LONDON — In a week marked by spectacular failures on the British high street, one fashion retailer is looking to the future with optimism — and a fresh face.
Warehouse, which was founded in 1976 as a single store on London’s Duke Street, and currently has about 300 stores across the U.K., had lost direction in recent years, failing to compete with retailers such as Zara, COS and & Other Stories.
As reported, Warehouse, which is owned by Aurora Fashions whose portfolio also includes the Oasis and Coast high street chains, drafted brand consultant Alasdhair Willis and London designer Emma Cook to undertake the revamp.
The result is a collection of polished sportswear with a cool British twist; more in-season fashion; a bigger embrace of digital, and a more streamlined store portfolio. The first collection will drop in September, and be regularly refreshed three times per month.
“The high street is margin-driven — there is no question about that — and if you don’t have a clear proposition or point of view you are not going to make it,” said Willis, adding that without an updated strategy and direction, many high street brands will struggle to stay alive over the next five years.
“There is so much doom and gloom on the high street, but we see it as an opportunity — and we see a great future for the business. We can be the good news story,” added Willis, who has been working on the re-launch for more than a year.
During a walk-through of the first collection in a new showroom a few steps from St. Paul’s Cathedral, Cook said she wanted to fill what she sees as a very specific gap on the high street.
“British-ness — the unselfconscious, mismatched way that British girls dress, the way they mix things and how they’re not committed to a style. They can put a Chanel suit on — pair it with a band T-shirt — and not look like anyone else,” said Cook, whose title is design director.
She said she’s getting her design team “to make things they — themselves — really want to wear.” She said her hope is that old and young alike will find ways to wear the pieces.
The sleek new collection takes its cues from the more sophisticated European runways and is heavy on texture, print, jacquard and embroidery, with a color palette that embraces toffee, dusty pink, chocolate, navy and olive.
Prices range from 39 pounds, or $57, for a bird and bug printed top to around 700 pounds, or $1,020, for a shearling coat.
Pieces include mannish overcoats and long dresses — some of them rib knits, others with a delicate flower print inspired by oil paintings, and others still resembling slips, with contrasting lace.
There are tie-dyed track suits and tailored, flat-front plaid trousers; cashmere sweaters, and corduroy culottes. The pieces appear to be more expensive than they actually are.
Willis, a member of the Warehouse board of directors, said digital is at the top of the agenda and the brand has recently re-platformed its e-commerce site.
The company has also hired Kate Walmsley, Topshop’s digital director, to be its customer director, and has partnered with the augmented reality and visual app Blippar to make the customer experience more interactive.
Willis added that Warehouse also plans to trim its bricks-and-mortar portfolio, putting a focus on city center stores, and added that the collections will always have an urban inspiration and feel.
According to the latest figures from Companies House, the official register of U.K. businesses, Warehouse had sales of 126.4 million pounds, or $206 million, in the year ended Feb. 28, 2015. Losses in the period widened to 2 million pounds, or $3.3 million. All figures have been converted at exchange rates for the periods to which they refer.
The retailer regularly works with the British Fashion Council to promote young design talent and Liz Evans remains the store’s chief executive officer.
The re-launch of Warehouse and the unveiling of the new strategy comes just days after other British high street fixtures, BHS and Austin Reed, fell into administration. Both brands dipped behind competitors, failing to keep up with consumers’ demand for speed, convenience and omnichannel offers.