De Fursac creative director Alix Le Naour and ceo Elina Kousour

PARIS — Marking its first step to international expansion, De Fursac, the contemporary French tailoring specialist recently bought by SMCP Group, is opening a pop-up store in Selfridges in London on Monday. 

“It’s a brand that is defined less by fashion than by a certain coherence — a client will never feel like he’s made a mistake because the label suddenly veered off into a different direction,” said Elina Kousourna, who was recently named chief executive officer of the brand, which sells suits to young men embarking on their professional careers. In a joint interview with the label’s creative director Alix Le Naour, Kousourna spoke to WWD at a showroom in the label’s Paris headquarters, perched over a busy intersection in a northeast corner of the capital. 

Kousourna played a key role in the brand’s acquisition by SMCP, which was finalized in September. The group intends to apply the blueprint for growth it has developed for its contemporary Parisian labels Sandro, Maje and Claudie Pierlot, rapidly building a store network in Europe and Asia. 

The brand’s strong identity made it an ideal target for SMCP, according to Kousourna. Armed with financing generated by listing on the Paris stock market in 2017, the group has set out to tap into faster-growing categories like men’s wear and accessories.  

“It has a strong positioning and is complementary with the other brands in the same segment of accessible luxury, and it’s a pure-player in terms of retail,” she added.

Established in 1973 by the Laufer brothers, in 1990 the French label, which made men’s suits and button-up shirts, was bought by Edmond Cohen, who forged a deal for selling space in Paris department store Galeries Lafayette, before opening its own store on Rue Richelieu — underneath the current headquarters — and expanding to Printemps.

In the early Aughts, Cohen moved the brand upscale and raised its profile by teaming with famed Italian men’s wear designer Nino Cerruti for a series of exclusive pieces.

Le Naour, a political science graduate with experience at a design agency, got involved in the label in 2010, tackled the logo and drew up a new retail concept before diving into the products. She had set out to design a web site for the brand, but found herself drawn to the merchandise.

“Tailoring is at the heart of the house,” noted Le Naour, who said she started by leaning on the fundamentals of the formal wardrobe, before, little by little, introducing elements of knitwear. Her interest in retail was piqued by a job at a multibrand retailer, where she learned the tricks of the trade by tailoring the offering to individual clients.

“When people left happy or feeling better looking about themselves, I found this extremely satisfying,” she recalled.

Today, clients at De Fursac range in age and interest, she said, noting that the brand is evolving along with the men who shop there.

Asked if the brand is growing older, she said she didn’t think so.

“We are quite eclectic in our following — it doesn’t feel like it’s getting older, on the contrary. A 60-year-old man today is different than a 60-year-old a decade ago,” she noted. The main client group is in the 30- to 40-year range, she estimated, noting that some come to the brand for more casual looks and others for tailoring, in her view. 

But coming from a tradition of tailoring, even more casual looks will have influence from a more formal tradition, added Le Naour.

“We try to channel the constraints of tailoring to put people at an advantage, to show their better sides,” she said.

For this season, the brand’s offer includes a wool twill suit in navy blue, a Super 150s model from the Cerruti tie-up, for example, as well as a calfskin leather jacket paired with a black merino wool turtleneck sweater.

Tailoring serves as the backbone of the brand, even as it strikes out in other territory, offering other wardrobe staples like a bomber jacket or a pair of jeans, for example. De Fursac also offers shoes, but keeps the range limited to classic styles. The pair pulled out sets of matching shirts and swimming trunks as a recent addition to the offer.

Looking to the streets, Le Naour notices the need for items like a thick coat for Parisians riding scooters to work, for example. 

“So, of course we do the big coat or parka, but we try to do something that makes someone feel a bit more charismatic, agile and confident,” she added.

Consumers are no longer wearing suits every day of the week, but the brand seeks to introduce an extra touch to more casual pieces, like using good quality fabrics and focusing on a stylistic detail.

“It’s one of the keys to the brand’s success — the quality. Once they get into the store, men are seduced by the product because it’s comfortable — every care is taken so that men feel good in the clothing,” chimed in Kousourna.

The former L’Oréal executive has served as a lieutenant to SMCP group ceo Daniel Lalonde since the exit of investor private equity firm KKR and the arrival of Chinese textile conglomerate Shandong Ruyi Group, which currently controls the company.

Kousourna met Le Naour during SMCP’s courtship of the brand, and the two share a diverse background before they each settled down in the retail realm. 

Like it has done for Sandro and Maje, SMCP seeks to increase the proportion of sales generated by De Fursac abroad, with a goal of reaching 30 percent in the medium term, with a focus on Europe and greater China. It has also said it plans to open between five to 10 new stores a year over the next few years. It plans to increase annual sales from around 40 million euros to over the 100 million euro mark in the near term through expansion abroad with an extra boost from the group’s e-commerce expertise and by adding new categories — notably shoes and accessories, as well as more casual looks.

But growth from international markets is not always smooth sailing, as shown by SMCP’s profit warning last week. The company lowered its expected adjusted margin on earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization to between 15.5 percent and 16 percent, compared to a previous target for a similar level as last year’s 16.9 percent, citing unrest in Hong Kong.

The group also cited weakness at its smallest label, Claudie Pierlot, which has less of an international presence than Sandro and Maje.

In other regions and for its other brands, the group is “delivering according to plan,” SMCP said, noting positive like-for-like sales in the third quarter as well as fourth quarter so far, with a “continuously strong performance” in mainland China.