LONDON — Mulberry’s new creative director Johnny Coca makes his catwalk debut today, but his first collection – which will begin dropping in stores in April – isn’t the only fresh start at the brand.
After more than a decade, Coca has been reunited with Thierry Andretta, who became chief executive officer of Mulberry last year. It was Andretta who originally introduced Coca to Céline – when it was designed by Michael Kors – and the two worked together there.
Now they are preparing to transform Mulberry into a lifestyle brand, with leather goods at its core, and full footwear and rtw lines that channel the brand’s British roots and bohemian flair. The brand had showed rtw and footwear on the runway, but it was a very small part of the business.
“We really want a complete 360-degree vision in every category and to target both the existing and aspirational customer,” said Andretta during an interview at Mulberry’s sleek office building on Kensington Church Street.
Mulberry is the largest manufacturer of luxury leather goods in the U.K., and makes the bulk of its accessories at its factories in Somerset, England. It has recently signed a license with Onward Luxury Group to manufacture and co-distribute Mulberry rtw and shoes, starting with the fall 2016 season.
“We will start in the U.K. – that is our biggest and most important market – and also our most relevant one for communicating about the brand,” he said.
The U.K. generates more than 50 percent of Mulberry’s revenue, while the U.S. and Korea are the two next biggest markets. Germany is also a key market, while the brand has yet to break into Italy. Andretta said the growth opportunities internationally are huge.
Mulberry certainly has the scope to build: Over the past three years it has opened a raft of new stores in North America, Europe and the Far East, and recently cut the ribbon on an enlarged Paris flagship.
Coca will soon be getting to work on a new store concept that can accommodate the new product categories and reflect the new mood.
Mulberry’s strategy is a precise one: Some 70 percent of bags and leather goods are priced between 500 and 1,000 pounds, or $716 and $1,430.
The new rtw collection will have an advanced contemporary price point, ranging from about 250 pounds to 1,500 pounds, or $358 to $2,150, while footwear will have stickers about 20 percent lower than many of the big luxury brands.
Andretta said leather goods will always be the driver of business, with the second biggest category set to be footwear.
“The biggest challenge for us is to stay committed to our price point. We want to remain accessible in the luxury space,” Andretta said.
He also pointed out that the brand is committed to its very British roots and will continue to make the bulk of its leather goods here, even though – given the euro’s depreciation against the pound – it would be cheaper to transfer production to the continent.
After a tough few years when the company tried to raise its prices to play in the luxury space – losing sales and British customer loyalty in the process – Mulberry is getting back on track.
In the first half, the company moved back into the black, notching a 4.8 percent increase in revenue growth and seeing strong demand for its products in the U.K. Profit for the six months to Sept. 30 was 120,000 pounds, or $185,000.
Before Andretta came on board as ceo last year, Mulberry’s chairman Godfrey Davis was filling the role temporarily following a tumultuous period for the company under the former ceo Bruno Guillon.
Mulberry is majority owned by Challice Ltd., a company controlled by Ong Beng Seng and Christina Ong. Challice owns 56.2 percent, while the rest is listed on the AIM division of the London Stock Exchange.
The past era was marked by multiple profit warnings, the resignation of creative director Emma Hill, and the collapse of the company’s share price.
Andretta, who was most recently ceo of the Italian jeweler Buccellati, was already serving as an independent, non-executive director at Mulberry shortly before his appointment.
He was among those who suggested that Mulberry consider Coca for the creative director role at the brand. “I’m pleased they chose him. He’s the right designer,” said Andretta.
Prior to Buccellati, Andretta held top roles at Lanvin, Moschino, Kering and LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton. His background is in luxury leather goods.
Coca was most recently head design director for leather goods, accessories, shoes and jewelry at Céline.
As reported last week, Mulberry is moving ever closer to showing in-season fashion, and decided this season to keep its pre-collection under wraps and show it on the runway with the main line.
The first fall-winter 2016 delivery will be in April – just weeks after the show – as both Andretta and Coca are keen to shortcircuit high street copyists and satisfy their wholesale and end customers as much as they can.
“You spend a fortune to have one of the best creatives on board, a fortune to develop a collection and the material, a fortune on the catwalk to communicate — and then you give a lot of fast-fashion brands the opportunity to copy. Three, four weeks later, they are in the market,” Andretta said.
Andretta added that he wants his customers to see – and buy – authentic products as soon as possible.
“This is a cultural shock for everyone. We will be in store with thousands and thousands of pieces,” said Andretta, adding that the new, earlier deliveries are also better for the wholesale clients, who won’t have to watch the high-street brands knock off styles that have yet to be delivered to Mulberry stores and multi-brand retailers.
He said he plans to sit down with Coca after the show to figure out exactly how to organize the seasonal deliveries going forward. “I don’t know whether this will go on a monthly, or a purely seasonal drop. It’s all under discussion. I don’t know where we will end up, but every brand will find its own solution.”