Thom Browne is embarking on a major retail rollout.
By the end of this year, the luxury brand will operate 60 stores globally and the plan is to up that number to 75 by the end of 2021. This is a substantial increase from the 16 stores the company operated in 2016 when Rodrigo Bazan joined as chief executive officer — two years before the Ermenegildo Zegna Group acquired a majority stake in the business.
In a video interview from his Milan office, where he is preparing for the opening of the fall market, Bazan said despite the challenges presented by the pandemic and the second round of lockdowns in many regions around the world, he remains upbeat about the future of the brand, which has grown to a reported $200 million in annual sales.
He said the year began strongly and despite having to shutter its stores, Thom Browne has successfully managed to heighten its “clienteling” efforts and put more focus on operating digitally. “Based on the results, we will see growth in 2020,” he said.
Since the pandemic started, the brand has experienced “very strong online business,” Bazan said, due in large part to its partnership with Farfetch and the efforts of its retail staff, which continues to work with customers remotely. “It was hard when everything slowed down, but the clients still felt the great energy of the brand” because of these omnichannel experts, the ceo said.
Helping to bolster his spirits is the official opening of two stores in North America — one in South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, Calif., and the other in the Yorkdale Centre in Toronto.
The 2,457-square-foot South Coast Plaza unit is the brand’s first in Southern California and is located in the center’s southwest wing on the second floor. Designed by Flavio Albanese of ASA Studio Albanese, the store features many of the designer’s signature details, including windows covered with slat blinds, a minimalist midcentury style office with rows of fluorescent tube lighting, polished white Calcutta and Carrara marble floors, and banker gray Bardiglio and Carrara marble walls. The midcentury furniture used in the space are by American and French designers including Dunbar by Edward Wormley, Knoll, Paul McCobb, Karl Springer, Jacques Adnet and Maison Jansen. The store features the designer’s tailored clothing, sportswear and accessories as well as dedicated space for eyewear and Vetyver fragrances.
The design is similar in Toronto, which is smaller, at 1,430 square feet, and located in Yorkdale’s southeast wing.
Bazan said the California store had actually opened in March, but only for three days until it was forced to close due to COVID-19 lockdowns. “It opened on a Sunday and closed Tuesday,” he said. But the staff managed to engage with customers during the closure and since reopening in June, “we’ve seen a bounce-back in business,” he said.
The initial results in Toronto are encouraging as well, he said. That store was slated to open in July, but was pushed to November and it officially made its debut on Nov. 9. “We’ve seen very good results since opening,” Bazan said, noting it is attracting a “totally new client.”
In both cases, the stores are located in shopping centers that are among the best in their respective countries thanks to their luxury retail clients and elevated food and beverage offerings. Two years ago, Bazan said, Thom Browne had only one store in North America, in New York City. Since then, it has added Miami, so the South Coast Plaza and Yorkdale units double its presence here.
Of its 60 total stores, Bazan said 40 are directly operated by the company and the other 20 are franchised. The company operates its own stores in North America, Europe, Japan, China, Dubai and Macau, while in Hong Kong, it partners with Joyce, in Korea with Samsung and in Southeast Asia with Club 21. All of the stores are profitable, Bazan said.
In total, he said, the retail stores are evenly distributed around the world, with a third each in North America, Europe and Asia.
“Back in 2016, we had only four directly operated stores,” he said, characterizing the ambitious rollout as a “big and successful” one. He attributed its performance to its highly curated and consistent offering for nearly 20 years, Browne’s design skills and the “clarity of the message.”
Browne launched his business in 2001 at an appointment-only shop in New York’s Greenwich Village and the retail concept has changed very little since then, Bazan said. “It started as a made-to-measure atelier and the retail concept has evolved, but is still the same. When you’re timeless, you don’t have to change that much.”
Ditto for the collection itself. Bazan said the majority of the Thom Browne business continues to be in tailored, but sales of wovens and knitwear are “very strong. And we’re growing accessories and footwear very nicely as well.” He admitted it was an anomaly that a brand “anchored” in work apparel has performed as well as it has during a time when most people have opted for sweatpants and comfortable basics while working from home.
“Our business is very resilient,” he said, adding that the pandemic has not forced the company to postpone or cancel any of its plans. That includes the opening of its first women’s-only store in London on Nov. 2. Like South Coast Plaza, Bazan said, the store was forced to close four days after opening, but he believes that the staff’s ability to continue to engage with shoppers digitally will allow the unit to remain relevant until it can reopen.
“It’s a challenging time,” he said, “but it allows us to be more focused. The women’s business has the potential to be stronger than the men’s and it’s also bounced back faster.”
As for the additional stores slated to open in 2021, he declined to name specific cities but said the regions would remain the same. “We’re finalizing leases and designs,” he said, “but they’ll be well-balanced between capitals in North America, Europe and Asia.”
In China, where the brand operates 13 stores, Bazan said business started to rebound as early as April and is now “extremely strong.” He attributed the results to the profile of its clients, its positioning on the luxury end of the spectrum and the fact that people are traveling less and shopping locally where Thom Browne has been part of the landscape for four years.
Plans for how the brand will show its next collection are up in the air at this point, Bazan said. Before the pandemic, Thom Browne had shown in Paris but he filmed a well-received runway extravaganza in the Los Angeles Coliseum for his spring show that was presented digitally.
“We’ll continue to monitor the situation,” Bazan said. “It’s not correct to plan an event until we see what happens. I think we are going to be in for a tough winter,” and it’s not practical at this point to attempt to host a physical event and put the staff and attendees at risk.
“It’s a challenging year, but it also gives us the opportunity to learn,” he said. Browne has become quite proficient at designing digitally from New York, the company has proven it has “very strong” photographic and video messaging, and the communication among team members has been enhanced as a result of the company’s digital efforts.