Laure Hériard Dubreuil, whose The Webster multibrand luxury boutiques can be found in Miami, Houston and Costa Mesa, Calif., has bucked a number of modern trends in retailing on her road to success.
Dubreuil jumped into operating her first luxury multibrand store in a converted Art Deco hotel in South Beach, Fla., at the height of the global financial crisis after being a merchandiser for Yves Saint Laurent, and Balenciaga before that.
According to the French-born retailer, the concept worked because The Webster catered to a clientele in Miami that was crying out for diverse yet highly curated luxury products, and also because she focused on giving people more than just a place to purchase those products.
“It’s definitely about the experience. At The Webster time stops, you can take off your shoes, spend the day, people end up eating there and having drinks and trying everything,” Dubreuil said in a conversation with Miles Socha, WWD’s executive editor, Europe.
Organically growing The Webster brand from that initial store, with feedback from customers guiding her new location hunting, the latest outpost of The Webster concept recently opened in Costa Mesa.
“I’m very happy about this new opening, it opens up the Asian market and the Chinese market to us, which is very exciting,” Dubreuil to the audience at the WWD Global Fashion Forum in Beijing.
This was something of a homecoming for Dubreuil, who was returning to China’s capital years after first arriving in the city as a young student.
“I’m very happy to be here in Beijing because I haven’t been here for a long time. In a past life I started learning Mandarin as a teenager and came to China to study,” she said. “Being here helps me to see where the market is at and also discover some designers, retailers and great fashion brands.”
Though Dubreuil is adamant that she is first and foremost a brick-and-mortar retailer, that doesn’t mean she is totally ignoring the trend for e-commerce, working with platform Farfetch, and opening her own e-commerce operation as a complement to The Webster’s physical stores.
Dubreuil admits she is late to the e-commerce party, but she’s less concerned with timing than with experience, which she is has worked hard to incorporate into her own e-commerce, in keeping with the ethos of The Webster.
“I want to keep the way I mix all the brand together and the way we communicate with our clients, even though it’s online,” Dubreuil explained. “I think [e-commerce] will be very important, but at the same time I am a brick-and-mortar retailer and that’s what I know how to do, that’s what my clients like and I think it’s paying off to go against the trend here.”
Another key to raising both her profile, as well as that of The Webster, has been collaboration. Both with her clientele, whose feedback helps dictate everything from product assortment to new locations, but also with other companies — with everyone from Target to The Ritz partnering with Dubreuil for exclusive product designs.
The Target collaboration in particular was instrumental in putting The Webster on “a different map” and was instructive for Dubreuil in how her luxury clients were less attracted to exclusivity and price than they were in products with unique design elements. As well as seeing the 200 pieces she designed stocked in more than 2,000 Target stores across the U.S., Dubreuil also stocked a few of the pieces in The Webster, only to see them snapped up immediately.
“What was incredible was that the price point was much lower than the brands I have in The Webster, but the customers at our stores went crazy about the pieces I was stocking there. I had Mr. Valentino himself buying pieces from the Target collection for his friends,” she said, adding that these collaborations continue to be a positive stream of revenue, as well as an effective way to attract attention and new customers.
“For me that has been the recipe for success, I have to do something from my heart and something I want myself. That’s where these pieces come from, they are things that I want myself and then it ends up selling really well.”