Jörgen Andersson: "Esprit acted like H&M and Zara. That was the big mistake."
Last Tuesday, September 4, Esprit invited 800 guests to celebrate the brand’s new image. Why this date, even though the company's new boss, formerly with Inditex, has not yet taken office and only departing Ronald Van der Vis was available for interviews? Quite simply because of Jörgen Andersson and Jan Nord. The H&M duo joined Esprit in late 2010 to run design and especially shape the brand's image and will now get to see a collection for spring 2013 that is entirely their own rather than just a few of their pieces.
The same goes for Melody Harris-Jensbach, management board member in charge of product development and sourcing, who came from Puma in January. Brand director Jörgen Andersson met with us in Cologne, in the former CEO offices of Gerlinger, the German insurance giant – a huge room in a New York style high-rise. He talked with us in a very relaxed manner about his analysis of Esprit and the market.
FashionMag.com: The effects of your work were visible in the woman's coat cuts for fall 2011. Actually, in a few pieces for this 2011/2012 season.
Jörgen Andersson: Yes. One of the problems of Esprit was definitely that the cuts were too German and not European enough. A brand is not only defined by colors and materials, but above all by the fit.
FM: Yes, but Esprit repeatedly talks about its commitment to quality to differentiate itself.
JA: Quality is defined by such things as cuts and details. In Germany, the notion of quality is the engineer. It is a whole culture, and the products last a long time but the primary quality is the one perceived by consumers. Quality as defined by the engineer is not necessarily perceived by the customer.
FM: Does Esprit ultimately see itself as a chain or a brand?
JA: This is probably the most important question. H&M and Zara are chains that are constantly offering variety and new arrivals. Prada and Ralph Lauren are brands. Now, don't forget that retail also defines a business plan. The Kooples and Comptoir des Cotonniers are brands and are not intended for everyone. Their stores are simply their point of sale, the placement of the product on the market.
FM:What was Esprit's mistake?
JA: Esprit acted like H&M and Zara. That was the big mistake. If the hangers are plastic, you give your collection a cheap image right away. Like the displays at Carrefour or at an artisan baker, plastic and wood. Esprit wanted to follow H&M and Zara but with a different quality.
FM: So it became schizophrenic?
JA: If you ask every passerby, “how do you want me to be?” Yes, you become schizophrenic. Ralph Lauren, who I respect even though I don't buy the product, I understand the identity. We need to be a brand even if the distribution is multi-channel. A brand should especially know what it must not do. No matter what direction it takes.
FM: A bit like some guitar players we recognize even with our eyes closed ...
JA: Exactly. If tomorrow Ralph Lauren starts making cars, I can imagine how they will be, without seeing a single photo. H&M is aimed at everyone. Like Ikea also. Esprit tried to connect with everyone.
FM: So, what is this identity of Esprit?
JA: First, for me, every brand has a gender. Ralph Lauren is masculine and Donna Karan is female. Esprit is a she, a woman, even if she has a husband and friends. This is the starting point.
FM: And 1960s in the United States?
JA: The values of the social revolution are feminine: taking care of each other, ecology. We seek an independent woman, confident. She knows fashion but is not a fashion victim. Fashion is not more important than nature and family. So, our woman is between 32 and 35 years old. That's why Gisèle Bündchen is our ambassador. Even without make-up, she is very classy. Let me go back to the importance of fit. Every season, a woman finds, pants with us, for example – the same cuts but only the colors change. At H&M, if you like a specific cut, well it's too late. The next season everything is new.
FM: But then what is the ideal brand environment?
I think something like the brand Comptoir des Cotonniers. Or consider Merci in Paris. You go inside and it feels like someone is behind the concept. J. Crew, The Kooples or Club Monaco also did a nice job. We do not offer new items every second, but we're in the niche of contemporary fashion.
FM: Yet you come from H&M. What was your first reaction on arriving at Esprit?
JA: In the early stages, you needed to speak to consumers, understand them and above all understand what they expected of Esprit. Then we met several times with Doug and Susie, the founders (the brand was founded in 1968 in San Francisco). Understand the past and seize the present to decide on the direction. Then one thing followed another: planning stores, collections, advertising campaign, website etc. You can relate it all to something, to a signature. That stays constant. We suggest updates on collections. You surf when you're young, and then... In music, I have my favorite albums and they will not change anymore. Like Madonna's mistake, she wanted to tour as if she were seventeen!
FM: And the importance of social media?
JA: The networks are a necessity. But to talk about what? Celine can talk about her sweater, not Esprit. Thus, we have launched initiatives so that people can exchange with each other within our world. The most important is to be connected to social networks.
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