LONDON — It’s not often that a designer throws open the doors of his bedroom to customers, but that’s just what Roland Mouret is planning to do next year when he fully opens his Manhattan townhouse, which he sees as part shop, part apartment, part refuge.
The French-born, London-based Mouret, who celebrates two decades in business next year, has already opened the shop part of 1006 Madison Avenue, but his private apartment on the top floor is still under construction. The apartment, and its role in the business, reflects the designer’s ideas about fashion, design and retail today.
Mouret talks to WWD about the relationship that designers need to have with their luxury customers; see-now-buy-now, and his plans for 2017, 20 years after he founded the company not in the bedroom, but in his kitchen.
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WWD: Why would you open the ultimate private space — your bedroom — to clients at the townhouse?
Roland Mouret: We come to fashion because of stories about people. Think of the apartment of Coco Chanel in Paris: Who doesn’t want to go there and try on Chanel clothes? I think it’s brilliant for me to be able to do that. The bedroom will be open to clients to go and change. I see it as a space for the customer to have another type of shopping experience.
WWD: How do you see the role of a designer today? Has the relationship with the customer changed?
R.M.: I listen a lot to my customer. It’s part of my DNA to hold them, and to understand what they want, and how they want me to react with the collection. The designer has to be present and to appear in the life of the customer. I think it’s part of the price of the luxury product. If we do luxury, we have to go back to how luxury was when it was created, when the designer was in the life of the customer.
WWD: Is New York, the city that never sleeps, the best place to ask customers to take their time and try on clothes is a private bedroom?
R.M.: In New York when customers say “I’m busy, send me that and that and that,” they don’t allow you the time to collaborate with them, to dress them. And that’s why I want the apartment, to stop them a bit and to talk, and say, “Let’s have a cocktail, let’s chat about what you like.” I’m French, we have cafés and terraces. I know that New York is not cafés and terraces.
WWD: How is the luxury customer different from the fashion one?
R.M.: Magazines will push symbolic imagery of fashion, and I think it works on young customers because most of them are buying the product on the high street. I think people who buy luxury goods don’t follow trends. They are following their identity. Most of them will consider what they love or hate about their body. Some will sometimes think the outfit is better than their body. But the reality is that an outfit is just a piece of fabric until you put it on. And you have to reconnect them sometimes with their own mind, and never judge the way they’re going to wear it. It’s their life.
WWD: How do you reconcile your own need for intimacy with the customer with the social media world we live in, which is all about speed and efficient messaging?
R.M.: Social media has to be about you. I like to do a little movie, a little animation because I think the future will be more moving animation. You want to be taken into a little story. The size of our [phone] screens is sometimes too small to show the quality of a print, but when you have a little movie, it takes your brain, it takes your mind, it makes you smarter. And you understand the product better.
WWD: What about the customers you cannot meet or see or connect with on Instagram? How do you deal with the women who are buying your clothes from department stores?
R.M.: When you look out at your customer as a mass, you have a problem. A mass isn’t an identity. You understand customer by customer and then they create small groups of themselves. But you never take all of the women as a whole, as you don’t take a country as a whole or say, “OK, my market is America.”
WWD: What’s your feeling about see-now-buy-now collections, and the role of the runway?
R.M.: If you have a [season-appropriate] sample and you talk about it with the customer, and she says, “OK, I’m going to receive it in three weeks,” then she has no problem waiting. It’s when the product is separate, has no life, when it’s not right for the season that it doesn’t work. When the product is so separate from the customer, that’s when you start to think, “Maybe we should make clothes that they can buy straight away now.”
WWD: What role does the seasonal runway fulfill?
R.M.: It’s changed. I loved it in the Eighties, it was the final point of transformation from one season to another. Now it’s just a tool for the season. It comes at the moment when we show to the press, but we also show to the client now, too. I think it’s entertainment. The show must go on. And I think to catch the customer and to say “I’ve got your attention,” is important.
WWD: Can you talk about some of your plans for 2017, in addition to your upcoming store opening in Dubai?
R.M.: We have to move the leather goods. I’ve just started the process now, but I think in one year or so we’ll launch. I’m looking to have one bag that I think is really me. Classic, with a simple shape, the sort of bag that unfolds itself, and creates the same attraction as a neckline.
Creating new categories has to be so personal for the designer. If not, most of the time, you don’t succeed. My way of thinking is to be true to myself and find the right positioning. I have to be really strategic and creative at the same time.