FEATURE: The triumphant return of VFB Europe

After showcasing a major restructure, complete with a talented new management team and exciting new collections at Mode City, Lyon, Vanity Fair Brands Europe gave lingerie buyers something to talk about. And now the French business is ready to expand into new markets, with its sights firmly set on the UK.

Get ready for the triumphant return of Vanity Fair Brands Europe (VFB), a group of lingerie and swimwear brands striving to be a dominant force in the industry.

While visitor numbers at Mode City were down this season, there was no shortage of retailers flocking to the VFB stand to see the results of a major restructure in the form of redefined collections from its LOU, Vanity Fair, Bestform, Cherry Beach and Variance brands.

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After becoming part of Perceva, the investment company which bought the group from US firm Fruit of the Loom in October 2015, the French business has been focused on repositioning these brands and building a stellar management team made up of creative visionaries from La Perla, Aubade and Andres Sarda.

Joëlle Pellegrin, the former CEO of La Perla Europe, was appointed in December to transform VFB, whose main market is France, generating nearly 60% of its revenue, into a benchmark European and international player.

To help her fulfil this ambitious expansion project, Pellegrin has since hired her own aides-de-camp.

Former La Perla CFO for the French and Spanish business Miguel Santoro was appointed CFO of VFB, while Pierre Garnier is the new international business director.

“I’m in charge of all the countries, except the domestic market place, which, for us, is mainly Spain and France. We do big business there,” says Garnier.

VFB has also hired Carol Johnson, who has previously worked as a sales executive for the Body Cover Group, Ultimo, Triumph and Gossard, as the new country manager for the UK and Ireland.

“Carol is doing very well and she has opened a lot of new doors for us,” says Garnier.

“She has contacts with some beautiful department stores so it’s really exciting. We need to push and grow with key accounts and digital business. We are ready to consider every option the UK marketplace offers.”

Brand restructure

With a new management team in place, VFB was ready to reposition its brands with new identities built on their original signature styles.

“One of the first things we did was to look at all the brands, one by one, to find their real identity and their real DNA. So now we have a clear vision of what we have,” says Garnier.

“On one side, we have mass-market orientated brands, with Bestform and Variance, and on the other side, we have premium brands for a selective market, let’s say, with LOU and Vanity Fair,” he explains.

“We also have Cherry Beach, offering Californian style swimwear; Gemma, providing an everyday essentials product range; and Belcor shapewear, which is more present in the Spanish market.”

Fuller-figure lingerie brand Bestform is perhaps the most well-known VFB brand among UK customers, with lines stocked in lingerie specialist stores and independent department stores.

“It is an affordable product and we are enjoying a mass distribution, connecting with a large audience and offering the best of lingerie and swimwear to every woman through a large size range,” says Garnier.

Explaining the identity of Variance, Garnier continues: “This is a targeted towards the younger consumer – she’s fun, modern active and buys her lingerie in the mass market.

“She wants value for money, plus fun and attractive looking products. We don’t have the same size range in Variance as in Bestform, but we go up to a D cup,” he adds.

“We also have Cherry Beach, which offers swimwear. This is also very trendy, but it is made in smaller volumes.

“So this is the mass market side, and on the other side, with LOU and Vanity Fair, we do a different job.”

LOU, which celebrates its 70th anniversary this year, presents contemporary designs that pay homeage to its corsetry origins, with premium fabrics, feminine shapes and bold graphics.

“What we wanted to do with LOU is release it from old ideas,” explains Garnier. “It’s a little bit like Sleeping Beauty – we wanted to shake it up a bit, but nicely of course,” he jokes.

Anne-Magali Lestin was appointed from French luxury brand Aubade to head up the design team at LOU and reawaken the brand.

“What we did as a team was we went through the archives and we selected the most beautiful and iconic products from the past and tried to understand what made those products so successful,” Garnier reflects.
LOU is now identified as French corsetry, with a twist.

“We wanted to make it really unique,” explains Garnier. “If we go to a very competitive market with something that looks like what all the other brands are doing then it makes no sense. We want to do something different.”

Vanity Fair, meanwhile, has a new personality, offering fashionable lingerie featuring eye-catching tie-dye prints in contrasting colourways and exquisite embroideries.

VFB has already entered negotiations with some of the leading department stores in the world to carry this brand, including some in London.

“The difference between LOU and Vanity Fair is that LOU will be sold through selected distribution and Vanity Fair will be sold through exclusive distribution,” states Garnier.

“If we go to London, Birmingham, Manchester or Liverpool, or wherever in the UK, there are places that brands go if they want to be considered the most fashionable, modern and irresistible, and we want to join them,” he enthuses.

The Vanity Fair customer is well-connected, sell-assured, loves travel and loves fashion. Our new retail director, Carmen de la Rosa, will be charge of developing this concept all round the world.

Diving into swim

This season marks a major turning point for the LOU and Vanity Fair stories, with each brand presenting its first beachwear collection.

LOU shows off its daring side by drawing on a history built on elegance, modernity and glamour. The beachwear collection is clean, with structured shapes in warm, earthy colours accented with berry and gold shades.

Vanity Fair’s beachwear line offers sleek, graphic swimsuits and bikinis with architectural lines mixed with carefully placed, delicate inserts that flatter the figure.

Highlights from the collection include the Lipari gold bikini, featuring a jacquard mesh with gold lurex thread, and the Samoa one-piece with a geometric print.

Explaining the new move, Garnier says: “VFB used to offer more basic swimwear and now we are projecting it into the fashion world.”

Rosa Parellada has joined VFB from Spanish brand Andres Sarda to help develop the new collections.

“Her designs are absolutely fantastic and I’ve been lucky enough to see some of AW17 lines already, and the very first concepts for SS18. I was absolutely speechless. They are just fantastic,” adds Garnier, excitedly.

Looking at each VFB brand in the portfolio, they all offer something different, for all consumers from all backgrounds.

“There is something for everybody. You have stylish products for a good price, the French corsetry of LOU and the fashion and the incredible modernity of Vanity Fair,” says Garnier.

Prosperous future

With a restructured portfolio in place, VFB is looking to increase its revenue by 60% by 2020.

“I can’t disclose actual sales figures, but we were making around EUR50mn last year and we are targeting EUR80mn by 2020,” Garnier divulged.

Garnier believes the creative visions of VFB, along with exciting new collections in SS17 and beyond, will help drive this growth.

“Our CEO and our shareholder, Perceva, are very ambitions about the future. They understand that if we want to achieve our goal, that is to be one of the key players of this industry, then we will have to invest a little bit more and we are ready for that,” he explains.

“What you saw in Lyon this season was beautiful, but that was just the first step,” he enthuses.

“We did some previews with key fashion buyers and they said the products were brilliant and that we have to continue doing what we are doing because we are bringing something that they are missing. Something that makes a difference.”

Meet the team
Vanity Fair Brands Europe has a new management and design team made up of big names in the industry

The President
Joëlle Pellegrin, former CEO of La Perla Europe

The CFO
Miguel Santoro, former CFO for La Perla’s French and Spanish business

The Retail Director
Carmen de la Rosa, former retail director for La Perla (UK and DACH)

The UK Country Manager
Carol Johnson, former sales manager at the Body Cover Group

The Head of Design
Anne Magali Lestin, former head of design at Aubade

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