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House of Fraser, the U.K. department store chain, is boosting its men’s wear business by creating its own stable of brands to complement its offering.

This story first appeared in the April 21, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Last month, House of Fraser launched two new labels: Howick Tailored, a men’s formal suiting line, and Label Lab, a men’s casualwear line that’s filled with distressed graphic T-shirts, weathered denim jeans and leather biker jackets. The collections add to House of Fraser’s existing brands, which include Linea, a contemporary men’s line; Criminal, a casualwear label, and suiting by New & Lingwood, the British firm, and Kenneth Cole, which is exclusive to House of Fraser in the U.K. and Ireland.

Allan Winstanley, executive director of men’s wear, children’s wear and beauty at House of Fraser, said during an interview at the retailer’s Baker Street office in London that growing House of Fraser’s house brands is “a core strategy [across] our entire business.”

While the retailer’s own label product represents 20 percent of its overall men’s business, it contributes 25 percent in profit terms. “It punches above its weight in terms of profitability,” noted Winstanley.

Alongside its own brands, House of Fraser also carries men’s labels ranging from Ralph Lauren and Hugo Boss to 55 DSL and Superdry. Creating its own brands also allows House of Fraser to target gaps in its men’s wear offering. While the retailer already catered to younger men looking for a lean suiting silhouette with the Kenneth Cole and New & Lingwood lines, Winstanley said, it wasn’t targeting “an average, bigger guy…who needs a decent quality suit.”

“We were leaving it to some of our concessions to do, when actually there was a piece of the action where we knew we could make more money out of it,” said Winstanley.

The Howick Tailored line is made up of relaxed fitting suits in 100 percent wool, with Egyptian cotton shirts and silk ties added to the mix. While the collection isn’t fashion led, Winstanley said it subtly nods to trends, with colored trims and details inside the suits, while shirts and ties come in bolder colors such as pink, green and purple. The line is priced from 160 pounds, or $260 at current exchange, for suit jackets; from 90 pounds, or $147, for wool suit pants and from 45 pounds, or $73, for cotton shirts. The collection originally grew out of House of Fraser’s existing Howick brand, a casualwear line that includes rugby shirts, hoodies and knitwear.

While Winstanley didn’t divulge sales predictions for the Howick Tailored collection, he said since its launch last month in 30 House of Fraser stores the collection has “got off to a good start.” “[We’re] bullish, I will go as far to say that — we’ve got a lot pinned on this,” he said.

Winstanley said Label Lab, its edgier men’s brand, is also off to a strong start. “It does this grungy, Hoxton, rock ’n’ roll kind of look,” said Winstanley. “It’s very monochromatic, we didn’t have a brand doing that in our business, so that’s definitely filled a niche.” The casual label sits alongside lifestyle brands such as Superdry and Armani Jeans at House of Fraser stores.

Winstanley noted that he believes House of Fraser’s men’s wear customers see the retailer’s in-house brands as distinctive labels in their own right. “We might tell [customers] they can only buy [the brands] at House of Fraser, but we want them to nestle in with all the other brands that we stock,” he said.

Indeed, each brand has its own dedicated buyers and designers. “We have a different team on each brand so they can keep squarely focused on the DNA [of each brand]…we have a target audience in mind for each brand, so we want to make sure that our buyers’ [vision] isn’t blurred, and they are absolutely focused on delivery to those customers,” he said.

This fall, House of Fraser will further enhance its men’s wear offering with a newly designed formalwear department in its Oxford Street, London store. Winstanley said the area will house suiting in an environment that gives it “a more premium feel,” with design details such as brushed steel, dark wood fittings and soft lighting. The retailer is recruiting tailoring experts for the department, who will offer both suit alterations and a made-to-measure suiting service. Winstanley expects the department to attract men who find stand-alone brand stores or trendy environments, such as Selfridges, a little intimidating.

“We are a bit easier, a bit more accommodating,” said Winstanley. “We want to present a more premium image and offer to our formalwear, but we still want it to be a comfortable experience,” he added.

Formalwear currently represents 25 percent of House of Fraser’s men’s wear offer, and alongside its own label brands, the retailer carries lines such as Kenzo, Hugo Boss and Canali. Across formalwear, House of Fraser’s average selling price of a suit is between 200 and 300 pounds, or between $325 and $488, but can rise to 1,000 pounds, or $1,628, for a designer suit.

Winstanley noted that House of Fraser’s formalwear sales had only dipped slightly during the recession, and now is back up to 25 percent of the men’s sales. “When the credit crunch situation first happened a couple of years ago, things became tough very quickly because people got scared,” Winstanley said. “Now, people will pay for good quality…what we have seen is that customers like what we’ve got, and are prepared to pay more money for brands and quality that they like and expect.”


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