EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Maison Lejaby CEO Alain Prost

Maison Lejaby chief executive Alain Prost talks to Kat Slowe about his entrepreneurial ambitions, his daring plan to re-position the company for the luxury market and his decision to launch two new brands.

This is by no means the first time that Alain Prost has played the boss, but it is – as the new Maison Lejaby chief executive is quick to point out – the first time he can describe himself as a true entrepreneur.

“There was a personal and professional motivation,” Prost says, describing his reason for taking over beleaguered company Lejaby SAS.

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The business went into administration towards the end of last year. In January 2012, Prost’s consortium outbid the single other aspirant to the reins and was handed the business by the Court of Lyon.

The move marked the beginning of a new stage in life for Prost, whose previous positions included being General Manager of L’Oreal, General Manager of Group Chantelle and Chief Executive Officer of La Perla.

“What pleased me at L’Oreal was always the sense of being the boss of my own company,” Prost reveals. “I left L’oreal because it was too big a job and I lost – a little – this sense of entrepreneurship."

Prost joined Groupe Chantelle, a family run company with a turnover of around 400 million euros, because he felt the business possessed this elusive entrepreneurial spirit. His consequent move to La Perla occurred at a point of vital development for the brand – it was rapidly becoming apparent that Prost was a man who needed a challenge.

“At the end, I said, ‘well, why don’t I become an entrepreneur myself?’” muses Prost. “It was something that had been growing in my body year after year, and it was also quite logical for my professional career. That is why I chose to take over Lejaby.”

One of Prost’s first actions has been the re-naming of the company to Maison Lejaby. The step reflects his desire to return the business to its former glory days, when it created products for the luxury market.

“The brand has gone down from a high end to a high medium position in the market,” he explains. “We have to go back to where Lejaby was before.

“It was named Maison Lejaby because it is the smell of couture. Le Maison is the smell of couture.”

Maison Lejaby currently contains two brands: Lejaby and Rasurel. However, Prost is keen to launch two more over the coming year.

The first of these is a new haute couture lingerie and beachwear brand, which has been given the working title Lejaby Couture, and is set to launch before the end of 2012.

The step comes as part of the company’s bid to re-position itself toward the luxury end of the market.

Prost says: “It will be the first brand of French lingerie haute couture. It is a luxury brand of corsetry and beachwear.

“We know to do things that nobody else does. We want to show our customers and our consumers that we can do something special, so that is the reason why we want to launch Lejaby Couture.”

The couture products, which could potentially be personalised for the individual consumer, will all be designed and manufactured in France, near Lyon. This will help distinguish the lingerie and beachwear from the rest of Maison Lejaby’s product offering, which is currently being manufactured in Tunisia.

Those who heard about the furore that surrounded Prost’s closure of the brand’s existing French production plant, earlier this year, may not have known that 93 percent of Lejaby manufacturing was already taking place offshore in 2011.

In SS13, Maison Lejaby is set to re-launch its Elixir lingerie brand, which targets the fuller figure market. The new label will form the final corner of the Maison Lejaby Group’s brand offering.

First launched in AW2010, Elixir de Lejaby reportedly received a positive reception from markets around the world but, at the time, the decision was taken not to maintain it as a separate brand.
Prost says: “I think there was a consumer need, a consumer expectation of this kind of offer… It was working quite well in the UK and I think it will take over again this territory and develop it.”

The brand, which is expected to be available up to an H cup, targets the younger market, a segment which Prost seems to feel is underserved,

He says: “[Women] can be round and need bigger sizes, and be young. It is not only for the older woman. Most of the offer now is focussed on the older woman.

“In the UK, you have bigger sizes and it should be a very important launch for the market.”

Lejaby will also be re-launching its Rasurel beachwear for the SS13 season. The details are not yet being released but, according to Prost, the project will be a ‘new approach for beachwear.’
The chief executive hopes to interest UK department stores, such as Harrods and Selfridges, with the project.

The UK has always been a “huge” country for Lejaby and it is a market that has been gradually developed by the brand over many years. With sales having suffered in recent months, Prost is keen to recover the brand’s former position in the country. Part of this involves ensuring the company has a stable system in place after Lejaby’s former UK employees, employed by subsidiary operator Palmers, were made redundant on the handover of the business.

As in its other ‘most important’ European companies, Lejaby will introduce a commercial agent structure, which will include the appointment of a Maison Lejaby general agent. The new agent will work with a small team of people, based in the UK, who will be responsible for taking care of the brand’s key accounts and its independent customers.

“I think there will not be many changes,” Prost says. “We very much want to take care of our English customers, to be stronger in our product offer, stronger for the English consumers and be stronger in the business overall.”

Though Lejaby’s AW12 collection had been completed by the time Prost took over the business, he is already putting his words into the action with a late addition to the line.

The new products, which will be presented in April and will be available for delivery at the end of October, have been designed to reflect this new, high end vision for the brand.

There are so many big challenges for us,” Prost says. “This strategy is clear, we must implement it. We must very much improve the economic situation of the company, which is negative both on the cash side and the profitability side.” Prost laughs, wryly.

“This is my first experience as a hundred percent entrepreneur,” he adds, “so there is something always different. Now, this year, we will do about 25 million euros turnover. I hope in five years it may be over 50, so let’s say twice as big. So, then it is something a little different to manage.

“Lejaby is like a little sleeping beauty. There is much work to do within the company, much work to do with our customers, also with our consumers. But, this is a company with a lot of important potential and that is really exciting.”

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