FEATURE: Style and Panache

One of Britain’s lingerie stalwarts, Panache has refocused on its customer, revamped its imagery and is exciting buyers with new attitude. Gemma Champ reports on the changes afoot.

Familiarity has been known to breed if not contempt then at least a lack of excitement for a lingerie brand, and when you’ve been a dominant force for decades it can be hard to revive the excitement that your products once inspired.

That was, until recently, the problem facing Panache, the Sheffield-based lingerie brand that has been going for more than 30 years. It had a global business, a huge reputation in Britain and was the original fuller-cup bra company. But when Danny Power, director of product, who runs the company with his brother John, sat down with a PR team last year he discovered something disturbing.

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“The PR team told me that a lot of journalists feel Panache is for an older woman,” he says. “And I knew it wasn’t, but I couldn’t instantly define who it was for, and that really alarmed me.”

Understandably so: Panache, after all, has youthful, playful, sub-brands such as Cleo and Sculptresse, not to mention the alluring Masquerade line.

The result has been a significant overhaul of the company’s positioning for the SS14 season, from imagery to product, but while the new marketing materials offer a clear development from previous seasons, says the company’s graphic designer Louise Hardcastle, who has been responsible for implementing the changes, the Panache DNA is still there.

“What Panache does really well is create very specific collections that are crafted to the needs of very specific customers, so I think the product was there,” she says. “We just needed to try and refine our branding to match the personality of the product and appeal to those different customers. That’s the main thing we realized.”

Power, too, is keen to emphasise that this is more of a focusing exercise than a wholesale transformation.

“We’ve developed a few brands over the years, you have a changeover of people, so sometimes you just need to clear up the lines and definitions,” he explains. “The thing is, we weren’t a million miles away from where we wanted to be, so really it’s just a lot of small adjustments in many aspects of the business, and I think they can lead to quite a few differences in how we’re perceived.”

In fact, the team found that once it had established the need to change external perceptions, the response internally was immensely positive, with little resistance to the changes.

“Once we started talking to the rest of the company, I think everybody wanted to do it,” says Power. “It’s one of those things that swept through the company, and it’s more of an internal realignment than external, which I think is a really healthy thing. It’s not just about marketing.”

Still, as far as buyers and customers are concerned it really is the product perception that counts, and considerable research went into deciding what Panache did not want to be seen as, says Power.

“That led us more to who we were and who we wanted to be,” he explains. “It was not being for an older woman specifically; it wasn’t being overtly sexual; we weren’t mumsy; and we weren’t fitting into an age range. What we discovered was our brands were more about attitude than age. And that’s when we really started developing what each brand represented. We really wanted to focus on femininity, and that cohesion and distinctiveness of femininity, and that was probably the defining word that we stuck with.”

For Hardastle, this meant a much more complex definition of femininity, and a move away from lingerie’s traditional man-pleasing sexiness towards a more empowered sense of glamour.

“I definitely think what a woman finds sexy is different to what a man finds sexy,” she notes. “And that’s really key in the way the images are portrayed, whether it’s just paring back the styling, making it feel more natural, making the models look like they’re in a realistic situation.

“For example, one of my little irks is wearing shoes with lingerie. Bare feet just looks more natural to me. I mean not many people walk around in lingerie and high heels.

“So I just think it’s making minor, small amends, that create an overall more appealing image for a woman, but still being aspirational and still having a really beautiful image at the end of the day.”

Certainly the images feel very natural and enticing, all sunny lighting and outdoor mooching, and those divisions between the brands are indeed heavily emphasised by the choices in model, location and image style. The model choice is absolutely central, says Hardcastle.

“It’s trying to portray the brands’ different personalities, trying to pick the models to reflect that,” she explains. “It’s important to pick aspirational models. We try not to pick models that are too thin, but at the same time, we like them to be aspirational. Also trying to pick a fresh face is quite hard in the lingerie industry, because there are not that many models out there that have the shape you need to fill out the product, so we’re always on the lookout for a new face – it definitely distinguishes you from the other brands.”

So just how does the Panache roster break down for SS14? Well, it’s not, as Power pointed out, a million miles away from where it once was. But tighter definitions of the customer and more distinctive imagery does help break down the sub-brands much more clearly.

“We classify our brands slightly differently now,” explains Hardcastle. “We talk about the Core Family, which is Panache, Panache Swim and Panache Sport, and I suppose the sort of customer we’re trying to appeal to is a very refined customer: it’s about effortless glamour, it’s nothing too extroverted or sexual.

“We like to refer to it as the Little Black Dress of lingerie – the sort of piece you can have in your wardrobe and wear every day and it fits all different occasions.”

This means the Superbra line has been absorbed into the main Panache brand, together with a new logo.

“Then we have Cleo and Cleo Swim, which I suppose is for a more extroverted customer, someone who’s got a spirited sense of fashion and style,” continues Hardcastle, “and I suppose you could also call it a little bit commercial because it does appeal to a lot of customers.

“Then the third one is Masquerade, which is a more alluring brand, quite seductive, but it’s a relaxed opulence – it’s not your Agent Provocateur, it’s a bit more pared back, and I think that sits underneath what we’re trying to push about the Panache brand.”

The brand has also rethought its strapline, with each sub-brand beginning with “Crafted for fit” and ending with a phrase that reflects the brand’s identity: “Crafted for fit. Styled for Comfort,” for Panache; “Crafted for fit. Styled for Fun,” for Cleo, and so on. That consistency is part of a move to imbue each of the sub-brands with
the credibility of Panache itself, says Hardcastle.

“We’ve been in lingerie for 30 years, and I think it was important that these sub-brands had that credibilty filtered down onto them,
so we needed to create a synergy between Panache and its sub-brands.”

"Sculptresse, the fuller-figure brand modelled by former America’s Next Top Model winner Whitney Thompson, is dealt with as a separate brand, because it doesn’t fall into the Panache price point," she adds.

Without the product, of course, the marketing is just giftwrap, and Power says that the rebranding exercise has resulted in a clearer identity for the lingerie and swimwear itself.

“We’re about crafting this product, and that stays the same,” he says. “It’s just more the design side and a clearer direction to the designers on who they’re designing for in each brand. It was about tweaking some of the edges of the collection that merged into
each other or went into a direction we didn’t want to go.”

At the end of all of this, though, the most important thing for Panache is the reaction of the buyers and customers, and so far it’s looking good, as far as retailers are concerned.

“I think retailers will get a clearer line between our brands, a clearer picture,” says Power. They’ll see it in terms of the images we’ll start to develop, our logos, and the design direction – by doing this we’re giving clearer direction to our designers – right down to the swing tickets.”

Hardcastle concurs: “We’ve just had our international sales conference where we launched the images not only to people internally but also our distributors, and I think everyone could see the hard work we’ve put in and the changes we’ve made. We’ve brought all the creative in-house now, because we did all this research and we wanted to keep it in the company and just strive for this new, fresh look.”

The proof is in the figures, and orders look set to go up by a good margin, according to Power.

“We’ve had some key retailer meetings, and in Paris sales were up 60%,” he says.

“We think it’s something that’s going to generate that sell-through for these guys at the end of the day.”

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