Designers Vin and Omi talk to a designer they feel truly represents London
How would you sum up the Lulu Guinness brand?
British design with a sense of humor; glamorous, fun and feminine. This is an important part of the brand’s identity and heritage. We have always sold ourselves as quintessentially British – I like the eccentric side of British style, which hopefully translates to my bags. I always think that my creations appeal to women who want something a little different.
What’s your best seller?
Our Lulu Guinness Wanda bag. For autumn/witer 2011, our hero bag was the Studded Bow Wanda, which I carry everywhere.
How has your label evolved?
I enjoy watching my brand develop and go in so many different directions. And I have a very creative mind, so I’m constantly dreaming up new ideas. I started in 1989, from the basement of my home and now have a very successful global business. The core handbag collection continues to develop and mature. We recently introduced the Continuity Collection, which features a strong style in commercial leathers and now accounts for 40 per cent of our handbag business.
How does the London fashion industry compare to its counterparts elsewhere in the world?
I’m very loyal to London. I think the diversity of the fashion here is amazing – there’s nowhere else that you see such eclectic dressers wandering the street; I love people watching. I also think that British design talent is phenomenal – and it’s a cause very close to my heart. I launched a scholarship at London College of Fashion, supporting MA students in accessories and artefact design at Cordwainers College at the London College of Fashion.
How are your shops around the world performing?
We have retail stores in London, New York, Tokyo and Seoul. Remarkably, the business has seen a period of growth since 2008, coming predominantly from the UK. Our two London stores (we have a third opening in Burlington Arcade, W1 in October 2011) are up on previous years, while our wholesale business with UK department stores is very strong. We also have strong sales in Japan through our two stand-alone stores in Tokyo and Osaka.
Have you noticed any change in store sales in London – especially in light of the new Chinese tourist market?
We are a premium brand with an accessible price point and a focus on selling product with personality.
Our consumers feel safe and loyal buying into the brand; we are a feel-good brand with witty designs. We also appeal to a broad range of customers, due to our affordable entry point. During the recent global economic crisis, when purchases were less frequent and much more considered, consumers wanted more for their money than ever. So I wouldn’t say it was specific to the Chinese tourist market, although this has certainly contributed [to our success].
Is the online accessories online market becoming saturated?
Not at all. I think there are some really fantastic etailers, and with the industry changing so much it’s important to have as much online awareness as possible.
Do you feel that young, London-based designers have enough support in terms of mentoring and investment?
This has definitely improved over the years. All design colleges now offer free support and advice. They also have good scholarship programmes, which offer mentoring after graduation. I offer my own advice and mentoring to my scholarship student, who won the Lulu Guinness Scholarship for the MA in accessories and artefact design at Cordwainers College. She also came to work in the Lulu Guinness design studio, and certainly offered us advice, too!
Any advice for emerging labels in London?
When I was younger I was very headstrong and didn’t listen to much advice! It’s important to learn from your own mistakes in life – this makes you an interesting person. I think advice from those around you is always invaluable; you can do what you like with it but it is important to take it in and be aware.
Are shops just an elaborate advert for the brand now that internet shopping is so popular?
I think all of our retail stores are showcases or museums for our collections. Eventually all sales will be directed to online, but if the customer wants the Lulu Guinness experience, then they will still continue to visit our stores – which encapsulates the world of Lulu. I suppose stores are our showrooms: people still want to touch the product and experience the brand.
How could London do fashion better?
London is the hub of fashion design, culture and ideas. It’s still the creative force behind much of the fashion industry; some of fashion’s design icons derive from London – and the city continues to produce more. We aren’t as commercial as we could be, but the British Fashion Council are making interesting changes to this perception, which I think will be really interesting.
Vin and Omi are international fashion designers based in London and LA. Their first collection will be launched later in the year. They will be blogging daily from fashion week for LondonlovesBusiness.com www.vinandomi.com