LONDON — Lulu Guinness has a new chief executive officer on board, and the brand is ready to roar.

WWD has learned the British accessories company, known for its chubby red lip motif and retro feel, has named Sandra Mertens-Lustig as ceo, a new role.

She will begin work later this month, and is already gearing for growth, with a store set to open next month on King Street in Covent Garden and expansion plans in the Far East.

Mertens-Lustig’s appointment follows that of David Hodgson as creative director. His new designs are set to arrive in-store in February. The company is privately owned, with founder and company namesake Guinness still holding a minority share.

In an interview, Mertens-Lustig, formerly joint managing director of Agent Provocateur, said she’s ready to unlock what she believes is enormous potential.

“The brand is like a little gold nugget,” said Mertens-Lustig, adding that she wants to “re-energize the brand and give it the recognition in the market that it deserves.”

Nearly half of the business comes from the Lulu Guinness e-commerce site, with most of the demand in the U.K., “which means the global arena is there for us to pursue digitally. There is a great opportunity to reset the conversation with wholesale partners,” she said.

Wholesale is relatively small, with about 50 stores, but Mertens-Lustig said it’s critical. She believes brand engagement depends on having physical stores. Retail, too, she believes is underexploited.

“It’s a healthy business, and there’s a lot to work with. We’re very close to breaking even, and we don’t have any debt that we need to be worried about. We can slowly develop this brand,” she said.

According to the latest Companies House accounts for the year ended March 31, 2019, sales at Lulu Guinness were up 1.3 percent to 10 million pounds. The company swung to a loss of 517,000 pounds due to continued investment in the web site and one-off restructuring items. In the previous year, the company’s profit was 95,000 pounds.

Mertens-Lustig said she plans to maintain prices in the accessible luxury end of the market, with the average handbag costing around 245 pounds, and the highest price point at 495 pounds.

She wants to pursue the lifestyle element of the brand, and expand the product range to include small leather goods and gifts, in addition to the brand’s bags, shoes and luggage.

“I really want to start creating that world of Lulu, but we will be focused. There’s so much to do, and so many opportunities, but we have to be clever with the resources that we have. After solidifying our position in the U.K., we’ll definitely move from east to west.”

The immediate priority is to have a bigger, more defined presence in the U.K., she said, and then look east to Japan, Korea and China, high-growth markets where the brand is underdeveloped.

Mertens-Lustig worked for brands including Ralph Lauren, Kenzo and Coach before she joined Agent Provocateur. She was the commercial director at Agent Provocateur before being promoted to joint managing director after it was purchased by Four Holdings in 2017.

The new ceo role at Lulu Guinness was created after Paul Spinks stepped down as managing director. Spinks will join the board as a non-executive director.

Lisa Montague, the former ceo of Loewe and Aspinal of London, also serves as a non-executive director early 2019. She is currently ceo of international luxury interior furnishings group Walker Greenbank.

James McArthur, the investor and former Gucci Group executive who has served as ceo of Harrods, Balenciaga and Anya Hindmarch, has served as chairman of the business since early 2018.

McArthur said the appointment of Mertens-Lustig “marks the next major step in the journey that we embarked on together in 2018 to re-energize the Lulu Guinness business. Sandra will be an outstanding partner to David’s creative strengths and natural commercial instinct, and an inspirational leader for the business.”

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