With a new president for North America, a repositioned product line and the relaunch of its Web site, Links of London is embarking on U.S. expansion.
This story first appeared in the July 7, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The British brand plans to open flagships in select cities, and has forged a relationship with Bloomingdale’s, where in-store Links shops are being unveiled. With a deep-pocketed parent — Athens-based Folli Follie Group — and lower-priced collections with items that can be worn in multiples, the company said it believes it can succeed during the recession.
Meanwhile, Links’ big sister, Folli Follie, has its own growth agenda. With 250 directly owned and operated stores in Asia, Folli Follie hopes to ultimately open the same number of units in the U.S., said Ketty Koutsolioutsos, co-founder and creative director of the Folli Follie Group.
“In the near future, we will renovate the whole image of Folli Follie,” Koutsolioutsos said. “We have the resources to make it happen.”
Folli Follie and Links are complementary opposites with a yin-yang relationship.
“Folli Follie is strong in Asia and Links is strong in the West,” said Andrew Marshall, managing director of Links of London. With worldwide sales last year of 100 million pounds, or $163 million at current exchange, Links does a fraction of Folli Follie’s 1 billion euros, or $1.4 billion, in 500 points of sale.
“The U.S. is a very expensive place to do business, but it pays dividends in the end,” Marshall said.
Founded in 1982 by Ketty Koutsolioutsos and her husband, Dimitris Koutsolioutsos, the group’s influence over imports, exports and the Greek duty free industries extends to other countries and brands. In the Nineties, the Koutsolioutsoses were granted exclusive duty free rights in Greece until 2048. The business is now fully privatized. Meanwhile, Folli Follie Group holds the license for Harley Davidson accessories and Converse in the Balkans. “Coach decided to enter Europe through the umbrella companies [Folli Follie Group] through Greece,” Ketty Koutsolioutsos said. “Nike used the Balkans to open a new flagship.”
In terms of the U.S., she said Folli Follie plans to renovate its Madison Avenue flagship, open one or two more stores in Manhattan and unveil a freestanding unit in Miami. No dates have been set.
Links will remodel its Madison Avenue flagship in August. Other freestanding units in Manhattan include 200 Park Avenue and 402 West Broadway in SoHo.
Paul Woods, president of Links of London in North America, said Links opened a wholesale account at Bloomingdale’s 59th Street flagship in Manhattan, and unveiled in-store shops at Bloomingdale’s units in San Diego and Newport Beach, Calif., and Paramus, N.J. “We’re looking at a cluster strategy, establishing flagships and concessions in department stores and wholesale accounts,” he said.
Links was “a bit sleepy,” Marshall said, adding that the brand’s image has been updated by creative director Elizabeth Galton, who joined the company a year ago and has designed collections whose goals are to catch the eye of younger customers. “She has brought a new direction and a new spirit,” he said.
“The Links brand offers what is now an abused term — affordable luxury,” Marshall said. “You can go to Links and get a gift for $200 with all the connotations you would expect from a luxury brand.”
Links jewelry leaves room for customization with charms, from $70 for a sterling silver disc to $1,100 for an 18-karat gold moon set with diamonds. The Links friendship bracelet and Sweetie collection are examples of Galton’s playful aesthetic. Lanyard is hand-woven around sterling silver rods stacked side by side like dominos for the friendship bracelet ($210). The Sweetie bracelet in sterling silver is $220, the Sweetie watch with a stainless steel coiled bracelet and mother-of-pearl dial starts at $580, while a stainless pavé diamond bracelet watch with a mother-of-pearl dial set with diamonds costs $12,000.
“The formula is very simple,” Marshall said. “We create products for international brand-savvy 28-year-olds. Why 28? Because women who are older wish they were 28 and women who are younger want to be 28.”