HOLLAND & HOLLAND INTENDS BACK-TO-BASICS APPROACH

Byline: James Fallon

LONDON — Holland & Holland is readjusting its sights.
The luxury brand confirmed Tuesday that it’s given up on becoming a major fashion label. Instead, it’s going back to its roots as a manufacturer of luxury guns and classic apparel. Holland & Holland is owned by the Wertheimer family, which also owns Chanel.
But a Holland & Holland spokeswoman here denied a Dec. 22 report in WWD that the company was pulling entirely out of apparel. It will continue to produce women’s and men’s wear both for its own stores and for wholesale, she said.
“We will continue with our ready-to-wear collection but it won’t be as fashionable,” she said. “It will be more classic+We aren’t abandoning apparel. It was just felt that it had been pushed too far into fashion.”
The move will first be evident in the fall 2001 collection.
Holland & Holland will ship its spring line, which was designed by its former creative consultant, the French designer Jose Levy. The men’s line was bought for spring by such stores as Saks Fifth Avenue in New York, Dallas and Chicago and Selfridges and Harrods in London.
Holland & Holland also will retain its five freestanding stores, which include three in London, one in Paris and two in New York, the spokeswoman said.
She declined to reveal details of the personnel changes that will result from the change in strategy. However, it is understood that Holland & Holland has terminated its contract with Levy as well as with Veronique Leblanc, who had been the company’s general manager for fashion and accessories.
Neither Levy nor Leblanc could be reached for comment Tuesday.
Leblanc joined Holland & Holland three years ago from Walt Disney Co. to spearhead its move into fashion. Her aim was to turn the company into a luxury brand rivalling Hermes, Louis Vuitton and Burberry. Leblanc and Levy expanded the women’s and men’s lines by adding more leather goods, knitwear and tailored apparel. Leblanc also recently launched a bespoke vacation branch at the company to give it additional revenues.
But Holland & Holland has operated at a loss almost since Chanel U.K. acquired the company in 1989. Industry executives estimated the company was losing $10 million to $15 million a year at one stage and questioned whether the Wertheimers would ever succeed in their goal of turning the company into another luxury label.
Holland & Holland has estimated global sales at retail of about $30 million to $40 million, industry sources said.
The Holland & Holland spokeswoman said Tuesday that Leblanc’s moves were resulting in “an increasing divergence from our core business.” She said the company’s gunmaking heritage “has to be reflected in our total business activity.”
Ironically, the company’s latest move appears to be a step back to the strategy it followed from 1992 to 1998 under former chairman Alain Drach and then abandoned in favor of Leblanc’s approach. Drach continually spoke of the “concentric circles” of building the Holland & Holland brand, which would remain rooted in its gunmaking heritage while reaching out to a broader audience.
“We are not in the business of fancy fashion,” Drach told WWD in February 1995. “We are trying to make practical and top quality products. I will never move away from the reason for being of a product. Why should I, with the history we have?”
Drach’s approach failed to capture the luxury consumer’s imagination. In addition, his plan was to open large freestanding stores in major cities which would include gun showrooms as well as apparel stores. Drach oversaw the opening of Holland & Holland stores in New York, Paris and Beverly Hills and talked of further openings in Munich, Madrid and Milan or Rome.
Leblanc reversed that strategy when she joined, closing the Beverly Hills store and focussing on building Holland & Holland’s wholesale business in apparel and accessories. She said the brand needed to develop a more urban outlook that wasn’t quite so heavily rooted in guns.
In an interview with WWD in November 1998 when Levy’s appointment was announced, Leblanc said, “We wanted someone like Jose because we are moving from a position of being a very shooting and country-driven company to one where we are bringing the country to the city. We are keeping our roots referring to shooting but playing it into urban fashion with a country twist.”
Holland & Holland was founded as a gunmaker in 1835 and is considered one of the world’s premier makers of bespoke shooting guns, which can sell for up to $30,000 a pair. Its major rival is Purdey, which is owned by Compagnie Financiere Richemont AG, owners of Cartier, Chloe, Alfred Dunhill, Montblanc and other luxury brands.
While the Wertheimers have invested heavily in expanding Holland & Holland’s retail and wholesale operations, Richemont has been content to simply redecorate Purdey’s South Audley Street showrooms and modernize its production facilities. Johann Rupert, Richemont’s chief executive, has said the group will never attempt to broaden Purdey’s appeal beyond its core base of customers interested in shooting and outdoor activities.

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