range Rover, which not only looks good but can drive across the Zambezi river, too.
Zanardi-Landi and Ray have been working closely together over the past year-and-a-half to refine the new proposition: Seams are sturdy, collars are sewn rather than glued, and shirts have pink gussets at the sides so there’s no risk of unsightly gaping. Those gussets are part of the original Pink design. Prices start at 130 pounds for a white, button-cuff business shirt.
The collection is filled with other pieces, too, for day, weekend and evening. There are knits in brushed Shetland wool or five-ply cashmere, tailored cashmere jackets and buttery soft corduroy trousers. All of the Pink trousers come with buttons for attaching braces — a signature of the dapper Ray who has worked for brands including Dunhill, Gucci and Katharine Hamnett.
Ray’s cotton voile tuxedo shirt is as light as a puff of smoke and meant to keep the customer cool because a gentleman is never supposed to remove his jacket. Pink is also doing ties, socks, handkerchiefs and other accessories. Ray has designed the Vintage Collection, a capsule of bright, striped shirts that recall the label’s heyday.
Women’s shirts are also on offer and that collection will expand in 2019, while a fully bespoke service is in the pipeline for next year.
While the focus is on British values, Pink’s suppliers come from around the world: Cloth is from Swiss and Italian mills, interlinings hail from Holland and mother-of-pearl buttons are made in Italy. “We wanted the best of the best and have gone all over the world to do that,” said Zanardi-Landi.
As part of the relaunch, Pink has embraced sustainability — and durability — with new packaging.
There is no plastic wrapping, clips, pins or cardboard stuffing. Instead, Pink is packaging its shirts and other clothing in soft cotton zipper bags or cotton garment bags with hangers made from plant pulp. Boxes are durable and 100 percent recyclable, made in the U.K. with dyed, rather than printed, paper. Everything has been designed to be reused.
Zanardi-Landi said he and Ray spent months getting the Pink color right, too. It had gone salmon-y over the years, and the updated shade is a more intense pink that’s closer to the Eighties original.
The president and ceo also believes the shirt-making industry isn’t geared toward the customer experience, and he wants to change that with a shop concept that will start rolling out in 2019.
He’s putting the focus on customer comfort with changing rooms that flatter — rather than arouse anxiety. He said changing rooms are the place where people make a lot of their purchasing decisions, “so I have always taken this view that it’s somewhere where you want to be really Zen. We tried to make it as de-stressed as possible.”
He said Pink’s store at Heathrow Terminal 4 is small — and the biggest element is the changing room. “In our world, 30 percent of people are trying on something, so we wanted beautiful, stunning changing rooms — and we built them everywhere.”
The lighting is soft and diffused and he’s paid attention to the acoustics, too.
“During my Louis Vuitton life I had many conversations with Peter Marino about acoustics in stores. When you build retail environments, especially in larger stores, the acoustics become a really big issue. All that marble! It doesn’t make for a very pleasant environment. You don’t realize it but acoustics — and smell — have a huge impact on the way you feel,” said Zanardi-Landi, who has held senior management positions at Louis Vuitton in China and France.
“Hoteliers understand that far more than retailers. That idea of taking out the stress is very important, and we are going to try to do that.”
The first Pink store re-opened on London’s Jermyn Street Thursday. A second will open at Duke of York Square on the King’s Road in December. Jermyn Street stocks Ray’s new collection and the merchandising is consumer-friendly. Shirts are no longer boxed up like they once were, but displayed on hangers and are meant to be touched and tried on.
The interiors concept is plain – and temporary – and all stores will start to change to the new format at the start of 2019.
Zanardi-Landi has also been refining the Pink retail network, taking back franchises and setting up a wholly owned company in Mainland China, where two stores are set to open. He’s been closing some units and readying other ones. There are plans to open Pink’s first Tokyo store next year, and the company is also looking at places including Sydney, Mexico City as well as a number of U.S. cities and there is a huge online opportunity, too.