British brands evoke ‘posh’ feelingWho would have known that a 1997 black-and-white photograph of Kate Moss wearing a classic trench coat would mark the rebirth of a century-old British brand?
Nearly overnight, that iconic image by the photographer Mario Testino made Burberry’s check, a trademark since 1924, the trendiest fashion. Today, the 150-year-old company, which had supplied raincoats and umbrellas to Britain’s upper class, boasts the world’s sleekest flagship shop in the gritty but posh district of SoHo in New York City.
The informal word “posh” is an acronym for “Port Out, Starboard Home” referring to deluxe rooms with lights aboard luxurious cruise ships in the Victorian era.
“Posh: the Evolution of the Traditional British Brand,” at the Seoul Arts Center in southern Seoul, tells the evolution of the definition of “posh” in Britain’s modern history. Organized by the British Council, the exhibition is on a world tour and will go next to Russia and Poland.
Emily Campbell, the head of design promotion at the British Council, is responsible for promoting British designs, education and businesses through the British Council’s network in 110 countries. Ms. Campbell and two speakers, Guy Salter of the luxury leather goods company Tanner Krolle and fashion designer Russell Sage, visited Korea for the exhibition and a seminar, and they stressed the need for understanding the process of how British brands have evolved as “many international brands are struggling to overcome their old, traditional concepts and images.”
The exhibition features aesthetically constructed interior space, which is divided into five important aspects of lifestyle: Town, City, Country, Home and Abroad.
Inspired by the glass castle in the “Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace” in 1851, the British architect Nick Coombe built display booths using transparent materials, such as clear acrylic. Each booth features case studies of traditional British brands which are currently going through renovation: Daks, Pringle, Gerrard, Tanner Krolle, Bentley, Dunhill, among others.
Today, these traditional brands rely on new meanings, which refers to the consumptive behavior of the current social elite who wish to feel “special.” And that specialness isn’t necessarily linked to noble birth, or inherited wealth, but rather to the distant existence of celebrities. The exhibition not only explains quality-oriented tradition but also the need for change in ever-competitive markets. Some brands have gone through total renewal, changed advertising tactics or introduced new products, working with talented designers who can predict trends.
The key is to remember what made the brand unique from the very beginning, highlight the best of the past, make it sensible in a new context and derive stylistic elements that can evoke the feeling of “posh” in the contemporary consumer’s mind. When that works, the brand is no longer boring ― or British.
“Posh: the Evolution of the Traditional British Brand” runs until July 20 in the Seoul Arts Center. The gallery is open from 10 a.m. -6 p.m. daily. The admission is 5,000 won ($4) for adults and 2,000 won for students. For more information, call (02) 580-1537 or visit the British Council Korea’s Web site (www.bckorea.or.kr).
Retooling a venerable, classic brand
Tanner Krolle has been specializing in high-quality leather luxury goods since 1856.
The London-based company handcrafted designs for the well-heeled until the Chanel Group took control of the firm in 1992. One of Tanner Krolle’s bags, called “Circles and Square,” is on display in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The brand has maintained its presence among high-end clients, but has failed to gain wide recognition among trendsetters.
Guy Salter, a retailing and brand-development guru specializing in French and British luxury brands, is among a group that took over Tanner Krolle in 2002. Mr. Salter is also a vice chairman of Walpole, the British luxury goods organization.
He visited Korea recently to unveil plans to make Tanner Krolle one of the most coveted accessories brands among fashionistas.
The JoongAng Daily spoke with Mr. Salter about luxury brands and his plans for Tanner Krolle.
How did you discover Tanner Krolle?
I was traveling in Nepal in the early 1990s. I bought a large canvas hold-all from a street vendor. I liked the shape of it very much. When I returned home, I looked for a craftsman who could make the same bag with high-quality leather. Someone told me about Tanner Krolle. The craftsmen did an excellent job, and even today I cherish my personal Tanner Krolle version of the bag.
What is the true merit of luxury brands?
Luxury brands are globally recognized, and they attract wealthy customers. Brands that display unique designs and timeless qualities can develop loyal customers, which creates the power of recognition. Many luxury brands today maximize profit by designing, manufacturing and retailing their own products. As for French and Italian luxury brands, they continue to prosper with broader selections as the wealthy class expands.
What kind of customers are you targeting?
The old money, those who have inherited wealth. We’re also targeting the very affluent, people with disposable income and international travelers who buy their favorite brands on overseas trips. They’re individualistic, knowledgeable and discerning consumers who are market savvy and quality oriented. They want to stand out and feel rewarded by owning luxury brands.
According to our research, conducted by Saatchi & Saatchi, 60 percent of consumers say, “I like a brand I can trust.” Which means, this business involves not only the economy but also psychology, with the consumer’s emotional state becoming more important.
What does Tanner Krolle offer these consumers?
We have created a premium brand. Our brand should have reasonable prices, accessibility and quality, and it has to be recognized globally. But, the actual product is most important. Tanner Krolle in the old days was suited for the changing mode of traveling ― train, automobile and airplanes. Just like the first Tanner Krolle bags excited the discerning Victorian Londoner, the modern Tanner Krolle should provide the consumer with the spirit of contemporary London. We ask, “What was in the mind of the original founder 150 years ago?” and continue just as things were done.
I’m extremely lucky, having our chief designer, Quentin Mackay. I hired an unknown British designer because I wanted to make both the brand and designer famous and successful. Some time ago, Quentin worked in the Tanner Krolle factory for five years and experimented with his ideas, but his suggestions were rejected. So he went to work for the Spanish brand Loewe, specializing in luxury leather goods. When my offer came, he accepted.
For the 2003 fall/winter collection, Quentin has incorporated inspirations of both the old and new British spirit and culture, using contrasting stitching and colors. There will be new items, such as bags for laptop computers, women’s handbags and updated men’s products. Smaller items, such as coin purses and bracelets, at lower prices will lead to “linked” purchases.
When will the first Tanner Krolle store open in Korea?
Our new concept store has opened in the fashionable district of Bond Street in London. We want fashion editors and the stylish famous to carry our bags, and through the “whispering,” Tanner Krolle will become the hottest thing. Earning “street credit” through editorials and endorsements by celebrities is critically important in launching luxury brands. We’ll distribute them in Britain and the United States, then on to Asia, which will take about three years.
A virtuoso fashions new visions
If Guy Salter, the new managing director of Tanner Krolle, strives to build a luxury brand, Russell Sage, a 34-year-old fashion designer, is known for subverting existing luxury brands.
His collections freely exploit well-known trademarks, such as the Burberry check and Chanel logo.
“I used famous labels because I wanted to see what happens,” the designer said, “because we have the freedom to exploit familiar brands and our new-found identity. Of course, the companies came after me with million-dollar lawsuits. But they knew that I didn’t have any money.”
Since graduating with degrees in fashion and sculpture from Central St. Martins College of Art and Design in 1993, Mr. Sage has created something of a stir in London’s creative circles. He won the British Fashion Council’s prestigious New Generation Award three times, and some of his works have been added to the permanent collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. His association with the National Gallery and high-profile companies, such as Jaguar, Laura Ashley, Top Shop, Waterford and Wedgwood, speaks for his talent and energy.
For his 2004 fall and winter collection, Mr. Sage staged a tableau performance inspired by the works of the 16th-century Italian painter Tiziano Vecellio, better known as Titian. “When the music hit, a model dressed as a leopard lying on the floor stood up and walked the runway,” he said.
Famous for incorporating vintage fabric and Saville Row tailoring, and for manipulating shapes and proportion, he presented sleek yet extremely feminine numbers. His Mackintosh coats featured antique-style prints, his shirt dresses, shown right, had a sexy silhouette, and his jersey dresses demonstrated his superb draping skills.
One skirt had 2,000 hand-painted ceramic disks, which clanged to produce a pleasant sound. This “unwearable” skirt took him six weeks to make.
His recent projects include refurbishing a property owned by the French cognac company, Hine, in southern France.
He said he likes to apply his ideas to different fields, such as advertising, interior and restaurant design.
“I’m not necessarily a fashionable person, but I’m interested in the idea of what’s fashionable and what may be fashionable tomorrow. Like Seoul, London is a place where I can feel the burst of energy of young new designers,” said Mr. Sage, who, in his white shirt and a foulard tie, looked more like a prep-school teacher than an experimental fashion designer.
“Many companies in the United Kingdom feel the need to reawaken the old brands and sell a lot more today,” he continued.
To Mr. Sage, the consciousness of the creator of the brand seemed important. “You are a brand and regarded as a brand, whether you have a brand or not. Brand involves brand awareness and connection,” he said.
He gave an example of the Gucci’s creative director, Tom Ford, who was the clear vision of Gucci in the mid-’90s when the company had practically no value in the market with 2,500 licensing contracts worldwide. “It was one notably tremendous gamble in fashion history, but as it turned out, it was an extraordinary accomplishment of one man’s vision.”
Mr. Sage also recalled Burberry hiring the photographer Mario Testino, who made Burberry check “cool.” It was Burberry’s advertising strategy that the photographer’s friends in fashion circles spoke about the brand and wore the clothes.
“When fashion editors stop wearing Burberry, it’s no longer considered trendy. And I don’t see them wearing Burberry now,” he observed. “So are we seeing the downfall of Burberry? What is being fashionable anyway?”
by Ines Cho