FEATURE: French Invasion

Lingerie Insight investigates the French lingerie phenomenon, examining brands’ plans for the UK market and questioning the future direction of the Entente Cordiale.

Their top band of tax is going up to 75 percent and, according to the national media, we are about to see a wave of wealthy Frenchmen flooding into the UK.

But, can that be the sole cause of the growing attention to the nation being paid by French lingerie brands? More than ever before these classic labels appear to be recognising the benefits of selling to the British market.

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Maison Lejaby is a prime example of a new ideology – one that doesn’t just seem to place Britain near the top of its priority list but, as in the case of its new Maison Lejaby Couture range, puts it first.

The luxury label will launch its Couture collection in Harrods, this November, and then Rigby & Peller, several weeks before it goes on sale elsewhere in the world. The luxury range, which retails from £250 to £350, will be the first of the re-vamped brand’s collections to become available to the consumer.

Maison Lejaby president and co-owner Alain Prost says: “I am very excited. It is a real innovation on the market. It is still a niche market for the moment but, I’m sure, it will grow. The only other big luxury brand of lingerie is La Perla in Italy and, maybe, Agent Provocateur but they are a bit different.

“We are very excited to be launching a new French luxury concept onto the lingerie market. French couture is very important worldwide, but there is no little sister in lingerie.”

From 2013, the brand will do away with the Lejaby name and re-label all its products with the Maison Lejaby title. “There will be no more Lejaby, only Maison Lejaby,” says Prost.

The brand’s core range Maison Lejaby Lingerie, fuller cup line Maison Lejaby Elixir and beachwear collection Maison Lejaby Plage will enter into stores in January, 2013. Maison Lejaby Couture shop in shops will also be opening in Parisian department stores Printemps and Galeries Lafayette shortly before the New Year.

“They both wanted exclusivity, but we couldn’t give it, so we are now doing shop in shops instead,” says Prost. “Our second collection, Maison Lejaby Elixir, is also very important, particularly here in the UK.

We have been starting to present it to our customers over the past two weeks and the response has been very, very positive.”

The plan, according to Prost, has always been to complete the turn around of the business within three years. It has now almost been a year since the chief executive took over the failing company and he claims that the business remains on track to turn its first profit in 2014.

“This year is a very difficult year for us because we are still dealing with the Lejaby of the past every day,” he says. “That is mainly because our collection is still that of Lejaby in the past and our current supply chain remains affected by the impacts of the failure. It takes 12 to 15 months to do a new collection. The first stage of the new Maison Lejaby concept will be delivered at the beginning of 2013. The first collection 100 percent made by us will be in AW13. Next year, we should more or less be breaking even and we will start to be positive in 2014.”

Lejaby is not the only French brand that has reason to feel positive about the future. Luxury label Simone Perele, which will be celebrating its 65th birthday next year, has seen it sales soar over the past few years. From 2009 to 2011, Simone Perele increased its business in the UK by 53 percent and it expects that 2012 will see a growth of at least 18 percent.

Simone Perele UK managing director Carole Launchbury said: “It’s an extremely competitive market, so we have to work hard for all the sales, so the support from our customers is key.

“We are looking to continue building on our success in the UK market, plus further increase brand awareness. To have Simone Perele as the preferred brand for our major retailers and independents is our key goal. We will also be expanding our Implicite brand in 2013. The brand is now five years old and offers great permanent lines with even more sizes available, perfect for the UK.

Small back sizes, states Launchbury, are of particular importance to the UK consumer and this will be a strong area of growth for the brand moving forward. The managing director also feels that English customers have a stronger preference for bright colours than some of the luxury label’s other markets.

Chantelle brand manager Alexandra Gueveneux agrees that UK consumers possess a passion for vibrant shades. She says: “The English consumer is very fashionable and loves colours, preferably bright.

Anything to forget about this awful weather! Light pinks or greens never perform as well, as they are not best suited to paler skin tones – again, mostly due to the poor weather…”

The brand’s AW13 collection will draw inspiration from some of the label’s current best selling products and will see the introduction of new shapes, styles and colours. Gueveneux claims the four colour harmonies for Autumn Winter 2013, which are to reference some of the greatest capitals in the world, are ‘sumptuous.’ For Passionata, 2013 will finally bring the launch of the bigger cup sizes that its customers have been waiting for. Bar Rafaeli will continue as the face of the brand.

Gueveneux hopes that the New Year will see Chantelle continue to proceed down the path of growth. “Given the tough economic environment, we have been very pleased with our growth,” she says.

“Chantelle has seen strong growth across all channels, driven by a variety of new products, with innovation being a key factor. For Spring Summer 2012, the Spacer bra and the Memory Foam T-shirt bra were launched, both developed with women’s comfort in mind. They have performed extremely well to date, with C Paris Memory Foam and C Chic Sexy Spacer both being top sellers in our collection.

Finally, our online sales (through retailers) have been great and are proving to be very encouraging for the future development of the brand.”

Maison Close is another French brand that appears to have performed well over the past year. Sarah Northey is the founder of Naughty Knickers, which acts as UK distributor for the luxury, erotic lingerie label. She says: “Maison Close has done very well in the past 12 months, especially in the UK market.

“Maison Close only works with the best shops in London, such as Coco de Mer, Naughty Knickers and Selfridges, which are references for designer lingerie… Designer lingerie has a certain measure of nobility and seems to be addictive as a product. The crisis hasn’t affected us.”

Maison Close is looking to continue its growth in the UK market over the coming year, during which period it will reportedly be announcing several ‘exciting’ new projects – mostly linked to fashion, TV, films and special events.

For AW13, it will continue to offer collections Nuit Blanche, Villa des Lys and Exquise Allure, focussing on characteristics such as transparency, Fleur de Lys lace and an erotic, nude-like pearl shade.

In terms of pure eroticism, Maison Close may be forced to compete with the likes of Aubade, which is described by brand director Claire Masson as ‘the most seductive brand on the French market’. She says: “Aubade was the first brand to look at lingerie as a product for both one’s pleasure and that of others.”

For AW13, Aubade will be offering a collection inspired by Russia, with three orientations: the folklore costumes, snowy landscapes and the world of czarinas.

Over the past few years, Aubade has opened three stores in the UK, which complement an existing network of multi-brand, retail partners.

“We wish to continue to develop our business in the UK market,” says Masson. “The boutique openings should slow down towards the end of 2012 and 2013, as we would like to focus on developing the boutiques recently opened in order to increase their popularity and traffic… Our challenge for the coming years is to continue and develop our business to increase our notoriety and customer satisfaction.”

It is clear that the French lingerie labels are here to stay and they appear keen to make an impact on the increasingly lingerie savvy UK consumer. And, perhaps, other brands should take confidence from their extreme interest in the market and the inference that there remains plenty of opportunity for growth in the UK sector.

As Naughty Knicker’s Sarah Northey says: “British customers are adventurous, playful and daring. The potential for a brand that gathers these three characteristics is infinite."

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