LONDON — Browns is back in full force, and feeling very optimistic about the upcoming season.
“We actually had moments when we kept wondering how everything could actually be that good?” said Ida Petersson, the British retailer’s buying director, of the September catwalks. She spoke about the “electrifying” experience of going to fashion shows again and designers channeling all the pent-up energy of the last two years of lockdown into newness, bold color and an extra dose of fun. “They really pushed their imagination the extra mile.”
The retailer is embracing this new energy and taking a bold approach with their buys — gone are the days of neutral-hued loungewear, slippers and flat boots. The focus has quickly shifted to Y2K style: decadent partywear, artisanal crochet pieces — and sex.
“There was this energy in the air and people came together to sell sex essentially,” said Petersson.
Head of women’s wear Heather Gramston added that barely-there dressing was the “overarching trend of the season, graded by how much skin you are willing to show.” Pioneering the trend were LaQuan Smith, with his cutout bodysuits; Ludovic de Saint Sernin, who embraced “overt sexiness” with his sparkly mini numbers; LVMH Prize winner Nensi Dojaka, as well as more established names like Rick Owens with his “tougher take on sexy.”
All these names will feature prominently in the Browns spring 2022 edit, as will leather corsets from Knwls and Marine Serre’s Clueless-inspired mini tweed suits — which blend the sexy trend with nostalgic Y2K dressing.
“That kind of nostalgia feels very relevant right now and it has been fueled even further by the Free Britney movement,” added Petersson.
Team Browns is standing behind the mega brands, too, and had particular soft spots for Balenciaga; Miu Miu’s miniature skirts; Saint Laurent’s sharp tailoring, and Loewe’s cracked egg heels. But unlike many of its competitors who are doubling down on heritage names and all the classics, Browns is keeping young, niche names as “the heart and soul of what [they] do.”
“The Pradas and Celines of the world are wonderful to work with, but working with young designers is what we really burn for,” said Petersson, adding that the business is aiming for up to 50 percent of its buys to be made up of up-and-coming, independent labels. “But you have to keep progressing those targets. With so much talent out there, why not flip the tables eventually? Why not make it 85 percent?”
The retailer is also very hot on “taking care” of these young brands and has a dedicated department for helping up-and-coming names with merchandizing, pricing, as well as production, alongside the external agency Bear Scouts. “Young brands are vulnerable and need to feel supported. They have the talent but sometimes the problem is that they might not have the money to produce the collection right. We don’t want to take people on and then have to take a step back because they were rushed or didn’t have the right resources,” said Petersson.
Browns also supports young labels by pre-paying them for production to avoid compromising their cash flow, a stark contrast to bigger players like Net-a-porter, which have set 90-day payment terms for all brand partners as of last month.
There will be more than 68 new names in the spring 2022 edit, including the likes of Christopher John Rogers; partywear brand Poster Girl; Feben, who is a former costume designer and worked on Beyoncé’s “Black Is King” film; Budapest-based Aeron; shoe label Haus of Honey, and Alhuwalia, who has unveiled her first women’s wear range for spring 2022.
The biggest highlight for Petersson was Copenhagen based A. Roege Hove, known for her intricate knits and sustainability credentials. “It was a real electric moment at her debut show in Copenhagen last summer — standing ovations all around,” she said.
Elsewhere the retailer is growing its lifestyle departments, from kids to home and sport.
What started as a small experiment in homeware has become a full-blown department, with more than 80 brands and a new focus on tablescaping with brands like Ginori, Maison Balzac and Foundrae, the fine jewelry brand which will soon be debuting its first range of plates.
Sport is another big focus, and the aim is for Browns to become a “one-stop shop” for as many sport disciplines as possible, from golf, and tennis to running, cycling and ski. The latter is having a particularly strong momentum with new sustainable names like Erin Snow Skin and exclusive après ski capsules by Balmain launching soon.