Fashion's luxury brands are trying their luck in smaller British cities in a bid to boost sales

As London Fashion Week opens, high-end retailers from Hugo Boss to Michael Kors to Versus Versace are expanding in Britain – and they’re stepping out of the London comfort zone to target catwalk fans in the regions

Click to follow
The Independent Online

As the international fashion world converges on London for the start of Fashion Week this Friday, some of the sector’s biggest names are strutting out of their comfort zone to other parts of Britain in an attempt to boost sales.

This week the German house Hugo Boss and American designer Michael Kors agreed deals for shops in Bristol’s Cabot Circus shopping centre. And they are not the only high-end brands wanting stores in the regions, according to Hammerson, which operates Cabot Circus.

The property group says it has introduced “substantially” more high-end brands in its retail destinations outside London in the first half of 2015, compared with the same period in 2014.

That stands in stark contrast to China, where some luxury groups have put expansion plans on hold or are looking at options such as seeking rent cuts to soften the blow of weaker sales amid the economic slowdown in the People’s Republic.

So why do these companies see potential in expanding in the UK, and why are they increasingly looking to the regions?

Caroline Rush, the chief executive of the British Fashion Council, says: “The fashion industry is worth £26bn to the UK economy and employs nearly 800,000 people, which is not just down to its booming capital. There are hotspots all over the UK, with a growing interest in new talent and a demand from consumers to wear what they see on London’s catwalks.”

The demand for these goods has inspired a flurry of retailers to open in new areas this year for the first time.

In April, Hammerson introduced the luxury maternity brand Séraphine, which counts singer Gwen Stefani as a fan, to the arcades of Leeds’ upmarket Victoria Quarter.

That marked the group’s first expansion in the UK beyond its three boutiques in London, although it also has outlets in New York, Paris and Hong Kong. Meanwhile the rapidly expanding high-end French fashion retailer Sandro also chose the Victoria Quarter for its latest store.

The US luxury lingerie group Victoria’s Secret has taken three stores outside the capital this year, just three years after it opened its first store the UK.

 

Hammerson is one of a number of developers that has invested heavily in creating shopping centres that are attractive in the regions, including in Southampton and Birmingham. It has done so in the belief that shoppers that can be persuaded to buy fancy goods locally rather than just on Bond Street and Oxford Street in the capital.

Michael Wainwright, the managing director of the diamond specialist Boodles,  says: “The British economy was awash with cash before it hit the buffers in 2008. However, to some extent, the ‘ultra-high net worths’ have been unaffected by events since then. The rest of our British customer base has definitely grown in confidence over the last couple of years and I see no reason why this should not continue. I suspect this is due to steady growth in the economy, interest rates remaining at an all-time low, political stability and the fact that diamonds have proved themselves a good investment.”

Consumer confidence is prompting Boodles to try to expand a number of its eight British jewellery shops, he adds.

But while shopper numbers and higher disposable income are boosting the nation, London continues to be a big recipient of the trend.

Research compiled for The Independent by the property agent Savills concludes that 2015 will set a new peak for international luxury fashion openings in the capital.

Balmain, Alexander Wang and Versus Versace have opened their first UK stores in the capital this year and Savills expects four more to launch  before the end of 2015.

Anthony Selwyn, the head of central London retail at Savills, adds: “London continues to be a global ‘shop window’ for retailers and provides a strong international platform to showcase brands. Looking ahead, we anticipate more European and international retailers will want to expand into London.”

And James Ebel, executive director at the retail property agent Harper Dennis Hobbs, believes London is in no danger of losing its fashion capital status in Britain.

He says: “Many luxury retailers are still looking to London for further expansion given the additional tourist spend they can pick up. For example, Regent Street has the tourists and the locals, and the size of the real estate is large enough to accommodate flagship stores. I see more luxury retailers opening on Regent Street over the coming years, rather than the rest of the UK, at this stage.”

A report published by Numberly and Albatross Global Solutions suggests that many companies are seeking  to capitalise on the number of wealthy tourists planning a trip to Britain – those  who want to visit stores rather than buy online. Of 4,180 luxury consumers surveyed, 27 per cent are planning a trip to the UK over the next five years, with 42 per cent of them preferring to buy in-store.

While London Fashion Week will be the place for celebrities, designers and shoppers to mingle, it seems plausible that the business heads of the luxury giants and their property advisers will not have their attention solely fixed on the capital and its catwalks.

Comments