The pandemic hit the reset button on an industry associated with trends and a taste for the novel. Four players in different areas of fashion and luxury retail share how their work has changed in this new world and their thoughts on the future.
A model wearing styles from the IWC and Orlebar Brown collection.
WHAT’S NEXT IN... COLLABORATIONS
The founder of a luxury resort wear brand on what makes collaborations meaningful.
It’s not uncommon for watch and fashion brands to collaborate with other companies these days, but it’s not often that one sees them working together. In July, Swiss luxury watch brand IWC and Orlebar Brown dropped their first co-created capsule collection, comprising a Portugieser Yacht Club Chronograph Edition “Orlebar Brown” and a nine-piece resort wear collection. They also decked out the Double Moon yacht by Solaris Yachts, paying homage to the Portugieser’s nautical heritage. Answering our questions via an audio recording done at his home in Cornwall, Orlebar Brown founder Adam Brown shares his thoughts on the partnership and what it takes for collaborations to be meaningful now that the industry is rife with them.
How did your collaboration with IWC come about?
Christoph Grainger-Herr, the CEO of IWC, and I first met about two years ago. A mutual friend from e-commerce website Mr Porter introduced us by e-mail. Chris and IWC creative director Christian Knoop joined me for coffee at our office in London. It was relaxed and informal, and they presented mood boards and had definite ideas of what they wanted to do for the Portugieser watch this year. It was about the process of getting to know each other and having some very collaborative design meetings to create a story around the Portugieser Yacht Club watch.
Founder, Orlebar Brown
Are you a watch buff?
I have a range of watches, but I’m not a watch expert, just an enthusiast. I’ve bought watches since I could afford to do so and I have about 10 now. I got my first IWC watch about a decade ago as a gift from my partner. It was a Top Gun pilot’s chronograph with a green face and a dark green canvas strap. I still love it. I also love the feeling of having something smart on my wrist; something properly genius in a mechanical sense and an emotional sense. I like how a watch can change how you feel, whether it’s sporty, dressy or casual.
What was your inspiration for the capsule collection?
The inspiration was the Portugieser Yacht Club. IWC came with mood boards that depicted a particular lifestyle on the ocean in the Solaris yacht. It’s not about racing or being lazy on a sailboat but about a specific type of adventure and exploration. My favourite piece (from the collection) is the towelling blazer. I love the bright white fabric with contrasting navy. Towelling is one of our signature fabrics because it has a classic, elegant resort appeal.
The IWC Yacht Club Portugieser Chronograph Edition "Orlebar Brown".
How closely did you and IWC work together on the clothing and the watch?
For the collection, Christian had a lot of input on all the items, whether it was the weight of a fabric or colour used. For the watch, we had a lot of conversations about details such as the shade of blue to use on the dial, the placement of the red accents and the side-fastening clasp of the watch – a key feature because it references the side fastener that we use on our swim shorts.
Orlebar Brown has also partnered with Eon Productions for the third time to create a new collection of James Bond-inspired clothing. How do you choose the brands you work with?
In any collaboration, there have to be two elements to make it enjoyable. The first is that it has to take the two respective brands to different places – in this case, to enable the customer to perceive IWC and Orlebar Brown differently. Likewise, with the James Bond collection, it’s about a modern take on the classic Bond designs, with hero styles restyled, refabricated and re-detailed to make them Orlebar Brown.
Secondly, the brands must have shared values. With IWC, it’s portraying the spirit of adventure, exploration and being outdoors. With James Bond, it’s about protection, adventure, humour, tailoring and style. Bond is instinctively English but ultimately international; he travels. All of these factors made it an easy decision to work with both partners.
A model wearing jewellery from the Sunlight collection by Piaget, which has a virtual boutique by Inspify.
WHAT’S NEXT IN... LUXURY RETAIL
REALM OF POSSIBILITIES
A tech entrepreneur devises a new way of bridging the physical and digital worlds.
To be a successful entrepreneur, hard work is a must. Sometimes, though, it is also about being in the right place at the right time. Way before Covid-19 forced many luxury boutiques to suspend their operations temporarily, German tech entrepreneur Thorsten Walther and his team had already been working on the concept of a virtual boutique that would bridge a physical store and the digital space.
In a Zoom interview, the Singapore-based founder of Inspify recalls, “I had always felt that the e-commerce side for luxury was not strong enough. In luxury, you must always put the product in a context, and there must be human interaction with a salesperson.” Inspify has since launched virtual boutiques in various cities for Richemont brands IWC, A. Lange & Sohne and Piaget, as well as Italian fashion brand Max Mara. Walther shares his take on the evolution of luxury retail and the changing role of the physical store.
What was the initial idea behind Inspify?
When we launched the app in 2018, it was for customers. The idea came about after I went to a boutique at the Marina Bay Sands and wanted a pair of shoes in a particular colour and size, but they didn’t have it. The advisor called the brand’s store in Orchard Road, and they didn’t have it either. Subsequently, I went there and they had the exact item I wanted. So that was the initial idea: connecting the physical boutique to customers via a mobile app so that the latter could have instant access to the availability and prices of different luxury products.
The app has evolved in multiple stages. It is also a reservation service and a never-ending source of inspiration. Today, if you want style inspiration, you might look at Instagram, YouTube or magazines. We curate this and create a flow of content personalised for you. For instance, if you like Louis Vuitton, you will only see content relating to Louis Vuitton.
The sales tool for client advisors at boutiques working with Inspify.
Since then, Inspify has begun working more closely with brands rather than individual customers.
Now, the app is only about 5 per cent of our business. It has become smaller as we move more towards partnering with brands, and delivering our solutions to them with the right look and feel from their perspectives. With our partner brands, you can go into a store with our app and discover the store by yourself. It works by using our own patented nearables. As a customer walks around a store with the app, these nearables communicate with the app and deliver curated stories relating to that specific item. It’s all about storytelling, which is what luxury is. Users can also take photos and send them to their friends via the app.
Tell us about the virtual boutiques you recently built for several luxury brands.
The great thing about our VR (virtual reality) experiences is that a customer can now visit the boutique without actually going to the boutique. It’s a virtual space, which allows you to discover and look at products, and even lets you shop with friends. More importantly, a salesperson can join the customer in this virtual space and offer advice in a video chat, as though they are actually in a physical boutique. They can tour the boutique and the salesperson can explain an item to the customer – how it’s made, the materials used, and so on – while the latter is sitting on their sofa.
Curated content appears on the app when a customer is in an Inspify-equipped store.
Currently, sales advisors usually engage VIP clients via texts or calls. Why should they switch to using the Inspify virtual environment?
The quality of interaction is higher. With Inspify, the client can get a video chat with the salesperson in an environment with a better quality of product presentation and storytelling. Salespeople have access to our virtual cockpit, whose technology is similar to that of a multi-player video game. When Covid-19 happened, people started doing online video meetings. But when you do product presentations and show videos, the quality on the other side is pretty bad. Our technology solves this problem. When a salesperson walks a customer through the virtual boutique or presents images of products or videos, everything appears in perfect quality on all devices. The salesperson also has access to analytics data of different customers – their purchases, their likes, their wish lists. It’s about personalising the experience.
President, Textile and Fashion Federation
WHAT’S NEXT IN... SINGAPORE FASHION
DESIGNING THE FUTURE
An industry leader's roadmap for guiding local talent through uncertain times.
When one thinks about fashion designers, it’s easy to have a romanticised view of them as pure creatives, sketching beautiful designs on paper that somehow become wearable works of art. The reality is that they also have to consider the nitty-gritty of a complex chain involving the sourcing of materials, manufacturing and retailing. It’s something Wilson Teo, the recently minted president of the Textile and Fashion Federation (Taff ) is familiar with. He is also executive director of Teo Holdings. Its businesses include apparel manufacturing, trading and outsourcing, as well as brand development for wholesale, retail and distribution in children and baby wear.
Teo shares his strategic vision for Taff – a non-profit trade association whose goal is to uplift the fashion industry – and how it is helping players in local fashion navigate an uncertain future.
The Design Orchard retail space.
What are your main goals for Taff?
Our goal is to uplift Singapore’s fashion industry and position ourselves as an innovative fashion hub in South-east Asia. There are three main ways we are doing this: advocacy, communication and education. Advocacy involves championing a few key themes we think are essential for the industry – technological innovation, sustainability and Asian craftsmanship. In communication, we want to build a community and an ecosystem and bring together all the stakeholders and industry players. Finally, education involves providing resources to help members, so they can better grow their businesses.
Could you highlight a few key initiatives?
We have many initiatives and programmes. For instance, we secured The Cocoon Space from the Jurong Town Council that’s located at Design Orchard right in the heart of Orchard Road, where most of Singapore’s fashion industry is located. We want to create an environment where we can bring together all the participants in the fashion ecosystem. We just took over the running of Design Orchard’s retail showcase, and intend to make it an iconic shopping destination to promote local brands better. We also run The Bridge Fashion Incubator (TBFI), an accelerator programme that provides emerging brands with tools and mentorships so they can build their businesses and create breakthroughs.
A lookbook image by TBFI alum and new digital clothing brand Republiqe.
What are some specific challenges fashion designers here face?
One challenge for local brands and designers is that we do not have an entire supply chain in our backyard – unlike for example, Hong Kong, which has China as its hinterland. In a smaller way, Thailand has a robust textile and garment supply chain. Singapore doesn’t have that luxury, so our designers need to know where to go to find textiles or supplies. Taff tries to support their needs and connect them with our partners, such as (global fibre manufacturer) Lenzing and other suppliers.
Innovation is one area Taff has been focusing on. What innovations can help brands become more prominent?
There are many ways to innovate. One of the participants in the TBFI programme, Evrywear, is a digital rental service platform that lets you rent womenswear instead of buying it. Another brand that graduated from the TBFI programme, Republiqe, develops fashion in the digital space. These are excellent examples of how an apparel business can embrace technology and disruption, constantly rethinking business models and methodologies.
For our brand Oeteo, my wife and I wanted to make life easier for parents. We have four kids, and I’ve always been very hands-on as a parent. I found it challenging to dress a struggling and crying baby, so we designed a romper without any snaps or zippers. We have since introduced other functional elements into our products. This is about innovating to differentiate your products and address different needs. In this Covid-19 era, there are a lot more antibacterial functionalities in textiles. It would be interesting to see how local brands can put their spin on such features to meet new needs.02 A lookbook image by
Vibrant tops and a scarf sold at The Fifth Collection.
WHAT’S NEXT IN... PRE-OWNED LUXURY
Why the cofounder of a preloved luxury digital platform believes that the pandemic will strengthen her sphere.
When we last spoke to Michael Finn and Nejla Matam-Finn, the husband-and-wife founders of the preloved luxury website The Fifth Collection, in 2018, the platform was on an upward trajectory with business “doubling or tripling every year”. Then, the pandemic hit and things slowed down as the global economy slumped.
Nonetheless, the global market for preloved luxury goods – estimated by consultancy Bain & Company to be worth 22 billion euros last year, with an annual growth of nine per cent since 2015 – remains a promising vertical.
Matam-Finn, whose company recently moved into larger premises – “a sign that I am running a pretty solid business”, she notes with a smile – reveals how, despite its challenges, the stormy global situation has had a silver lining for the secondary luxury market and consequently, The Fifth Collection.
What effect has the pandemic had on The Fifth Collection?
It’s tough. We have been prudent since we saw this coming as early as January. But, interestingly enough, the lockdowns have been pretty good for customer acquisition. When the world went into lockdown, being in our space – online and doing second-hand – helped us tremendously. I think the fact that people had more time to research different platforms led several countries to discover The Fifth Collection; even though we haven’t spent a dollar on marketing yet this year.
Previously, half of our business was already international. Usually, our overseas customers are from Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong. During the circuit breaker, a lot of Americans and Europeans showed up. And, as we have a pretty good reputation with existing customers, after someone finds us, they come back.
Cofounder, The Fifth Collection
Do you think the Covid-19 situation has helped or hurt the pre-owned luxury industry as a whole?
It has helped. Even before the pandemic, there was a lot of conversation around sustainability and fashion. Before this, the industry had been running straight into a wall, with problems like overproduction. The pandemic has served as a reset. People naturally started looking at platforms such as ours.
But I think a more significant factor, honestly, is that people are still looking for good deals, and that’s what we offer. It’s about how I can get more for my dollar without hurting my lifestyle, and if I liked luxury brands before, I still want to have access to those now.
What challenges are you facing right now?
People are after a good deal. Right now, it’s hard to say if they’re going to choose a second-hand or primary-market player because many brands and retailers are heavily discounting their merchandise. You see this online and also in physical shops. In Europe, for instance, when the stores first reopened, some offered discounts of up to 50 per cent. Of course, some brands will never go on sale or only occasionally have private transactions, so people who want those brands are happy to come to us. Right now, we offer the choice of new and second-hand. If it’s the same deal, then they will go with the former. We try to be competitive with the other offerings out there.
Aside from checks done by its own experts, the company uses an authentication tool called Entrupy.
The Fifth Collection curates and sells pre-owned luxury items. Currently, the sellers you work with are based in Singapore. How have things on the supply side changed due to the pandemic?
People are spending more time at home and have had more time to declutter. We’ve had more people sending us homeware such as photo frames and other small items. Of course, there were a lot of clothes, too. We’re not doing marketing on that side of the business right now, but people keep showing up.
Of course, we don’t accept everything, and we do curate the selection on the website. For example, if a person has 50 pieces, there might be 20 we can sell. We have to donate the balance or return them to the owners.
How have buying patterns changed as a result of the increased numbers of people working from home?
Anything that can be worn here (gesturing at her upper torso) has been selling well for people who work and have to do online meetings. People are buying more comfortable clothes – big sweaters, comfortable pants, flowy dresses – that can be worn at home and also for a video call. Some even prepped for emerging after the circuit-breaker by buying items such as fancy heels.
Typically, our bestsellers are big-ticket items such as handbags, and we’ve seen people shifting their purchases to clothes and accessories – scarves are doing well. The product line that has suffered the most is gala dresses or evening wear. Those aren’t going anywhere right now.