LONDON — British accessories designer Sophie Hulme, known for her low-key, no-logo leather handbags embellished with gold hardware, is finally getting a retail space of her own — and then some.
Hulme, who has been steadily building her handbag business for nearly a decade, will open her first stand-alone store in London’s Burlington Arcade on Wednesday, and is already planning a second, on Chiltern Street in Marylebone, for early next year.
The openings are part of a larger plan to build up the business as the brand marks its 10th anniversary next year.
Hulme has recently secured new private investment and also hired a chief executive officer, Malte Griess-Nega, who said he plans to take the business to 50 million pounds over the next five years, through a mix of 75 percent retail and 25 percent wholesale sales.
That growth will be controlled and deliberate — and come from bag sales rather than a million product or brand extensions. Griess-Nega said the brand is not about celebrity or the personality of the designer, and the focus will remain on the core product: handbags.
“We are niche and we want to stay niche. The brand is very much about the bag as an investment piece that’s meant to last. We believe we offer excellent products, and that good design tells its own story,” said Griess-Nega in an interview ahead of the Burlington Arcade opening.
Griess-Nega, who has a background in management consulting and who served as chief financial officer at Temperley London, said Sophie Hulme will be putting a greater emphasis on retail going forward as the business has been mostly wholesale until now.
Hulme has a shop-in-shop at Harrods and sells at Selfridges, Liberty and Antonia at Excelsior Milan.
The brand is also turning much of its attention to China, where Griess-Nega is looking for a partner who can build up a brick-and-mortar network and create a country-specific digital platform. “China is an amazing market both online and off-line, and we need to find the right partner there,” said Griess-Nega, adding that the country is already Sophie Hulme’s second-largest market after the U.K. The U.S., Italy and Germany come third, fourth and fifth, respectively.
At home, brand-building will come via the two new stores, which have very different looks, although both were designed by Hulme and her husband Edward Swift, a partner in the architectural practice MaichSwift. A debut ad campaign is also planned for the middle of next year.
Burlington Arcade, which spans 324 square feet, is filled with furniture crafted from a sustainable material that’s made from recycled denim and cotton, and sourced from the Kvadrat textile studio.
The set up is easy to dismantle, recycle and reuse, reflecting a responsible design approach. The store will also offer three types of personalization services.
The Leather Letters collection sees letters made from stacked and compacted saddle leather pressed onto the surface of the bag. It’s available with 10 handbag styles across eight colors. The boutique will also offer hand painting by the sign writer, Mark MacDonald, in original fonts designed for the label by John Morgan’s London graphics studio.
The third service is embossing — either gold-foiled, or blind — offered on several styles.
The store will launch with the resort 2018 collection, which includes the brand’s signature vegetable tanned leathers, polished hardware and saddle leather.
Prices range from about 300 pounds for a small leather bag up to 2,500 pounds for one done in exotic skins. The average bag sells for 500 pounds to 700 pounds. Hand-painting in the Burlington Arcade store will cost about 100 pounds and embossing, 25 pounds.
Griess-Nega said Burlington Arcade was chosen because of the high footfall (the arcade runs between Piccadilly and Burlington Gardens), and from the craftsmanship-focused stores that have traditionally lined the arcade. The arcade is home to a clutch of specialist British and international brands such as N.Peal, Eres, Manolo Blahnik, Roja Parfums, Michael Rose jewelers, Kilian and Maison Michel.
By contrast, the Chiltern Street store, which measures 324 square feet, is a “celebration of natural, enduring long-lasting materials,” such as cork, antique tiles and stone and has a more domestic feel, according to Griess-Nega.
He said they chose the street because of its lineup of independent stores, including Cire Trudon, Trunk, Monocle, Cox & Power and Bella Freud.
The ceo said the hope is that the stores aid awareness of the brand, and he believes there is even scope for a third one in London — possibly in the west near South Kensington — with the aim of increasing awareness around the brand, but also preserving a sense of “desire and discovery.”