EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Gilda & Pearl founder Diane Houston

After launching her eponymous loungewear collection last year, Diane Houston, the founder and designer behind luxury brand Gilda & Pearl, describes the industry’s reaction to the more affordable range and her plans to evolve it.

Just over a year ago, luxury lingerie and loungewear brand Gilda & Pearl introduced a diffusion line to UK and international buyers on the back of a demand for a more affordable, everyday range.

Renowned for its British-made luxury designs inspired by classic cinema’s most glamorous femme fatales, the diffusion line, named after the brand’s founder and designer, Diane Houston, was developed to offer customers the opportunity to indulge in the Gilda & Pearl aesthetic at a more accessible price point, with pieces ranging £40-£280.

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The Diane Houston develops lingerie using stretch lace.

The Diane Houston brand develops lingerie using stretch lace.

It gave the Gilda & Pearl team the chance to reach a new audience via direct-to-consumer channels, as well as opening many new retail doors around the world, thanks to its price point and youthful and fun, yet sophisticated aesthetic.

This meant a lot of extra work for the team, but it paid off when, in October, Diane Houston was picked up by John Lewis, the current exclusive UK retailer for the line, and Brown Thomas in Ireland.

The introduction of the diffusion line at these stores, online and at Gilda & Pearl’s atelier in Mayfair’s London has helped attract a new customer to the brand, and, rather unexpectedly, it has helped raise brand awareness of the Gilda & Pearl mainline.

Here, founder Diane Houston tells us more about what makes the diffusion line affordable, outlines her inspirations behind the AW18 range and discusses plans and projects for 2018.

The new Alchemy body from Diane Houston.

The new Alchemy body from Diane Houston.

What was your inspiration behind the launch of the Diane Houston diffusion line?
I’d always planned to launch a more affordable range – it had always been in the pipeline – and it felt like a good time to introduce it. It’s like the Audrey Hepburn to Gilda & Pearl’s Greta Garbo. It’s a little bit younger and cooler.

How have you been able to retain the quality of Gilda & Pearl whilst keeping prices down?
The price points are about half of Gilda & Pearl’s. Obviously, it’s still offering beautiful product, but it’s designed to be a bit simpler, so there are more washable pieces and there’s more lingerie that you can wear every day. It brings a little bit of joy to your every day. The Gilda & Pearl line is made using beautiful French Leavers lace and the very best silks you can get, but with the diffusion line, I’ll choose a stretch lace, for example, and a silk blend rather than a silk satin. The other thing that makes the diffusion line stand out is that all the prints are hand drawn and a little bit quirky. The pieces are still sophisticated, but fun, whereas Gilda & Pearl is very glamourous.

This pyjama set from Diane Houston features a fun London print.

This pyjama set from Diane Houston features a fun London print.

How would you describe your AW18 collection?
We have the printed silk blend pyjama sets offering a really cute London print on an ivory base with gold contrast piping. We also have a bunnies print, which is really cute, and a poodle print. Those three prints will come in a pyjama jacket, bottoms, a cami and a short. We’re contrasting those with two plains, so we have a beautiful pale blush pink and a ruby red. These colours come in the same pieces, plus a slip, so you can mix and match them together. We also have lingerie, which you can wear every day, as opposed to the Gina bra in the mainline, which is amazing, but made for special occasions.

We also have a signature lace range with an entry price point, which matches in with the colours of the season, and a luxury range, which has touches of silk on the straps and tulle and lace on the cups. Our black lace body can be mixed and matched with the robe and bunny prints. Price points start at around about the £50 mark for lingerie, whereas the bras in the mainline start at £120. We have introduced F cups to both lines as well. Finally, we’re carrying over the Dolly print from SS18, as well as the Leia set, which has been really popular.

What kind of response have you had from the buyers?
It’s been really positive and the interesting thing is that the diffusion line is really growing the brand awareness of Gilda & Pearl, so we’re seeing an uplift in sales for Gilda & Pearl as an unexpected side effect. We’re introducing more silk blend pieces for this season, so it will be great to see what the response is to that.

A 'Poodles' printed set from the Diane Houston range.

A ‘Poodles’ printed set from the Diane Houston range.

Was there a demand from buyers for a more affordable range before you launched?
Yes. When I was at the trade shows, people would say “your pieces are really beautiful, but my customer wants something she can wash because if it’s dry clean-only she won’t touch it”, or “can you do bigger cup sizes?” or “can you offer more practical, affordable, everyday basics?” So all those things were in my head before the launch and I think we have started to address them in the diffusion line, and in the mainline as well.

You have been picked up by John Lewis and Brown Thomas. How is the new range performing in those stores?
We’re doing really well. We’ve had a really good first season at both stores since launching there in October.
It’s a giftable product range, so it was a good time to launch.

Have you been picked up by any more stockists?
John Lewis was the exclusive stockist for Diane Houston in the UK for this season, but we are in talks with more stockists for next season, so we’ll see how it goes from there.

The luxury Gina robe from the Gilda & Pearl mainline.

The luxury Gina robe from the Gilda & Pearl mainline.

Could you provide an update on Gilda & Pearl and how that’s performing?
Yes. We obviously have our own ecommerce site and we’re on Farfetch as well. We’re also doing really strong business in Harrods, as our main partner in the UK, and Barneys in the US. We’ve also recently launched into Galleries Lafayette Dubai and we have more appointments lined up for AW18.

How are you finding the extra workload now that you are developing a new collection?
It has been quite a bit of extra work, but we have a larger team now and I think the uplift on both brands has made it really worthwhile. It’s been interesting working with the different price point and learning as we go about the customer.

The Mia robe from Gilda & Pearl.

The Mia robe from Gilda & Pearl.

What projects have you got lined up for 2018?
I guess the immediate priority is the AW18 sales season. We exhibited the diffusion line at Dessous London and at Salon International de la Lingerie, in the boutique area. We also did some private showroom appointments for the mainline in Paris too. It will be really great to keep working with our UK partners and grow business with them. Whenever we start working with someone new it’s very much a partnership that we want to grow year on year and we’ve managed to do that successfully so far.

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