Brands to watch | Marketing & Brand Strategy | Trans Tasman

Navigating fashion’s rocky retail road


First published in Fairfax NZ Business on 14 January 2014 

Over the last few weeks I’ve been browsing up a storm at online fashion retailers around the world, comparing the goods and winter sales of favourite designers at Barneys, Matches, Browns, Outnet, SSense and many more.

This may go down as the first year that my enjoyment of browsing online has definitively surpassed that of shopping in the physical world. There’s simply no single store or shopping complex that comes close to offering the choice were all now used to online.

Many Australian fashion brands have packed it in, either by choice or by economic force. Last year that list included Collette Dinnigan, Lisa Ho, Kirilly Johnson and T.L. Wood. Just one week into 2014, George Gross and Harry Who have called it a day. There will be more casualties.

So as the year begins and I return to my office in the boutique-shopping strip of Melbourne’s Hawskburn, I’m genuinely concerned for Australian, and also New Zealand, fashion brands, and in particular labels at the premium end.

In the good times, many Antipodean labels’ prices crept up into luxury European fashion house territory. The base line seemed to move to several hundred dollars for any woman’s item, regardless of quality. But now we have access to more designers than we know what to do with, including European uber labels at sale prices often cheaper than the local stuff. It means the locals have a hell of a fight on their hands to prove their worth.

One designer that I feel nervous for is Trelise Cooper, one of New Zealand’s best-known fashion exports to Australia. Trelise Cooper is on my radar this year not only because my mother has been a fan of her clothing since it first launched, but for the fact that my office is almost next door to her Melbourne boutique.

I’ve been pondering about Cooper’s brand over the last few years and can’t shake the feeling that it may be on a precipitous edge here in Australia. I’m hoping my gut feel is wrong on this one and they are merely facing bumps in the road. One of the big questions I keep asking myself is: who is Trelise Cooper’s core customer these days?

Once upon a time Cooper enjoyed a fierce loyalty from the older, bolder woman who didn’t want to be wallflower and was a bit of a fashion risk taker. The prices went up year-by-year and Trelise Cooper entered high premium territory. Suddenly you’d be lucky to find anything under $300.

Next came the brand extensions. So many over the years: Cooper by Trelise, Coop, Boardroom, Trelise Cooper Kids, Trelise Cooper Interiors. Some of these are no longer, despite still being featured on the website. You can now buy a simple shift dress from the mainline collection for $650, the Cooper by Trelise line for $500 and the Coop line for $300.

With each extension, Cooper seems to be aiming younger and the price is getting lower (while far from low), as she reaches out to the daughters of her original loyal customer base. No matter the marketing, Trelise Cooper is still “mum’s brand” to me – even if my mum stopped buying from her several years ago, feeling the clothes weren’t aimed at her any longer and had started becoming less extraordinary for the prices being charged.

I hope this year Trelise Cooper returns to her roots and designs for the older woman in her signature edgy, brash style – and thinks about dropping those prices. Perhaps Coop prices for the Trelise Cooper collection. Not enough designers respect and make clothes that flatter the older woman and the real shape. Trelise Cooper used to own that space.

Otherwise the brand will continue to go up against those international premium designers like Marni, Dries Van Noten, Rick Owens and, in Australia, Cooper may not win the fight.

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