LONDON — After a Spanish sojourn that saw her working alongside Stuart Vevers and Jonathan Anderson at Loewe, Lisa Montague is back in the U.K., planning to expand the homegrown accessories brand Aspinal of London.
Aspinal is fresh territory for Montague, who spent most of the past two decades working for bigger and better-known brands such as Mulberry, where she served as chief operating officer, and Loewe, which she joined in 2009.
Aspinal, which was founded by the serial entrepreneur and former record label boss Iain Burton in 2001, is a different entity with no major designers at the helm or high-profile runway shows, and prices that skew lower than those at the big luxury brands.
Prices at Aspinal, which manufactures its colorful, elegant bags in Spain, range from 55 pounds for a coin purse to 1,195 pounds for the large Dockery bag, a structured style inspired by the one that actress Michelle Dockery’s grandmother once carried.
The top three products are men’s accessories — briefcases, wallets and a hip flask — while the biggest growth category is handbags.
The company remains independently owned, with some 50 percent of the business coming from online and 85 percent of sales done in the U.K. Aspinal has only just begun to stretch into markets such as the Middle East and China.
“I keep referring to it as a 40 million pounds start-up — with a clean slate. We can do anything, really,” said Montague over tea at Claridge’s. “The landscape and the marketplace have shifted so much, and the traditional routes to market are not necessarily as relevant as they were.
“The team [is] up for anything, so we can try things, new models and be ahead of the game in terms of the way people do business these days, which is more direct to consumer,” she continued. “The cost of running the business is tight, but there’s not a huge store network. It’s all going through the online, so the value is passed to the customer, and the level of repeat business is phenomenal.”
Montague started work last month, and her first major project will be opening the brand’s new-look flagship store on Regent Street St. James’s, between Piccadilly Circus and Pall Mall.
The 3,500-square-foot flagship, which is set to open in mid-November, is part of a new development by The Crown Estate. The look is inspired by an English country house, with double-height ceilings on the ground floor.
“The intention is to welcome people into the home of Aspinal, and the space — although it has that incredible double height — doesn’t feel like a museum. There are fireplaces, which makes it feel very homey,” said Montague, adding that the new store is more than three times larger than the average Aspinal unit.
She declined to give first-year sales projections, but said sales per square foot should be in line with other Aspinal units.
The rooms are meant to mimic those of a grand home: There is a drawing room, boudoir, games room and a tea, coffee and Champagne bar. A sweeping staircase leads to a mezzanine level and a lounge area with a gift concierge service.
“Hospitality is really important, and retail is about making people feel appreciated, welcomed. Whether you are high-end luxury or a high street retailer, you have to be service oriented and you have to like people. In a flagship store, you’re going to need to welcome people in a very sincere way that is authentic and hospitable,” she said.
Like many accessories companies, the store will also offer personalization services such as embossing, while Montague is launching a new series of embroidered letters known as the Aspinal Alphabet.
The store will launch with its Aspinal x Murder on the Orient Express collection, which includes a small hat box bag priced at 495 pounds and the mini trunk clutch, which costs 450 pounds. The launch coincides with the 21st Century Fox film that opens in London in early November.
Montague said she took the job for the growth potential. Aspinal has 24 directly operated points of sale in the U.K., including ten freestanding stores in London, and concessions in Selfridges and Harrods. Stores in Leeds, England and Edinburgh, Scotland have recently opened and there is some travel retail in the bigger British airports.
“There’s no real export business to speak of. There’s a little bit of online business in China — and a lot of demand. There is some business in the Middle East, a few stores there, and quite a good growth in Canada,” said Montague adding that Aspinal plans to grow in the Middle East with its partner Liwa, which is part of a bigger retail group.
“We will definitely look east first, but it’s a small team and I have to remember that. I’m going to Japan this month to have a look, just to scan the market and see what we think might be the opportunities. We’re looking at how we can develop our business in China online, and open that market up,” she said.