Ten years later: Designers at Debenhams
"Melissa Mostyn reviews a decade of Designers at Debenhams, the initiative that has seen the work of high-profile designers find its way on to the High Street.
Yet the pioneering partnership is celebrating their tenth anniversary with an invitation-only showcase of specially-created one-off pieces by over 25 of Britain's best-known fashion designers, including John Rocha, Matthew Williamson, Gharani Strok, Pearce Fionda, Jasper Conran, Maria Grachvogel and Ben de Lisi.
At the time of going to press little information was made available about the event due to magazine exclusives, but it's certain to generate much excited media attention. So how do they do it?
Debenhams' own buyers hold the secret: after all, it was they who had the audacity to identify a niche that had never been addressed before. The concept transformed the High Street and anticipated a diffusion trend that's now being capitalised on by New Look and TopShop at the younger end of the market.
Debenhams' own buyers hold the secret: after all, it was they who had the audacity to identify a niche that had never been addressed before
Gillian Boyd, Senior Buyer for BDL by Ben de Lisi, which kick-started the exclusive brand ten years ago, explains how it works: "The range brings designer names at affordable prices to the High Street – thus giving more choice to the customers shopping at Debenhams. When we select the ranges our key issue is that their signature brings something new to our ranges, whilst maintaining the Designers' integrity.
"Each designer has his or her niche area and so any recruits must bring something new to our 'stable'. When we introduce new Designers, we have to assess what gaps in the market they will fill – whether in terms of product type or a slightly different customer profile. We observe up-and-coming fashion talent – normally through catwalk shows, launch events and media coverage – and big talked-about trends which could be fulfilled by potential Designers."
The number of British names participating change fluctuates and currently stands at 19, with a few recently branching out into childrenswear, home furnishings, jeans, lingerie, accessories and jewellery as well as mens and womenswear.
That Debenhams should still be selling designer cuts at budget prices ten years later proves its own enduring marketability
Rocha. John Rocha, J by Jasper Conran, Pearce II Fionda and BDL by Ben de Lisi remain as the brand's mainstays, while fresh recruits Matthew Wlliamson and Erickson Beamon joined last September and October respectively.
Not that buyers necessarily pick their designers according to personal taste. "Of course, it's not about buying what you want," Boyd continues. "Rather, we consider the commercial impact of what we buy on our customers."
Buying tactics aside, the anniversary follows a buoyant year for the department store retail chain. In the 26 weeks up to August 2003 Debenhams reported a 7.9% rise in total sales, with same-store sales up 3.9% thanks to strong demands for its womenswear – continuing a year-long trend that resulted in an overall boost of 6.7% in total sales. Amid reports of multi-million pound takeover bids, Debenhams also launched new stores in Londonderry and Birmingham last month, adding nearly 200,000 square feet of trading space.
by Melissa Mostyn"