Barbour: Chloé link-up reflects shift to younger, more feminine style via collabs
For SS23, Chloé’s womenswear is gearing up to deal with the cool showery weather of the great South American outdoors. Gabriela Hearst, creative director of the Richemont group label, decided to team up with British outerwear brand Barbour to design a coat, a jacket, a cape and a series of accessories, all featuring the tartan patterns and the oiled cotton canvas typical of the brand founded by John Barbour in 1894.
Hearst, who has revamped Chloé's style in the last two years, was won over by the highly recognisable style of Barbour’s jackets, as well as by the knowhow of the British brand, whose factory is still located in South Shields, UK. The Chloé X Barbour collection was released on December 2 on MatchesFashion.
The collection is one of the highlights of the year for Barbour’s well-orchestrated collaboration strategy. It's an approach that it began to adopt before the Covid pandemic, and has enabled the brand, renowned for its country gentleman style and famously worn by members of the British royal family, to explore new horizons.
In the past, one of the founders’ descendants, a rather adventurous character, decided to develop motorcycle racing apparel, creating a second brand called Barbour International, whose 'ambassador' is late US actor Steve McQueen.
Targeting three segments
But it's the long-established Barbour brand that's enjoying a new lease of life thanks to collaborations. The strategy blossomed in 2019, with the success of the collaboration with British TV presenter and designer Alexa Chung. “[That collaboration] opened up new possibilities for co-designed collections,” said Antoine Tinel, who manages Barbour in France for the Lifestyle Company agency. “Fifteen years ago, [Barbour’s] then new design team initiated a collaboration with Japanese brand Tokito, allowing the British brand to expand its distribution footprint. In the last three to four years, [it] has been keen to broaden the range of possibilities, to avoid being confined to a single product. The idea isn’t to collaborate with brands in the same segment, but to turn towards labels targeting a younger audience, from womenswear to luxury and lifestyle ones,” he added.
After the success of the first collaboration with Alexa Chung, which enabled Barbour to make inroads with a female, fashion-oriented clientèle, the brand fleshed out its strategy, and shifted up a gear. It joined forces with Ganni and Roksanda for womenswear, with Brompton bikes, with designer wallpaper brand House of Hackney, as well as with Supreme, Noah and Bape in a streetwear/skateboard culture direction. “[Barbour] receives many collaboration requests and, even if we do want to move quickly, we must ensure that the collaborations fall within the brand's three preferred segments. On average, we are working on six to seven collaborations,” said Tinel, adding that “designers appreciate this, and we have partners, like WP Lavori in Corso in Italy, that operate Barbour stores and have an appetite for collaborations.”
Above all, collaborations have allowed Barbour to reach out to new retail clients, both womenswear stores and retailers more oriented towards young directional urban wear.
“When [Barbour] teamed up with Alexa Chung, the brand had no presence at womenswear retailers. We initially sold that collection to menswear retailers that operated mixed-gender stores. But it then allowed us to sell to womenswear retailers too. With the Alexa Chung [collaboration], we can reach mid-range multibrand retailers that sell Max Mara, Gérard Darel or Patrizia Pepe. The Chloé collaboration instead enables us to tap the high-end segment, more the Burberry type. We entered the womenswear section at Le Bon Marché [department store in Paris] 18 months ago. In terms of a younger clientèle, the Supreme collaboration put us in touch with a streetwear audience, and opened more upmarket doors. In France, we are available at stores like Rayon Frais, Royal Cheese and Specimen. Nowadays, 65% of our clients are long-established, and 35% are new entries,” said Tinel. Proof of this interest, some independent retailers in France have opened stores dedicated to Barbour.
Extending the main line
Barbour continues to work on new collaborations, the next ones on the cards being with Palace Skateboards, And Wander, Maison Kitsuné, Moncler and CP Company. But besides being a marketing tool, these initiatives allow the brand to add to its main line's assortment. “We are clearly experimenting,” said Tinel. “The degree of osmosis between collaborations and the [main line’s] style is quite surprising. There is a very evident evolution in the collections, influencing their style and design. And this makes collection development more successful. Extensions [of the main line] make it possible to meet the needs of retailers that have been attracted by womenswear or streetwear collaborations,” he added.
Barbour is growing robustly, and said the retail value of its revenue will top the £1 billion mark this year, with a 44% increase in Europe (excluding the UK, which remains the brand's best-established market, generating nearly a third of sales) and a powerful surge in North America and especially Asia, where Barbour is keen to develop new expansion projects.
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