The Webster's Laure Hériard-Dubreuil: "Retail isn't dead!"
After recently moving to Los Angeles, French businesswoman Laure Hériard-Dubreuil, founder of The Webster, talked to FashionNetwork.com about The Webster’s success and future plans, in the wake of the opening of the physical and online multibrand retailer’s seventh US store, in Los Angeles.
FashionNetwork.com: You have recently opened your seventh US store in Los Angeles, in a venue with unique architecture.
Laure Hériard-Dubreuil: The premises had been home to a Hard Rock Café, then a grubby steak house, but have been transformed by architect Sir David Adjaye, his first commission in California. He turned it into a cathedral-like spacecraft of a building, with imposing pink columns - pink is The Webster's signature colour - the walls of the outer dome featuring a film installation by artist Khalil Joseph.
FNW: Why did you choose the Beverly Center as the home for your new store?
LDH: Everyone advised me to find a discreet location. I did the opposite. The Beverly Center straddles Beverly Hills and West Hollywood, and is a very popular venue. Ease of access and convenience are key in Los Angeles, and [at the Beverly Center] we also have a valet parking service, making it easier to visit us.
FNW: How did The Webster begin?
LDH: It all began in Miami in 2007 with a series of temporary stores, the first wave of pop-up shops. The name ‘Webster’ comes from a long-established Art Deco hotel in Miami, The Webster Hotel, where the first store was located. I kept the name for the stores that followed, and adopted the pink flamingo as a mascot, a nod to ‘Miami Vice’.
FNW: You left Miami to move to New York, and now Los Angeles, why?
LDH: I was born in Cognac, France, [a member of the Hériard-Dubreuil’s family that owns the Rémy Martin group], and I went to Miami for the Art Basel [contemporary art fair]. I loved Miami’s energy and decided to settle in the city, at a time when there were no edgy multibrand fashion stores there. Few believed The Webster would be a success, but things worked out and I opened a second store in the Bal Harbor shopping mall, north of Miami.
FNW: Why is The Webster successful, in your opinion?
LDH: Our strength lies in our highly curated selection of labels. Many customers discover or re-discover designers - picking among some 50 names, including Rhude, Gucci, Chloé, Burberry, Loewe, Off-White, Acne Studios, Etudes, Ami and Heron Preston - thanks to The Webster. Our approach is to feature looks that often combine different labels, we don’t have sections dedicated to individual brands, except in the case of single-label events, as with Etudes recently. This approach is an essential element of our success, as is our stores’ décor, making for unique shopping experiences.
FNW: Which direction are you taking in terms of label selection at The Webster?
LDH: The Webster’s is a new, contemporary approach to luxury fashion, with a penchant for matching items by leading labels with others by emerging designers, and for featuring ever-green looks you can wear any time.
FNW: Do you believe in the future of retailing?
LDH: I opened the first store when everyone was saying “retail is dead”, and when going online was the only way to catch attention. I don’t think retail is dead. With The Webster, I’ve introduced a new retailing style: personalised premises, private residence-like stores where customers feel at home and art plays an important role, where time stands still and customers can indulge in ‘Pretty Woman’ fancies, look after themselves and discover new artworks, all at their leisure.
FNW: Which strategy did you adopt?
LDH: I have built a genuine network in the USA, with seven stores in total: in Miami, Bal Harbor, Sawgrass Mills (an outlet mall in Miami), Houston, South Coast Plaza (in Orange County), New York, where I also developed a Home Interior Design line, and now Los Angeles. We are working on other projects, possibly in Asia, since Los Angeles is a gateway to other markets in that continent.
FNW: You recently appointed Laurent Malacaze as CEO of The Webster, what were your intentions?
LHD: It was a natural choice. The Webster is growing, and so are its sales. [Malacaze] has been with The Webster for a long time, we are perfectly complementary and work very closely together. I can rely on him. And I can focus on label curation and event organisation.
FNW: What other plans do you have?
LHD: Growing the e-tail business is one of our priorities. It currently accounts for 20% of sales and there is room to expand. After childrenswear, we will introduce new home decoration categories. Stéphane Parmentier, the former creative director of Christofle and of home decoration at [Parisian department store] Le Printemps, is in charge of this category. Beauty also has an increasingly extensive presence.
FNW: LHD is your first private label. What scope do you have in mind for it?
LHD: The line was launched two years ago, when we opened the New York store. It’s an expression of myself, distinctive for its prints, amusing and easy to wear, and it’s good value for money [as products are made in China]. Each collection is dedicated to a travel or holiday destination. We began by distributing it in the wholesale channel, but we soon refocused on selling exclusively via The Webster, both in-store and online.
FNW: Are you planning to open a The Webster store in France?
LHD: I’m regularly asked this question, but for the time being the US market absorbs all our energy. It's a huge market. We are interested in Asia and Europe. I’ve previously worked on projects notably with Le Bon Marché and the Ritz, and others may follow.
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