EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Courtaulds' Elise Recour

In her first interview as the new general manager of Gossard and Berlei, Elise Recour tells Lingerie Insight how she hopes to build on the brands’ successes in the UK and broaden their customer reach in international markets.

Congratulations on your new role. How do you feel?
It’s really exciting because we’ve got some very exciting projects in the pipeline for both brands, which we will reveal in a month’s time. That’s my little teaser! Also, we see a lot of potential internationally, with Germany and France performing particularly well. We’ve just signed for a much bigger stand at the Paris fair to make our presence known for the sale of the next collection. We have a history in Europe, particularly with Gossard in France – the brand has previously been stocked in Galleries Lafayette – so it’s a natural next step for us to focus on a market where consumers aged 30 an above already know the brand. We’ve also seen great progress in Germany in terms of sales.

Do you hope to enter any new markets?
We’re looking at expanding through distributors and agents. We’re already selling in Russia and Poland and we’ve got a very strong distributor in Turkey, so we’re just at the moment screening all the opportunities in Europe and, separately, we’re looking to grow in the US.

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You joined Courtaulds in 2006. What have been your previous roles in the company?
I joined Courtaulds as a design director in China and I worked across all brands that we were manufacturing for, so Victoria’s Secret, major UK retailers, and DB Apparel, which is now part of HanesBrands. I was in charge of a big team, but I also did direct business with head buyers to develop our manufacturing in China. From there, I had two hats on because I started to look at the Berlei brand from a marketing and design angle as part of [former GM] Tony Jarvis’ team. I focused on the positioning of the brand and started to work on the sports offering because it was part of our original DNA when Shock Absorber was a sub-brand of Berlei. Just recently, I also worked on the AW15 launch of Berlei Lingerie to offer a modern approach to lingerie with technical solutions and contemporary look. I then opened a business unit in Paris to introduce Berlei and Gossard to the French market. For the last two or three years, I’ve been focused on design, development and marketing for the Berlei brand and the sale of Gossard and Pretty Polly in France. We have great showrooms both in London and Paris and I’ll be travelling between the UK and France going forward.

How did the general manager role come about?
As part of building experience, I knew, in time, I would eventually manage a brand, but the opportunity came up earlier than I thought it would. Tony Jarvis and our HR director approached me and offered me the role. I’ve been on almost a tailored training course for the last three months to get myself prepared to take on the role. I was a bit shocked, to be honest, that Tony wanted to retire, but at the same time I was really excited because I could see so much potential for the two brands on an international level, especially as I have an international background – working and travelling in China, the UK and New York. I’m also really passionate about design, how we sell and how put the message across to the end consumer and I think this passion has overcome any doubts or fears that I could have to take on this role. Also, as I already know the team, I felt very comfortable taking on the role as I am aware of the dedication and passion they have. It is all about people and having a coordinated approach to business.

What have you been up to so far?
I’m working on some key launches for the Paris fair, which we will try to reveal as soon as possible. So I have been very busy securing the launch of our SS16 collections and we’re already starting to put into work some ideas for AW16. I’ve also been spending a lot of time with the team to understand what support they need to move forward.

How do you plan to grow Gossard and Berlei?
We’re very much reviving our ways of working and putting in place plans for the future because it’s going to be all about how we can build the brand awareness and improve the overall level of service. We put so much effort into our products and fit so we need to get that message across to the customer. Our idea is first to do a good job with our current retailers and have a strategic approach to targeting the big players by delivering an excellent service in terms of design and activities to support the sell-through, rather than just the sell-in. I think we’ve done a good job in developing some good ranges. I still believe that the products are very much hero products and this is where our focus should be. We need to constantly monitor the quality of our garments, the excellence in design and the impeccable fit because this is how you secure consumers and build brand loyalty.

What challenges will you face going forward?
I think that now we have a good mix of fashion products, we really need to focus on the sell-through and the distribution. The challenge that we will have to face is that the landscape of the retail market is going through a lot of changes – online is growing with more and more promotions and flash sales – so we need to make sure we offer a real experience online and in physical stores. The price positioning across Europe is also a challenge with online retail, so it puts a bit of pressure on how we operate because every market has its own positioning and competition. So I think the key will be to differentiate ourselves and constantly challenge ourselves to offer more to the end consumer.

How do you think the UK lingerie market is performing and how do Gossard and Berlei sit within that?
I think that in general there is very fierce competition. It’s a very different market to the rest of Europe, but I take it as a healthy challenge to push the boundaries for brands and make sure we create a differential for our customers.

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