Chain reaction

In 21 years, it has gone from a simple idea to a way of life. Melanie Rickey charts the rise and rise of Warehouse

Almost 21 years ago, "Warehouse The Utility Clothing Company" opened its doors on Duke Street, a narrow by-road off Oxford Street. Its mission: to sell fashionable well priced clothes to women of 20-30 years old, who earned their own money, had a disposable income, time to party and work, and, of course, were very clued up on fashion. Two decades later, Warehouse may be a household name, but it has stuck to its roots.

Jeff Banks opened the first shop on 6 September 1976. It wasn't the first of the high street stores as we know them today - both Jigsaw and French Connection began trading in 1972 - but it opened with a firm goal in mind: to sell designs straight from the warehouse (hence the name), and thus cut out the middle man and keep prices down.

Banks had become disillusioned at the cost of designer clothes available at the time; in fact he found his designs beyond the reach of his own pockets. In 1979, Warehouse was selling dresses for about pounds 16.99 (today the average dress costs pounds 45.99), and trousers for pounds 9.99 (now about pounds 40). All the clothes were designed by Banks and graduates from St Martins and the Royal College of Art. It took off immediately, and within five years 25 branches had opened nationwide. Today there are 79 outlets in the UK and 10 across the US - including a store in New York - with more to come. But the road to success has not been easy.

In 1986, when the store was 10 years old, it produced an anniversary brochure dedicated to Norman Parkinson and featuring the work of up and coming photographers and stylists, including Kim Knott and Lucinda Chambers of Vogue, who are responsible for the Tilda Swinton picture, left. The brochure stands as a half-way point for the company, and the beautiful images had as much power then as they do now. It was even possible to buy limited edition prints of the images, which are now collectors' items. Then things began to change.

In 1987 the company was bought by the mail-order giant Freemans, which launched Bymail (Warehouse by post), featuring a very youthful Naomi Campbell, Carla Bruni and Christy Turlington as models, and a menswear range, which although successful, didn't last long. Sears PLC bought Freemans in 1988 and Warehouse was sucked into a conglomerate of brands that includes Miss Selfridge, Wallis, Richards and Adams. Derek Lovelock, managing director of Sears Clothing, saw Warehouse lose it's identity between 1989 and 1992. "It was languishing badly," he says. "We had placed Warehouse inside Miss Selfridge stores and their two images became blurred." Basically, it lost its oomph, and as testimony to that there are very few archive pictures from that early Nineties period.

Fast-forward to 1993, when a saviour in the form of Yasmin Yusuf, a former senior fashion buyer for Harvey Nichols, joined Warehouse first as both fashion director and managing director to restore brand image, the customers faith and, of course, to inject a serious dose of oomph into the clothes. Passionate about fashion, Yusuf reinvented the Warehouse woman, and reverted to the original brief. "We always ask ourselves, `Will she like it? Will she understand it? Can she afford it?'" she says. "We don't dictate to our customers - we want to create fashionable clothes for girls and women everywhere, so they can create their own style." It sounds like a corporate manifesto, and it is. Competition on the high street is fiercer than ever before, and companies have to be extremely focused to get their girl.

It is a widely held assumption that high street chains wait for the twice-yearly catwalk collections to enable their designers to copy the major trends and get them into the shops in double-quick time. This is not true of Warehouse. Its team of designers constantly travel the world looking at fabrics, street trends, and the clothes women are actually wearing. As Yusuf says: "We read fashion. It's not our business to look at a designer like Helmut Lang and copy him. We look at where he is coming from. So if he is doing punk, say, we look back to the beginning of punk." Warehouse is currently buying the fabrics for winter 1998, and designing the clothes for next spring, long before the fashion designers show us their vision.

Yusuf and her team have done such a good job of repositioning Warehouse in the marketplace that the store is now up there with the best of the rest. It has been nominated for the high street retailer of the year award three times, but so far this title has eluded it. Madeleine Christie, senior fashion editor at a soon to be launched version of Arena for women, has been styling Warehouse shoots for a few seasons. "The clever thing about them is that they manage to pick up on the major trends before they happen," she says. " It's fashionable, but not too streety; real women can relate to it." This is the key to its current success.

The latest range to go in-store bridges the gap between summer and autumn, and Yusuf is confident that the team has hit the nail on the head. "We know that legs are back, so we've got great dresses to wear with high heels. Red and grey are back, so we've translated these colours into our existing `Definitives' range, and onto dresses and suits. Narrow trousers are back, too, but we will provide our customers with bootcut shapes until they don't want them any more."

Aside from new trends in fashion, Warehouse always aims to provide customers with their favourite items.

As Yusuf says: "We just want to keep them happy so they come back."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Dave Mackay lifts the FA Cup in 1967 having skippered Spurs to victory
football
Life and Style
Marie had fake ID, in the name of Johanna Koch, after she evaded capture by the Nazis in wartime Berlin
historyOne woman's secret life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
News
Jihadi John
newsMonikers like 'Jihadi John' make the grim sound glamorous
Arts and Entertainment
As depicted in Disney's Robin Hood, King John was cowardly, cruel, avaricious and incompetent
film
Life and Style
Travis Kalanick, the co-founder of Uber, is now worth $5.3bn
tech
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
This phoenix rose from the stage at the London Olympics. The insurer grew out of zombie life insurance funds

Phoenix Life: Chance of a refund for overcharged policyholders has risen

A retired adviser got his money back from the insurer after claiming he had been overcharged. Thousands of others may have a strong case
Expect a new wave of fishing expeditions by fraudsters now we can invest our life savings

Cold callers and your pension: watch out for dangerous boiler room scams

Sean O'Grady received a cold call last week that was much more sinister than normal. Yes, someone wants to get their hands on his pension...

Fuel poverty could claim 100,000 lives over next 15 years, warns energy charity

The NHS is currently bearing a yearly burden of approximately £1.5bn treating cold-related illnesses every winter

MPs call for Equitable Life policyholders to be paid £2.8bn owed by government

Hundreds of thousands of people's policies were hit when the mutual insurer almost collapsed at the turn of the century

The elderly woman's family discovered the mistake

DWP criticised after it left a pensioner £26,000 worse off

The Department for Work and Pensions has been slammed after a series of cock-ups left an elderly pensioner £26,000 worse off.

The FCA has today issued a consultation paper on its plans to tighten up consumer credit rules to give consumers greater protection on guarantor loans and in other areas

Payday loan companies must publish their rates, says CMA

A 20-month investigation concluded that a lack of price competition between lenders has led to higher costs for borrowers

Vulnerable consumers are defined as those with poor literacy skills, those who have caring responsibilities, people with disabilities, dementia or the old

Financial companies are not meeting the needs of vulnerable consumers, says City Watchdog

The Financial Conduct Authority said the industry needs to start thinking about solutions to these challenges

The FTSE 100 is inching closer to its record high but can it maintain these levels?

In 1999 stock markets quickly tumbled, losing many a fortune in the process

Tax-free savings: Freedom dawns for the junior savers caught in low-income accounts

The parents of six million children stuck with low-interest saving accounts worth more than £5bn will be able to move the cash from this April. But what are their options? Samantha Downes reports

How much lower will mortgage rates go?

Another day, another cut. As lenders compete to offer the cheapest deals, Simon Read asks if borrowers should jump in now or wait for further falls

Are bills ruining your family life? Try the lover's guide to coping with debt...

If you're in the red and can't find a way out, it's time to get some help. Neasa MacErlean hears that relationships will suffer unless you are open with your partner, but there are organisations that will put you on the right track and get you talking

How to complain: From retailers to energy suppliers, it's easier than you think

When companies let us down, millions of us just take it on the chin. Simon Read shows how to make your voice heard
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

    £25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

    £15000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Advisor is r...

    Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

    £22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

    SThree: HR Benefits Manager

    £40000 - £50000 per annum + pro rata: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...

    Day In a Page

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn