EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Simone Perele director Mathieu Grodner

Heritage lingerie label Simone Pérèle will be crowned Designer of the Year 2017 at Salon International de la Lingerie, and it couldn’t come at a better time for the brand, which has recently implemented a five-year strategy to improve brand awareness among consumers. In an exclusive interview with co-director Mathieu Grodner, we uncover the details of this strategy and find out how UK retailers will be affected.

Parisian brand Simone Pérèle has been named Designer of the Year 2017 by Salon International de la Lingerie and Paris Capitale de la Création.

The brand has been recognised for its outstanding creativity since its inception in 1948. At that time, cone bras were in fashion, particularly Simone Pérèle’s Soleil design, and with the invention of nylon, corsetry became available to all.

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Ms Pérèle was equally innovative with her first stretch Lycra lace bra, Sole Mio, and in 1968, the designer launched the first wireless and invisible bra available up to a C up – a first for the era. This bra, named Pétale, promptly sold out.

In the 1980s, women were liberated and garter belts and balconette bras were considered tools for seduction. With the 1986 advertising slogan ‘Choosing a Pérèle is never innocent’, the brand made confident seduction a norm.

“It’s this tradition of savoir-faire and creative boldness that the Salon International de la Lingerie celebrates by naming Simone Pérèle the 2017 Designer of the Year with Paris Capitale de la Création,” trade show organisers said.

The award win comes almost two years after Ms Pérèle’s grandchildren, Mathieu Grodner and Stéphanie Pérèle, took over as directors of the business from Stéphanie’s parents.

They have since implemented a five-year strategy called CAP2019, with the aim of improving the brand’s relationship with the end consumer, through new marketing campaigns and the launch of own-brand stores to complement its existing channels.

Simone Pérèle is also implementing a more targeted communications strategy to enable better engagement with its loyal and target customers by distinguishing its core essentials range from the Coupe de Coeure (season’s favourites).

Speaking exclusively to Lingerie Insight at Simone Pérèle’s headquarters in Paris, Mathieu Grodner tells us more about the CAP2019 strategy and his reaction to the prestigious award win.

Simone Perele RGB

What does CAP2019 involve?
There are several key directions in this plan. To summarise, the most important aspect is to try and get ourselves closer to the end consumer. Brands like Simone Pérèle and most of our direct competitors are historically manufacturers who are wholesaling to distributors – that’s our core business. Of course, we want to remain manufacturers and keep our know-how, but we also want to become more of a brand.

How will you do that?
To do that, we need new expertise, we need new tools and we need to adjust our brand platform and brand image. Then we need to work on our distribution channels to make sure we have the right points of contacts with that consumer. Our customer base is moving on a constant basis – we have historic consumers, recent consumers and target consumers. This brand and distribution strategy needs to help us acquire a new customer. So that means, for example, we will test our boutique concept to bring a shopping experience that is consistent to the brand. It’s more difficult to do that when you sell 10 or 20 brands in one store. With our own branded store, we can bring our own experience and make sure the consumer understands who Simone Pérèle is. We also need to develop more visibility in terms of communication. So we want to make sure we bring the right message and right tone.

From an internal perspective, we are putting in place a slightly different management culture, which is only natural because we are a different generation. The company was managed for 30 years by the previous generation, who did a great job by the way, otherwise we wouldn’t be here. But it was a different time and approach and this transition gives us the opportunity to manage in a different way.

How many own-brand stores do you currently operate?
We have a mix of different concepts because we wanted to test different experiences to make sure we invest in the right direction. So we opened our first premium concept store in April in Paris and we have outlet shops as well. We also have an Implicite concept store [another brand under the Simone Pérèle group], which is located close to the Bon Marché. At this stage, we have 30 points of sale in Paris and internationally. The goal is to double that figure by 2019.

Do you plan to open any own-brand stores in the UK?
Definitely. We want to be consistent with our existing international development. That’s one of our strengths – we are an international brand with 80% of our sales being generated outside France. So, our retail development will be consistent with that. I also want to insist that if we open new boutiques, we don’t want to do it in a massive way – our goal is not to develop national networks of hundreds of shops. Our goal is to complement in a smart way the existing channels, including our independent partners and department stores. We have identified specific opportunities in key locations, which are the city centres of the main capitals because this is where, unfortunately, there are fewer independent boutiques.

This is where we need to be visible because it’s where our target consumer shops. So, if you asked me ‘is London a target?’, I would say yes, for sure, because London is an international capital and we are an international brand.

You also plan to launch an ecommerce website. Can you tell us more about that?
It’s more than an ecommerce site; it’s a completely new digital platform for the brand, which will be launched this month. First of all, it will be an image platform for the brand and a catalogue for our collections and points of sale. We also want to use this platform to generate traffic with our existing partners. That’s the way shopping works today – people go online to make their selection and then they go shopping offline. So this needs to benefit all channels.

Simone Perele co-director Stéphanie Pérèle.

Simone Perele co-director Stéphanie Pérèle.

How do you think your retail customers will feel about you launching own-brand stores and an ecommerce channel?
It’s not a strategy that goes against our retail partners – on the contrary, it’s a strategy to help them and to bring new customers to their stores. In any case, the stronger the brand is, the more customers will visit those shops, wherever they can find Simone Pérèle.

How has the business been performing in general since you and Stephanie Pérèle took over as directors in 2015?
We are a private business so we don’t communicate figures, but generally speaking, we are in line with our objectives for 2015 and 2016, which are key years for us because we began our strategic plan in 2015. So we are in line now to start accelerating our investment effort in 2017. We have been able to maintain our sales level and now we will start being more aggressive and target double digit growth in certain areas in 2017. Our profitability has also improved in this period, which will allow for those investments to happen.

Congratulations on winning the Designer of the Year award! How do you feel?
It’s exciting for us. It’s coming at a great time – probably the best time because of all that we have discussed. So we are really happy because we can definitely leverage on that and we believe it’s a nice award for us, considering all the efforts that have been put in place by the design teams over the years to always improve our collections. With all the events coming up, there will be a lot to talk about regarding Simone Pérèle. It’s a way to talk about the future – we don’t always get the
opportunity to talk about that, so it’s perfect timing.

What are your hopes for Salon International de la Lingerie?
We will be launching some important products and announcing some strategic projects, so we hope our main strategic partners will attend, as they always do. It’s always an opportunity, not just for Simone Pérèle, but for leading brands, to start new partnerships and open up to new distribution.

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Your Questions Answered

Independent retailers in the UK sent in the following question for Simone Pérèle director Mathieu Grodner. Here is his response:

Are you hoping to employ a new UK rep or, at the very least, will you be returning to the Moda show in Birmingham?
We have had a branch in the UK for about 10 years and we have been quite successful over the years with our department store distribution. It’s not a secret that with our independent distribution it has been a little more challenging for us. So we have invested our efforts in trying to develop a market share within that distribution, with mixed results. I am not blaming independent clients for that – it’s just the way the market works and we have to accept it. So, on the one hand, we have been able to introduce the brand to all major London department stores, including Harrods, Selfridges and Fenwick. On the other hand, it’s more challenging for us when we go outside of London because the brand awareness is still moderate. So it would require a higher level of investment into the brand to generate a different level of penetration, which is possible. So I can’t give you a precise answer to your question now, but I hope to help you to answer it in the coming years.

So that’s a ‘maybe’?
We still have a team in the UK, but it’s a reduced team of course, so it’s difficult to cover such a big territory, even with one rep. So we’re probably not answering the exact expectation of some of those UK boutiques, but everything is linked, so as soon as we see the business picking up, there’s a good chance we will be able to increase the investment.

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