BROWNS SEEKS HIP LINES ABROAD
Byline: James Fallon
LONDON — Browns Focus is becoming more focused.
The designer retailer Browns opened Browns Focus on South Molton Street here 15 months ago to attract a younger clientele with a mix of street and club fashion it didn’t carry in its main stores.
The concept was an immediate hit — as much with fashion stylists and other retailers as with customers. Browns Focus hit its initial sales target of some $1.6 million in its first year. Now it’s refining its product mix to do even better.
“We’re cutting back or dropping some of the labels that are overexposed,” said Montserrat Mukherjee, the women’s wear buyer for Browns and Browns Focus, who declined to comment on which labels will be cut.
“Our customers expect us to be different from anywhere else — newer and more exciting.”
Which means Mukherjee scours Europe, the U.S. and the Far East trying to discover labels that will appeal to a customer looking for the newest, hottest thing.
While the 1,600-square-foot store carries such well-known names as Helmut Lang Jeans, D&G Jeans, Vivienne Westwood’s Anglomania, Gaultier Jeans and Future Ozbek, it also takes a chance on collections from young designers from the U.S. as well as the U.K.
For spring-summer, Browns Focus has imported a large number of U.S. collections. The new lines include Stephen Sprouse, Milk Fed, Built by Wendy, Phat Pants, Up & Co, Rebecca Danenberg, Cake, Project 24, Sally Penn, Tease Ties, Brighdie and Miguelina.
Many of the same lines were bought for fall. Mukherjee found most of the lines simply by walking the streets of New York during the runway shows.
“You have to go everywhere and look at everything,” she says. “You can’t miss anything just in case. We also are getting more and more designers coming to us.”
While British designers have traditionally led the wave in club and street wear, Mukherjee believes Americans are catching up fast.
“Collections like Built by Wendy and Cake are fantastically made,” she said of those two New York lines while standing in the store on a crowded weekday afternoon.
“New York is really boiling underneath. The irony is that a lot of American stores don’t seem to realize what they have back there. We’ve had buyers from New York come in to shop the store and they’ve bought American labels here wondering where we’ve found them.
“We go to all those little shows in New York where there are lots of empty chairs and a grotty entrance, so buyers and press think it’s not going to be interesting. But you always find something.”
Mukherjee has the same attitude when it comes to London, Paris or Milan. Browns Focus carries such established British lines as Vivienne Westwood’s Red Label, Fake London’s knitwear, Hysteric Glamour’s clubby tops and jeans, denim and jersey from Born Free, Bernstock/Spiers and Suture’s medically inspired prints on dresses and tops.
But it also scrounges for newer collections such as Stampede by Jessica Ogden, Elvis Jesus & Co. Couture and, for fall, the new lines Uniform and Future Classics.
“Uniform was a real discovery,” Mukherjee says. “Their printing on fleece and denim is really unusual.”
The store is further expanding its reach by introducing more bags, shoes, jewelry and even magazines aimed at the streetwise. Accessories lines include Maharishi’s military-inspired styles; jewelry by Jacqueline Rabun; socks from Antipast of Japan, which also makes T-shirts in sock materials, and, for fall, Martin Margiela’s new shoe collection Line 22, which will be exclusive to Browns Focus in the U.K.
There also is a new area devoted to the hottest athletic footwear styles by such companies as Adidas and Nike as well as to such magazine titles as Purple, Flora, Self-Service and Visionaire.
“We have a continual delivery system,” Mukherjee explains. “It’s unrealistic to have seasons in a shop like this because the customers always want to see something new. We’re soon going to start a customer-loyalty scheme for our best customers and will invite them to parties and arrange special deliveries for those days so they get to see them first.
“We always have to be thinking of new ways to attract the customer,” she continued. “Fashion is so fickle at the moment that if you don’t have the newest, most interesting things, the customer will go elsewhere.”