It’s all go for Ultimo, as the brand prepares to leap back into the independent arena, this Autumn. Founder Michelle Mone speaks exclusively to Kat Slowe about her feelings on this latest step, revealing how her plans for the company have changed and why she is afraid that she may not get to see the results of her latest endeavours.
A lot has happened since Michelle Mone and I last met, much of which has been spread liberally over the British tabloids.
Yet, despite her marriage break up, rumours of a new man and multiple, large scale product launches, Mone does not look worn down. In fact, if anything, she appears even more radiant. Her eyebrows, admittedly, look a bit odd but
I am reliably informed that she is trying out a new product, years in the development, which could revolutionise eyebrow maintenance.
New inventions are part of what has driven Ultimo’s success. The company’s most recent creations, three creams that reportedly took three years and a million pounds to develop, are currently available to purchase from Boots, Selfridges, House of Fraser and Debenhams. And, they are selling out fast.
“We have got Boob Plus and there is a Boob Minus,” says Mone. “And, there is a BLT – bum, legs and tum. It drains the lymphatic system, helps with cellulite and sculpts the body… It is unbelievable how it works. It is like a film that goes over your skin. It is like shapewear in a bottle.
“The Boob Plus plumps and enhances, and the Boob Minus drains and takes away the swelling, and helps with your décolletage for lines.”
The products, which were designed by a scientist and a chemist, reportedly produce results in just six to eight weeks. There is currently a patent pending on the U Sculpt technology.
“I am not saying that I am replacing the job of a plastic surgeon by any shape or means,” says Mone. “But, if someone gets a face lift, they still have to wear face cream. You should always look after your bust area.”
And, Mone’s appetite for innovation does not stop there. She is set, this month, to launch another first for the brand – a luxury, Black Label collection. The new lingerie range will enter Harrods, as an exclusive, in September, and will be rolling out into John Lewis and House of Fraser just a few weeks later. Ultimo was stocked in House of Fraser many years ago, but this season is the first time that the brand has been taken on by either the John Lewis or Harrods stores.
“Harrods are doing the core and the Black Label,” she says. “It is the first time that we have ever launched in Harrods, which is a big thing. We have always tried and they have always said no.”
Mone took on a former designer of La Perla to help her design the range, which encompasses bodies, slips and bras. Her team had no involvement in the process, as the CEO claims she wanted to ensure that the pieces were ‘entirely different’ from anything that Ultimo currently offers.
“It is like nothing we have ever done before,” she says. “It is very risky, very risky in terms of the shapes and the cups cut away, and the pants with not a lot of back to them.”
The idea for the new Black Label collection originated, last year, when Mone took part in a documentary, titled How We Made Our Millions, with Dragon’s Den panellist Peter Jones. The program, which aired on BBC 2 in Scotland, saw Jones examine Mone’s life to date and investigate what it was that drove her to be an entrepreneur. Yet, it wasn’t just these questions that Mone was mulling over during her time with the business mogul.
“I was going around with him in his private jet,” Mone says. “And, I thought, what sort of lingerie would you wear if a man was taking you away in a private jet? And, I thought, we have got to deliver the crème de la crème of design and lingerie.”
It is this constant need to come up with new ideas and new ways of doing things that is also driving Mone on in her newest venture. Ultimo targeted independent retailers for the first time in a decade at last month’s Pure London trade show, at which Mone exhibited and also took part in as a key speaker. It is a sector that Mone once knew very well. She stepped back from it a number of years ago, after reportedly experiencing difficulty receiving payment from a series of her brand’s clients.
“Harrogate was our very first trade show, something like 14 or 15 years ago,” she reveals. “And, I remember waking up and doing the show – I think that was the second or third show that we did – and Lady Diana had been killed, so I have a lot of memories about Harrogate. I started my career, really, at those shows.”
Now that Mone feels the independent sector is displaying significant signs of fighting back, she has determined to give trade shows another shot. In pursuit of this target, she gave her marketing team the challenge of forging new relationships at the Pure event.
“I think now, if [independents] want to stock Ultimo, there is no reason why they can’t,” she says. “We are a brand stocked by department stores like Debenhams, but I think if they are an out of town shop and people can’t get to these stores, then why not? Ultimo has now got 13 inventions, so the independents will not have the inventions that we have already got, so there is a point of difference there.”
There will be a minimum order value for stockists but, according to Mone, it will be a figure that is attainable for the independent sector. “It’s not that much,” she says. “It’s not massive.”
With so much happening in such a short period of time, it would not be surprising if Mone was feeling a little bit intimidated by the amount of work ahead. But, this is a woman who likes to be kept busy and the recent problems with her private life seem to have – if anything – caused Mone to focus even more on strengthening her business. The heartbreaking aspect of this is that it could potentially all be for nothing.
Mone’s husband, from whom she has recently split, helped her out in the early stages of the business, joining the company permanently three years after it was first founded. Now the marriage is over, there appears to be some doubt hanging over who will ultimately gain control of the company.
“I’m changing a lot of my plans at the moment,” she says. “My husband went away with my designer… [It all depends on] who is going to be taking over the business, either him or me.”
Either way, with all the passion she has poured into it over the years, it is unlikely that Mone is going to give up the company without a fight.
“Ultimo is my baby,” she says, quietly. “I am still exceptionally passionate about it, so we will see what happens. I hope to take over it. But, I will certainly not be working with him much longer. If I take over, I have got big plans for it.”