Julien Macdonald, London’s prince of glitz, is toning down his act and ramping up the quality of his collection in a bid to become a luxury brand.
The Welsh designer and his new backer, private investor Jamey Hargreaves, have unveiled their plans to remold Macdonald’s image — and that of his company — in an exclusive interview with WWD.
For starters, they’re swapping Macdonald’s usual crowded, Champagne-fueled evening fashion show, which always ended in a shower of gold confetti, with a decidedly low-key affair on the afternoon of Sept. 15.
“People will see a more grown-up Julien Macdonald,” said the designer famous for his fur-packed collections, slinky silhouettes and sparkling cobweb knits.
“I’m getting older, and my clients are, too — although I’m still catering to the same modern, sophisticated working woman,” he added during an interview at the Electric Club in Notting Hill.
This season, instead of inviting 1,000 guests to the ballroom of London’s Hilton Hotel at Hyde Park Corner, he’s organized a salon presentation for 200 at Lancaster House, a Georgian mansion in St. James’s originally built for the Duke of York and Albany.
The collection will also be small compared with past ones. “While I might have done five blouses in the past, now I’ve made two exquisitely cut ones — the best ones I’ve ever done,” he said.
Macdonald said he’d been looking for an investor since he left Givenchy in 2004. “I needed business guidance. I wanted to grow and move forward and I knew I couldn’t do that alone.”
Hargreaves, who has two decades of experience with his family’s company, British value clothing retailer Matalan, explained it took more than a year of negotiating before the deal was done. He said the two have the same vision about elevating Julien Macdonald from fashion label to luxury brand.
To that end, the partners have opted to take production in-house — the collection had been made under license in Italy — and focus on a better quality product, right down to the design of the clothing hangers.
Tailored clothing and leather items will be made by factories in Italy, while knits will mostly be made in London, and many of them will be done by hand.
In January, Macdonald will also move his headquarters from Notting Hill to Old Burlington Street in Mayfair. That move alone signals a major shift in image from scrappy start-up to polished operation.
The 12,500-square-foot town house will hold all of the creative and administrative teams as well as a public relations offi ce and a VIP area.
Right now, Macdonald is still working in his cramped quarters above an antique shop on Goldborne Road in Notting Hill. Space is at such a premium there that one of his staffers has had to carve a makeshift office out of an unused bathroom. “We actually have someone working on a computer, sitting in the tub,” said Macdonald with a laugh.
Hargreaves said once they get the clothing right, they’ll launch their first ad campaign, open a string of stores, and move into product categories — most likely accessories and fragrances.
The two also plan to beef up worldwide distribution and focus on such markets as the U.S. Right now, the collection sells exclusively at Saks Fifth Avenue.
“I’m not your typical investor,” said Hargreaves. “I’m interested in the longevity of the brand, and I intend to be working with Julien Macdonald for a very long time.”