The Alfred Dunhill brand can trace its roots all the way back to 1893 but its presence in the U.S. market over the years has been spotty at best.
In the Fifties, the London-based brand operated major stores on Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles and Rockefeller Center in New York and counted celebrities such as Frank Sinatra as fans.
But it slowly lost its grip on the market as management changed, stores closed and the brand cycled through a number of designers including Richard James, Nick Ashley, John Ray and Kim Jones.
Enter Andrew Maag, a former Burberry executive who joined the brand at the end of 2017 and promptly set out to “right size” the business and redirect its focus back to its core business. “We were really missing the mark in the luxury space,” he said. “But we’re just now experiencing a turnaround.”
That has been helped in large part by the positive reaction to the modern tailoring created by the company’s new creative director, Mark Weston.
At the same time, Maag said that since joining the company, one of his major focuses has been updating the fleet of stores. “They desperately needed to be brought up to relevant standards,” he said.
Next month, the fruits of Maag’s labor will be on display when Dunhill closes its last remaining store in the U.S. on Madison Avenue and 53rd Street in Manhattan and opens a new unit at the new Hudson Yards development on the West Side.
The 2,600-square-foot shop is actually being designed with a gray marble storefront that was inspired by the Rodeo Drive store that has since closed. White wood paneling will help highlight the apparel collection, while walnut burl cabinets, which are intended to mimic the original furniture from the brand’s Duke Street store in London and Rue de la Paix one in Paris, will house the accessories.
“We have a very global footprint, but America is one of our last frontiers,” Maag said. “We have a very tiny footprint there, so Hudson Yards will really be our new debut.”
The store will offer tailored and casual ready-to-wear, made-to-measure and bespoke apparel — which represents around 50 percent of the company’s business — as well as leather goods, shoes, pens, lighters, cuff links, jewelry, neckwear and scarves.
Maag said shoes have been among the most popular items in America along with outerwear, such as shearling coats, nylon technical pieces and leather goods from the Duke range.
Although no other U.S. stores are in Dunhill’s immediate plans, Maag said the company has a strong presence in the market through wholesale partners including Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom and Mr Porter. In particular, he singled out the successful launch of Dunhill’s footwear collection at Saks last year as a win for the brand. Trainers and running shoes were among the most popular styles.
“Our wholesale business in America is up 75 percent and we would like to develop a stronger business there, but we don’t see it coming through directly operated stores,” Maag said. The price of rents in major cities such as New York are still “unreasonable,” he said, and make it untenable for many brands to open profitable brick-and-mortar locations.
Instead, e-commerce will be the focus. “We are rocking the house online,” he said, pointing out that last week alone, the top customers on the Dunhill web site were from the U.S. “We’ve had a digital strategy for some time now.”
Maag said Japan remains Dunhill’s largest market, as it has been for decades, and the brand is expanding aggressively in Asia, both through retail stores and e-commerce. A shop in Isetan is expected to open on March 15 and another is being built in Hong Kong. The Middle East is also an area of focus for the company, he said.
Dunhill now dedicates more than 70 percent of its marketing budget to digital and was one of the first luxury brands to launch a boutique on WeChat in China last fall. In addition, the company is expected to benefit from the partnership between its parent group, Compagnie Financière Richemont, and Alibaba, where the brand will be available on the site through Mr Porter.
The online focus is also expected to connect the brand more closely with the Millennial customer.
“It’s a digital world today,” the ceo said.