LONDON — British omnichannel behemoth Next is on a spending streak: Six months after taking a stake in high-street retailer Reiss, it’s teaming with Jack Wills’ cofounder Peter Williams to relaunch the men’s wear label Aubin.
A decade ago, Aubin traded as Aubin & Wills and was viewed as the older sibling to Jack Wills, serving up classic workwear and tailored attire to the masses of kids who’d grown up wearing Jack Wills hoodies, party dresses and preppy clothes. It was never as successful as Jack Wills, though, and was mothballed in 2012.
Next, which sells men’s and women’s clothing, homeware and accessories under its own label and operates an online marketplace selling hundreds of third-party brands, said Monday it has taken a 33 percent stake in Aubin. Next will also manage Aubin’s distribution, offer it an end-to-end e-commerce fulfillment infrastructure, provide use of its warehousing and IT, and serve as the “launchpad” for Aubin’s online business in September.
Williams and the Aubin team will be in control of the brand and product. Aubin will launch online at aubinandwills.com on Sept. 7, and will open a 382-square-foot stand-alone store at 15 Newburgh Street, near Carnaby Street, on the same day.
Greg Roberts, formerly of Superdry and Jack Wills, will serve as chief executive officer, and Rachel Silvester, an alumna of Jack Wills and Aubin & Wills, has been named creative director. Williams said the launch collection will consist of “reinvented classics, designed to last wear after wear, and never go out of style.”
Williams, who cut ties with Jack Wills three years ago, said Aubin’s priority is to “obsess 24-7 about our target customer, and to produce the best possible product we can. We’re always working with specialist craftsmen to modernize classic wardrobe staples.”
He called Next “the ideal partner, after the last 18 months of turbulence in the industry. We are able to not only deliver products that are made to last — in both style and durability — but also ensure our customers benefit from a really world-class delivery infrastructure.”
The plan is to open a limited number of stores, although locations have not yet been determined, an Aubin spokesperson said. “We’re a digital brand, but we want to be able to offer consumers a 360 experience, and the store will provide this.”
Aubin is launching with men’s wear only as it was always the more successful category for Jack Wills and Aubin & Wills, the spokesperson added.
“We’re men’s wear experts and we’re designing for ourselves — which always helps — and we don’t focus too much on the age of our consumers. However, we feel the relaunch will have a strong reconnection with our original audience, which has grown up with the brand. Finally, the 30-plus men’s wear market is in good health, and represents a strong market sector. We may look into women’s wear in the future, but for now it’s just men’s wear.”
Simon Wolfson, CEO of Next, said the company believes the “combination of Aubin’s outstanding design and brand-building skills alongside Next’s Total Platform end-to-end online infrastructure can rapidly create an iconic British brand with lasting appeal.”
Due to Wolfson’s steady hand and meticulous oversight of the business, Next has become one of Britain’s few high-street retailers that’s managed to juggle physical with digital to great effect.
Although Next has been around for decades, it has also adapted nimbly with the times, becoming the U.K. distribution partner of Victoria’s Secret and Laura Ashley home, and making way for a raft of beauty brands online and offline.
Based in Leicester, England, Next has 500 physical stores in the U.K. and Ireland and an online presence in more than 70 countries. The online platform sells Next products as well as 700 other fashion, home and beauty brands, including Reiss.
The relaunch of Aubin marks Williams’ return to the high street following the rapid rise, and subsequent fall, of Jack Wills. The brand was placed into administration two years ago by its then owner Bluegem Capital Partners and purchased for 12.8 million pounds by Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct, which has made a specialty of snapping up ailing retailers.
The purchase included roughly 100 Jack Wills stores in the U.K. and Republic of Ireland, plus inventory and the international Jack Wills brand.
Bluegem, the private equity company that once owned Liberty, purchased Jack Wills in 2016, but failed to turn the once-high flying retailer around in what was becoming a difficult climate for high-street retail.
Williams left Jack Wills for good in 2018 after a disagreement with Bluegem.
Jack Wills was established in Salcombe, Devon in 1999 and quickly became known for British heritage-inspired classics with a contemporary twist.
Soon after its launch, the retailer began rolling out in college towns such as Oxford, Cambridge, Durham and St. Andrews. It evolved into an international brand with more than 80 stores across the globe, including the U.K., U.S., Asia and the Middle East. It opened lavish units in city centers, college towns and resorts and hired young, glamorous brand ambassadors to organize beach events, barbecues and concerts and to preach the gospel of preppy, collegiate fun.
At times, the brand also fell foul of U.K. regulators, who described the ad campaigns and catalogue images as too racy and demanded the brand pull them down.
At its height, Jack Wills offered men’s and women’s wear including tailored clothing, hoodies, sweatpants, knitwear, intimates and accessories, but it fell out of fashion as those young customers grew up and swapped their preppy looks for streetwear, branded sneakers and fast-fashion glamour from the likes of Zara, H&M and Mango.
Williams and his team expertly captured the zeitgeist of the 2000s, and beyond, and it remains to be seen whether he can do it again, and get that tech-savvy, sneaker-and-street-loving generation back into tweeds and tailoring.