Thierry Andretta Interview in Full

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  1. I'm a subscriber to The Times, so thought I would abuse the paywall for your benefit :biggrin:


    I’m betting £995 is the right price for a handbag

    After an ill-fated move upmarket, Mulberry is looking to find a saviour in new boss Thierry Andretta, who puts value before celebrity endorsement

    The showroom on the third floor of Mulberry’s London head office is a fashionista’s paradise. At least, it used to be.

    Four years ago, the British brand was basking in the glory of its must-have Alexa bag. Mulberry was in vogue in the City, too: having changed hands at as low as 115.5p after Lehman Brothers collapsed in 2008, its shares hit a peak of almost £24.
    Since then, the fading of the Alexa, the resignation of creative director Emma Hill and a misguided experiment with higher prices have led Mulberry into a design hinterland and a series of profit warnings. The shares had sunk to 720p when Bruno Guillon stood down as chief executive in March 2014, just two years after taking charge.

    “The Alexa is over,” shrugs Thierry Andretta, Guillon’s impish French-Italian successor. The former chief executive of Paris fashion house Lanvin was appointed to the top job in March last year with a mandate to save Mulberry from irrelevance. He seems to have no sentimentality about the golden years.

    “The new trend is what I call a constructed bag,” Andretta says. “When you have an Alexa, which is a soft bag, when you put it on the chair or table, it’s going thwooock.” His hands indicate a formless shape collapsing.

    “It’s not even something the company did wrong, simply that the product was going out of cycle. If one day everyone will ask only for electric car, I think it will be difficult to sell Rolls-Royce.”

    Stooped and intense, wearing a blazer and black trainers, Andretta lays on a tour of the display area. He picks out a few items he hopes will turn the tide.
    First there is a remake of the classic Bayswater bag in a smaller size. “Inside is lined with real leather,” the boss says. The price is £795. Then there are “rock” versions of other styles, accessorised with studs and chains, which are due to hit the shelves in July.

    Andretta also shows off a bag with a two-tone zip, the Camden. It is the fruit of a wrestle with Mulberry’s latest creative director, Johnny Coca, who was poached from the luxury label Céline.

    “If you really want to be respected by Johnny you need to push so hard that he has to decide this is better than Céline,” Andretta says.

    “On this bag I said we can match the zip colour with the leather and he told me that Céline was not able to do this. I said Céline is Céline, we can do it at Mulberry — and in the end we did.”

    Andretta, 59 , has impeccable fashion credentials — his CV includes Moschino, Gucci, LVMH and Céline — but he looks pleasingly crumpled as he settles into a chair in a meeting room. He hunches over a glass of water, tapping it rhythmically on the table as he answers questions.

    Mulberry’s boss manages to be even more European than his French predecessor. He speaks with a shifting accent, the result of an upbringing spent flitting between Toulouse, his mother’s city, and Venice, his father’s home. Andretta senior was an antiques dealer (“I personally don’t like so much — I’m more interested in modern design”) and his mother looked after the family.

    The first move from France to Italy came when Andretta was seven. “I knew only French. I was totally shocked because I went to school and came home and said, ‘Mama, there is a teacher in front of me and I understand not a word.’ ”

    He read business studies at university in Venice, then became a sales manager for a leather tannery whose customers included Dior and Hermès. Before long, a client asked him to help with its accessories business. “This was at the end of the Seventies,” Andretta says. “It was a moment when buying the raw material, the leather, at the right price was critical.”

    He joined Mulberry’s board as a non-executive director in June 2014, three months after the majority shareholder, Singaporean “Queen of Bond Street” Christina Ong, ran out of patience with Guillou.

    In February that year, in a last roll of the dice, Guillon had unveiled a collaboration with the supermodel Cara Delevingne, harking back to the tie-up with model-turned-presenter Alexa Chung. Whereas the Alexa was priced at £695 when it debuted in 2009, the Cara range was pitched at £795 to £2,500. Today the cheapest Alexa is £1,100, and the Cara range goes up to £7,500 on the website.

    Andretta maintains that linking with Delevingne was a “good thing”, and insists that “it’s impossible to say” the era of celebrity endorsement is over, but says: “This moment we need to support the new creative director, so we must be more behind Mulberry and Johnny.”

    His main point is that, while “you can really go up [in price], your core product must stay in the range, and Johnny is truly committed to this”. For Mulberry, the range is £500 to £995, he says.

    Andretta, who joined from the jeweller Buccelatti, is reluctant to describe Guillon’s attempt to push the brand upmarket and increase its exclusivity as a mistake. “It was perhaps that they considered an opportunity that was not an opportunity, because it’s difficult to try to change the DNA of the brand,” he says.

    “Mulberry is an accessible brand for a lot of people. For a lot of people, spending £500 to £995 is a lot of money. For some others it’s not, but you have to respect this kind of thing.”

    Half-year results last December hinted at stabilisation after several years of woe. Sales grew 5% and the business swung from a £1.1m pre-tax loss to a £100,000 profit. Online sales increased by 20%, but wholesale deliveries dropped 11%, reflecting both a slowdown in Asian demand and efforts by Mulberry to control distribution.

    Coca, who filled the creative director’s seat last July — 18 months after Emma Hill’s departure — unveiled his maiden collection at London Fashion Week in February. The 40-year-old has talked about improving the functionality of Mulberry’s bags, for example, making the clasp plate smaller on the Bayswater.
    Julian Easthope, an analyst at Barclays, Mulberry’s house broker, reckons Coca’s debut was “the key thing”. “He’s got some interesting designs and advertising that’s slightly away from the home counties set,” Easthope said.

    Andretta likes to keep an eye on the design process “because the normal tendency of a designer is trying to give you always more and more quality, more and more ways to dream, and normally that means more cost and a price is not perfectly respecting your goal”.

    Some analysts have suggested that mid-market rivals such as Coach and Michael Kors muscled ahead of Mulberry during its management and design hiatus. Andretta rejects this. The business, founded in 1971 by Roger Saul in his garage in Somerset, still makes half its products at two factories in the county. It employs 600 craftsmen and women and 250 other staff there.

    Andretta points out that Mulberry has a dozen people dedicated to repairing customers’ old bags, replacing torn lining and so on. “It’s quite impressive that people, after 20 or 30 years of use, give us their bag to repair because they have a lot of affection for the thing — it’s not about money,” he says. “In the industry, you have only Vuitton and Chanel that are doing this.”

    Coach and Michael Kors, in contrast, are “multibillion brands” that “play the made-in-China [game]”. “Mulberry is where you start with the real product, made in Europe,” Andretta says.

    Do customers appreciate that? “Si. Consumers perceive perfectly.”

    Mulberry’s backers “would like it a lot” if it eventually became a multibillion-pound beast, Andretta concedes, but “I think I would not like it personally”. He believes it is more realistic to aim for £500m of sales in the next few years. Despite its fame in Britain, Mulberry is less well-known abroad and turned over a total of less than £150m last year.

    “When you go over £500m, from my personal point of view . . . in the end you are less driven by creativity and giving a great product to the customer,” he says. “You are really driven by numbers of units, variation, colour, pallet, price, size. It’s becoming a more complex machine.”

    Andretta is targeting international expansion, particularly in China and Hong Kong. Although he says Mulberry can grow its number of stores in the People’s Republic from three to twenty, he wants to use the internet as the main portal for overseas growth.

    For London Fashion Week, Mulberry drafted in a 20-strong “digital task force” to help its online team with filming clips and uploading them. “We started bombarding social media. We put a lot of things online immediately after the show to maximise the investment,” he says.

    Andretta mentions a friend who runs Dior in China. “He called me three days after the show and said, ‘What is happening?’ People in his office found it on social media in China. We had 25m contacts. Never happened before — we never reached 1m in our previous life.”

    Exactly an hour into our interview, a landline rings and Andretta scurries off. Those handbags won’t sell themselves — at any price.
  2. An interesting read. Thanks for sharing :supacool:
  3. Thanks for posting snailpolish, agree that it's an interesting article. I look forward to seeing the structured bags they will be offering as most of mine collapse into puddles (but I don't mind :smile:)
  4. Very interesting article.
    Good that the price range is a bit less than Bruno but from what I can see many of the new bags are going on at £995!!!
    I disagree with him coach and Michael kors have taken up a fair proportion of mulberry's previous market. During the Bruno days I increased my MK bag quota quite seriously as it was easier for me to get a £300 bag treat than a £1000 one and the prices of mulberry had increased too rapidly.
  5. Thanks for sharing, very interesting, I do wonder how long we will have the beauty of having our bags repaired.
  6. This sounds quite exciting!
    I thought Chanel were stepping back on repairing vintage bags?
  7. They're stepping back from full refurbishments.
    For any bag over 5 years old.
    Which caused me, personally, not to buy more.
    Because my new one would not receive full aftercare, in few years time. Felt as a yanking of promise, after sale. :sad:
    But, ignorant of full & minute details regarding this, sorry.
  8. “If you really want to be respected by Johnny you need to push so hard that he has to decide this is better than Céline,” Andretta says.

    Thanks for sharing article. :smile:
  9. I've developed a major crush on Celine bags, but am yet to own one because of the price... if Mulberry comes up with something even better, I'll be delighted :smile:
  10. I adore my Alexas ��
  11. #11 May 10, 2016
    Last edited: May 10, 2016
    Yes thanks for sharing Snailpolish.

    I also wonder about the repairs Louiliu, with Coca Bays having a smaller and different lock plate, you can't help but wonder how long the old ones will be available as replacements. The previous leathers would outlive the lock plate which would become scratched over the years.

    I've sent many bags in and think the service is wonderful but I wonder what Coca's view of reviving 20-30 year old bags is? I guess time will tell.

  12. I'm putting one in soon to get the lo plate replaced, it's s bit springy and thought best her in sharpish as I'm not expecting it to last, could be wrong

    I've had a few things done under warranty and can't fault it, been a bit slow recently though
  13. #13 May 10, 2016
    Last edited: May 10, 2016
    Me too :ghi5:

    Yes I agree they're slow but at least they get it done. I had a Marc Jacobs bag that was not much over 12 months old and the gold chain strap went a strange colour. They wouldn't do anything, the customer service was appalling, I was happy to pay but they just didn't care. It was an expensive lamb skin bag that cost just over £1k and I'd barely used :graucho: I told them I'd never buy another another MJ bag and I never will.

    but getting back to Mulb,they replaced the plaque and strap on my Daria and re-inked for a great price. I'm planning to check my bags over just in case, better safe than sorry, I don't trust Coca's strategy :giggles:
  15. Happy to help, everyone. I too am gutted about the Alexas. I've got annual leave coming up in a couple of weeks - Bicester AND York are getting visits from me.