LONDON — Luca Donnini can recall the baffling moment when, a few years before taking up the role of chief executive officer at Temperley London, he visited the brand’s town house store in Mayfair and saw a crowd of young women outside the front door.
“I had never seen a queue like it, and I asked why they were there. They were waiting for the sample sale to start,” said Donnini, the former president of Guess Europe, president of worldwide business at Max Mara and chairman of his Switzerland-based boutique advisory firm Officina Lifestyle SA.
“Price is a huge issue for new customers who love and engage with the brand. They cannot afford to buy designer price points.”
Donnini’s mission as ceo of Temperley London, founded by Alice Temperley in 2000, was clear from the get-go: readjust pricing; broaden the offer to include more ready-to-wear, and get customers thinking of the brand, which is known for its sparkly eveningwear, sensual bridal collections and daywear with a bohemian edge, as a lifestyle proposition.
He also believes that brick-and-mortar stores should be cherished, and that younger customers need more reasons to shop in an increasingly tough environment for rtw.
“This is not the golden period when everyone was shopping for fashion. Today, fashion has become a commodity, and people are spending a lot on experiences, travel and lifestyle. We are living through a perfect storm, with big waves coming from e-commerce and from outlet shopping. But there is still opportunity if you aim at the right part of the market, where your product belongs,” he said during an interview at the Temperley town house in Mayfair.
Together with Alice Temperley, he’s been finding new factories, tweaking the delivery cycle, readjusting prices, building up wholesale accounts and looking for retail partnerships in a bid to expose the brand to the wider world and get women spending.
For a brand to be successful, Donnini said, it needs to be “accessible and properly delivered, and with the right price.” That may sound elementary, but there are still scores of brands and designers who refuse to believe it.
Prices are a big problem among London designers in particular, their collections accessible only to the wealthiest of clients. There are exceptions, including JW Anderson, which decided from the start that it would play in the contemporary end of the market, which is flourishing.
Indeed, scores of small rtw brands such as Rixo, Rotate Birger Christensen, Gül Hürgel, Bernadette, Borgo de Nor and Galvan London have cropped up to cater to fashion-loving women who crave products pitched between high street and designer levels.
It’s no wonder that Reformation, the sustainable fashion brand that works with deadstock and eco fabrics, and sells some dresses for under $100, scored a big deal earlier this month. Founded in 2009 as a vintage shop, Reformation sold a majority stake to the private equity firm Permira, which added it to a stable that includes Hugo Boss and Dr. Martens.
Donnini, whose Switzerland-based consultancy specializes in helping structure and develop mid-sized fashion firms, understands well the broader context.
“If you wanted to buy Temperley today, you would have to start at 1,000 pounds. From now on, our starting price will be less than half of that, and I will not be giving you polyester things. Some people are doing that, but we’re not going to,” said Donnini, adding that his aim is to create a better product at a better price point and to enlarge the customer base.
The brand has also shaken up the supply chain and taken on new suppliers in Europe in order to control production better and to speed the delivery cycle. Temperley is also working with some U.K. producers for cashmere.
Donnini is also building up the rtw offer, which he wants to be double the size of the eveningwear business going forward. Product drops will be more frequent, coming twice a month, and will be grouped around different moods and stories to support the wholesale business in particular.
“We want to give consumers access and options. We want them to have the choice of wearing our pieces during the day, not just for elegant evening occasions. Our mission, without changing our DNA and values, is to give these customers the opportunity to have the product,” he said.
As part of the rtw buildup, Alice Temperley and Donnini are focusing on some of the designer’s areas of expertise, such as feminine tailoring.
Heritage pieces, or seasonless Temperley classics, will be embedded in every collection. The latest heritage designs include a fluid suit with windowpane checks and flared trousers, a pinstripe jumpsuit, and a curvy day dress with cutout details and short, fluttery sleeves.
As other brands chase digital sales or embrace a direct-to-consumer strategy, Donnini’s focus instead is on building wholesale and retail. The brand’s sales at retail worldwide total about 25 million pounds, while its annual turnover is about 11 million pounds.
He’s a big fan of the off-line experience “because you still need to touch the product, to fall in love with it and that cannot be done over a computer screen. You really need to have that moment with a brand,” he said, although he was quick to add that Temperley London has a strong e-commerce business.
Donnini believes he can build the wholesale customer base to at least 1,000 from the current 80, which is why he’s taking the collections to market in a more serious way. He’s working with a new showroom in Milan, taking on a new agent in New York, and giving buyers in each city the chance to spend more time writing their orders.
“I want to talk once again to the wholesale partners we’ve had in the past and show them the new line, show our new way of doing things. I want to have them back because I know they will love the brand.”
Donnini is undaunted, partly because he believes the Alice Temperley brand is a “clean” one, with no special production for outlets — like some of the big U.S. brands — or extreme discounting. “Everything is fair, and in black and white,” Donnini said.
He is looking to forge new retail partnerships, too. In mid-October the brand will open a 2,000-square-foot store on Fashion Avenue at the Dubai Mall, which will replace a smaller franchise unit that closed earlier this year, while it also has a shop at The Gate Mall in Doha. The brand also has a small shop at Bicester Village in Oxfordshire, England.
“Now with the rtw, my idea is to look for partners to open the key cities in America, Miami, L.A., New York, Houston, Dallas, places where this project can fly. We are also looking at Russia, and Moscow in particular.”
He said he’s eager to find local partners familiar with their regions to sell, socialize and connect with the local audience.
There are more product categories in the pipeline, too, including bags, which are landing on the shop floor in October. They are being produced in-house, while Donnini said he’s mulling a license for footwear. “We have a lifestyle brand, so we can expand into more categories but first we have to deal with the products we are already selling.”
Donnini knows the journey is a never-ending one. “The fashion business is tough, and it’s a combination of management, and maintenance.”