LONDON’S HOT SPOTS
VOYAGE, A FAST-GROWING SPECIALTY STORE, MOVES INTO WHOLESALING, WHILE THE 37-UNIT JIGSAW EXPANDS ABROAD.
Byline: James Fallon
LONDON — This city is filled with “must-stops” for overseas designers and retailers searching for upcoming fashion looks. For the last two seasons, one of them has been Voyage on Fulham Road.
That’s why it has begun to lock its front door to keep other designers out.
“It’s getting out of hand,” complains Tiziano Mazzilli, who with his wife, Louise, owns the store and designs the line. “We don’t mind if people are legitimate customers, but we’re tired of designers coming in to copy what we do. So we don’t let them in any more.”
Mazzilli said several well-known designers already have been locked out this season, but he declined to name them.
“We don’t want to embarrass people even more,” he explained. “When we see them, we go out and explain that they can’t come in any more to see what we are doing. We want to protect our brand, especially since we are now selling in the U.S. and Japan. We don’t want our things copied before we wholesale them ourselves.”
Mazzilli said the decision has had no impact on Voyage’s business. Sales in March were triple what they were in March 1996, he claimed, and the April figures are running at about the same rate. “We are very popular now but want to remain exclusive,” he said.
Voyage’s floaty lingerie looks in chiffon trimmed with velvet have been all over the runways of the world’s fashion capitals since last fall. It’s a fashion that could easily go out of style in the next season or so, but the Mazzillis aren’t worried.
They’ve been refining their style ever since they opened their 2,800-square-foot store five years ago and expect to continue to do so for the next five years and more.
“If something is beautiful, it doesn’t date,” Tiziano Mazzilli says, standing in the store’s newly remodeled lower ground floor.
Half the floor is taken up with a tent-like display for Voyage’s men’s wear, while the remainder looks like a decadent chateau and displays some of its women’s styles. The ground floor and a small mezzanine above are dedicated to women’s wear.
Voyage has had its devotees among the fashion and cultural worlds ever since it opened, with customers such as Jemima Goldsmith, Jeremy Irons, Calvin Klein, Jil Sander and Issey Miyake. But its look didn’t become widely popular until last fall, when the style perfectly fit the fashion moment.
The store’s sales have quadrupled in the last two years to $6.48 million (4 million pounds).
Now it’s out to capitalize on its growing popularity: talking with potential partners about opening a Voyage in New York and dipping its toe into wholesaling after several years of sticking to retail only.
The Mazzillis tried to wholesale their line — to Barneys New York, for one — when they first opened their store, but found it wasn’t successful because the stores bought only a few, disconnected pieces. This time, they’re restricting their wholesale to only a few stores willing to buy the line in depth and as the Mazzillis recommend.
For example, the initial shipment to Bergdorf Goodman focused on Voyage’s classic Empire dresses in devore, satin, lace or embroidered nylon. The store received delivery in mid-February and sold 300 pieces the first day, Tiziano Mazzilli claimed.
A Bergdorf Goodman spokeswoman said the store sold more than 500 Voyage pieces in the first month and that it has reordered some of the items several times. Best-selling items at the store include Voyage’s devore or floral slip dresses and its ribbed cardigans, she said.
Other customers include the Barneys Beverly Hills unit and Joyce in Hong Kong.
The Mazzillis are projecting first-year wholesale volume of more than $1.6 million (1 million pounds).
“When we ship the orders, we ship it all in one lot to the stores,” Mazzilli said. “That way, it is up to the customers to decide what they like, not the store buyers. And then it is up to us to keep the look always fresh and exciting.”
The company doesn’t produce a specific collection, but feeds things into its store as the Mazzillis design them. The garments generally are seasonless — the silk and lace dresses, for example, are sold throughout the year.
Shapes are generally loose and unconstructed, with baggy shirts, drawstring pants or flowing dresses.
The styles also are available in limited sizes: bias-cut dresses are in one size only because they are meant to stretch to fit any woman, while tops come in two sizes.
The Voyage staff is trained to advise customers on shape and size. Voyage’s emphasis has always been on unusual fabric treatments, which generally give an antique or distressed look to its designs.
The Mazzillis moved to London in the late Eighties after spending more than a decade working as design consultants in Italy for such clients as Valentino, Gianfranco Ferre and Nino Cerrutti. They use their background to work with mills on fabric development, such as distressed blends of wool and silk or devore silk crepe. Their influences generally stem from the antique and ethnic, be it 19th-century France or ancient China.
But the beautiful fabric and designs come with high price points — retail prices range from $315.90 to $477.90 (195-295 pounds) for tops; $639.90 to $2,025 (395-1,250 pounds) for dresses, and $801.90 to $4,050 (495-2,500 pounds) for coats.
“The way we use fabrics is completely different from everyone else,” Mazzilli claims. “People always compare us to the vintage look, but we are modern. All we are trying to do is make a garment that is comfortable.
“There is a danger that if all you do is try to capture a different story each season your look can go out of fashion,” he added. “But if you focus on making beautiful things that please the customer, then you have a very long future. That is Voyage.”
JIGSAW’S NEWEST PIECES
LONDON — Jigsaw has carved a place for itself as one of Britain’s leading bridge retailers and now it wants to take its show on the road.
The women’s, men’s and children’s wear retailer currently has 36 stores in the U.K. and Ireland, and recently opened its first overseas unit, in Tokyo.
It soon will open its first unit in Continental Europe, in Copenhagen, and is now eyeing other countries on the Continent. Jigsaw may even consider entering the American market.
But Jigsaw has grown to sales of about $81.2 million (50 million pounds) a year without having any real plan how to get there.
Chris Bailey, a company director and head of men’s wear design, said Jigsaw’s growth stems entirely from its focus on product and design, rather than on a business plan.
“When John Robinson started Jigsaw, he laid down some basic rules in terms of quality, price point and a nice shop environment with its own identity,” said Bailey, in an interview at Jigsaw’s headquarters in Kew, just south of London.
“It was a very considered approach, yet still relaxed. When you start off with that loose approach you get a more interesting product and company. We aren’t governed strictly by price point or growth curves.”
Robinson founded the company 23 years ago, and it prospered by opening small stores of up to 2,000 square feet in major cities and towns in Britain. Jigsaw took a major step up in March 1996 when it opened its 6,000-square-foot flagship on New Bond Street. The two-floor store was designed by architect John Pawson, who also designed the Calvin Klein store in New York, and its opening placed Jigsaw smack in the middle of one of London’s primary shopping areas for designer apparel.
Jigsaw opened the New Bond Street store because it wanted to increase awareness of its brand among designer consumers in the 25-to-45-year-old age group.
It has no direct competitors in the U.K. in terms of price and design. Joseph probably is closest although its prices are slightly higher, said Ros Bailey, Jigsaw’s head of women’s wear design.
The privately owned company has thrived by focusing on total control of its design, manufacturing, distribution and stores. It doesn’t wholesale its line, nor does it plan to.
Prices for spring-summer average about $125 (78 pounds) for pants, $145 (89 pounds) for sweaters, $113 (69.95 pounds) for shirts and $85 (52 pounds) for dresses.
The company introduces two main collections a year in women’s, men’s and children’s wear, which it launched last fall. It is particularly noted in women’s wear for its stretch pants, which compete with Joseph’s, and its tailoring, which is fashionable without being too cutting-edge.
The design team in Kew supplements its seasonal basics with more fashion-forward designs that it delivers continually throughout the season. Jigsaw owns or partially owns factories to manufacture its tailored suits, casualwear, jeans, shirts, knitwear and jersey in the U.K., Italy and Hong Kong, where it has its own sourcing office.
Its control of the factories enables it to respond quickly to trends or increase production of items that are selling well, Ros Bailey said.
“We have no buyers or merchandisers and don’t use trend prediction companies,” she continued. “If we were guided by predictions, we’d look like everybody else. We’d rather be a leader than a follower, but we don’t want to produce throwaway fashion. We’d rather a Jigsaw garment capture the feeling of the fashion without it being in-your-face.
“Chris and I design it and buy it and also oversee the production. It works for us but maybe not for every company. It makes you think and makes you more responsible for what you’re putting in the stores.”
The difficulty it faces is that Jigsaw has almost saturated the British market in terms of women’s stores. There still is plenty of room for growth in freestanding men’s and children’s wear stores, but expansion on the women’s wear side will come outside the U.K.
That’s one reason for the opening of the 7,000-square-foot store in Copenhagen, which will carry both women’s and men’s wear. The store, located in a former royal dining hall, will open this year.
“Our ethos hasn’t changed as we have grown, and we just seem to fill a gap in the market wherever we go,” Ros Bailey said. “Our principles remain the same — good quality products with style.”