INTERVIEW: Eres MD Olivier Mauny

Eres managing director Olivier Mauny talks to Kat Slowe about the luxury lingerie and swimwear company’s first UK boutique, launched last month, and its grand plans for expansion.

Our plan is to make this boutique fly up to the sky,” managing director Olivier Mauny says, “up to the moon.”

Mauny is sitting downstairs at Eres’ new boutique, which launched last month in Knightsbridge.

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It is Eres’ first stand-alone store in the UK, and its twenty-first throughout the world. The company presently operates stores in Paris, Milan, Madrid, St. Tropez and Beverley Hills, and opened a 22nd store in Barcelona, last month.

In 2009, Eres chose to launch a new generation of boutiques to add to its existing 11 outlets. All of these were directly operated except one, in St. Tropez, which existed as a gold franchise partnership.

Erring on the side of caution, the company made the decision to open further outlets in Italy, France and Spain, where it had a long history in terms of direct retailing, and where there was a shared Mediterranean culture. Only when these proved successful did it begin to look at neighbouring countries, such as Switzerland, Belgium and the UK.

“Why London?” Mauny asks. “Obviously, after being in Paris, New York and Milan, you have to be in London, because it is one of the fashion capitals in the world. We know that there is a strong potential for us, as well… British women like going to the sea and the beach.

“But, we had to find the right spot and the right opportunity, so it took us some time to find this beautiful boutique.”

Eres already has three stockists in the UK – Harrods, Intimates and Heidi Klein – a relatively small number when compared to its 400 retail partners worldwide.

The retailers primarily stock the brand’s swimwear products and the new store acts as the perfect opportunity for Eres to showcase its lingerie range.

“Of course, this is the first step,” Mauny says. “If we are successful here in London, we will expand our distribution in London, but also elsewhere in major cities. We are very practical as far as boutique openings are concerned, because we can either go direct or grow through a franchise or partnership boutique.

“If someone wants to open a partnership boutique with us, we will be looking at it. We are very pragmatic. We are not dogmatic.”

The criteria which Mauny will be considering in a potential partner include location, rent, competency and the experience of the owner of the shop.

Its existing partnership boutiques are primarily run by retailers who have been selling the brand for many years, who know the brand and its potential, and who desire to take their relationship with Eres to the next step.

They will either convert their boutique into a monobrand Eres store or, parallel to their multi-brand store, will open a specific outlet for Eres products.

The focus will be placed on franchise boutiques, as opposed to directly operated stores. According to Mauny, there is a good reason behind this.

“Obviously, yes, it is lower risk from a financial point of view,” Mauny says. “If, in one given city, there is a partner who is motivated, competent, has the right location and the right rent, then we go with him. Though, if we can find the same conditions as the franchisee between us, of course we are going to open a directly operated store.”

Within the next five years, Mauny aims to open around five boutiques, covering several of the major cities in the UK
He also hopes to attract a number of new stockists, thereby increasing the profile of the brand throughout the country. This is a model that has already worked successfully in regions such as France and Italy.

“In France, we have a hundred stockists and six boutiques now,” he says. “In Italy, we have three boutiques and 40 to 50 stockists… I don’t think you can cover the whole territory just with boutiques – you need to also have some very good retailers.”

It is not a coincidence that this period of expansion for the company is taking place during a time of significant economic uncertainty. While the global financial situation creates significant challenges for any business, it also provides opportunity.

Eres was impacted by the turmoil in 2009, when it saw its orders for SS10 significantly drop, as retailers became increasingly cautious as a result the global crisis. However, what could have been a worrisome scenario failed to coalesce into a major problem.
Just three or four months after these orders, Eres found that retailers were requesting more stock, compensating for the initial shortfall.

“I would say that the economic situation every day is not really glamorous,” Mauny says. “Every day there is new bad news. This being said, of course we have to be very cautious in the way we develop the brand in each market, but in 2010 and 2011 we saw there was a change. People get used to the so called crisis.

“After that, everybody, myself included, we were getting used to it and then we were more eager to buy new things. Voila.”

According to the managing director, luxury brands – though impacted – have been less affected by the downturn than many of the more affordable labels. This has left many of them in the ideal situation to take advantage of the lower prices that will naturally occur in any struggling market place.

“As far as real estate is concerned,” Mauny says, “there are of course some opportunities and we try to seize these opportunities in some markets. It is not the case here in London, because obviously in London there is no real estate crisis. Not really.

“I heard this morning that very rich Greek people, because they are afraid of the change from Euro to Dragma, and they are afraid of losing everything they have, they are buying apartments here in London for two to 10 million.”

Eres does have a few competitors in the market, such as La Perla, Myla, Melissa Odabash and Maryan Mehlhorn. However, as Mauny noted, the competition in the swimwear sector is not as great or as ‘atomised’ as in lingerie, where you have ‘many big brands and many big players’.

And, Mauhy is also convinced that Eres brings something entirely unique to the UK consumer.

"At Eres, our style is pure, simple in a very sophisticated way,” he says. “To be simple is very complicated, at the end of the day… The essence of the brand is the art of the body, l’art d’accord.

“We believe we have a unique style which differs from most of the existing brands in the UK market. You can look at it in two ways. You say well, this is not the style of the UK or you can see it as this is the only brand offering this type of style and comfort… We are different. I think that is a good point.”

It is a difference that has, according to Mauhy, been picked up by wealthy consumers and celebrities alike. The brand is reportedly popular amongst actresses, top models and royalty, though it is not within the ethos of the company to name names.

“The one I would like to see personally is the one from Mad Men, January Jones, the blonde,” he says. “But that is my personal – how do you say – fantasy. That is another story.”

The story is far from complete. Eres has just launched its first e-tail site and will be continuing the expansion of its boutique network abroad, as well as in the UK. It will be opening two new boutiques in December and January, one in the US, in Las Vegas, and yet the other in the south of France, in Toulouse. The sky truly is the limit for this French brand.

Concluding, Mauhy says: “It seems that the snowball is going to grow… We have room to grow the ball.”

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