Mulberry

Mulberry

Johnny Coca

You began your career by studying at the National School of Fine Arts and the Ecole Boulle design school in Paris. How did you go from architecture to fashion?
I actually started at an industrial and nautical design school. I then spent five years studying at the School of Fine Arts, the Ecole Boulle and an architecture school in Paris. I think it’s important to not focus on one discipline alone, but to combine architecture, product, furniture and interior design and the technical knowledge I acquired while studying at more industrially-minded design institutions. Fashion was a logical next step.
Can you tell us a bit about your last collection?
It was a long process. When I arrived in July I spent a lot of time getting to know the House’s world, how people worked and the brand’s history which began in 1971. I went to the workshops to see how development was managed, and to visit the archives. The whole journey began with understanding the company, and seeing which direction I wanted to take it in. Mulberry has a more rustic, chilled-out and feminine image, in both its prêt-à-porter and leather goods collections. Drawing on my experience, I wanted to inject a little modernity while respecting the original world created by the English brand. I decided to move slightly away from the “British countryside” aspect and provide a more global vision, focusing on London, art, music and the streets. I drew my inspiration from what I saw in the street, including uniforms, attitudes and even footwear. I wanted to create a more contemporary and more classic woman, with an English twist. These were instinctive references for a strong, eccentric English woman.
Everyone talks about Alessandro Michele from Gucci, who started out in accessories. You were also head of accessories at Céline. Do you think that today’s designers have to come from several different worlds in order to become good artistic directors?
I’ve always done things in stages. I started in leather goods for Vuitton, then I worked in jewellery before going to Céline with Michael Kors. I then moved onto footwear and eyewear. I need to be able to master every category in a sector before moving onto the next one. We know that accessories are a brand’s driving force, and that prêt-à-porter collections are there to reinforce the house’s world. The idea is to create coherence between the accessories and the prêt-à-porter, beyond the brand’s image.
But aren’t people talking about the end of the It bag?
For a while people were so focused on each fashion house’s iconic bags that each fashion house was forced to have one! But the important thing is to create the right product for the company you work for. Then, you have to offer the right functions and uses to go along with it. The It bag wasn’t designed to be what it became. The consumers decided on their own to make it an iconic piece. Of course, some companies just push the design process to get products made. But you can’t just create an iconic bag. Customers always expect something different when it comes to function, volume, treatment and materials. And each house should follow its own codes in order to design unique products.
Do you think you’re under a lot more pressure now the first collection is done? How does it affect your work?
Whatever you’re doing it’s important to spend a proper amount of time on it. I’m against this system that tries to speed up the design process to accelerate sales. Creatively speaking, you need time to digest everything. Everyone thinks the rhythm is imposed by the system, but you can always decide to do things your own way. If I decide it’s impossible to have any perspective when I’m forced to design between four and six collections per year, it’s my choice. I think it’s hard to design the right product with just three or four months to come up with something. If I don’t think the product is of a high enough quality, I prefer to wait until next season. That way you don’t have any regrets. You can’t put take on too much external pressure. We all do that to ourselves anyway! It’s essential to keep the fashion world magical.
"Everyone thinks the rhythm is imposed by the system, but you can always decide to do things your own way. If I decide it’s impossible to have any perspective when I’m forced to design between four and six collections per year, it’s my choice." [Mulberry]
So there won’t be any “see-now-buy- now” at Mulberry then?
That approach was a way
for certain brands to make a name for themselves. I’m still waiting to see what they’re going to do.
It would be better to say “here are the pieces, and you’ll be able to buy them in six weeks’ time, no sooner!” But the customers ultimately
decide what they want, and when. Changing the current rhythm would be a chance to overturn the system and the immense pressure it puts on the fashion industry. It would also mean we could anticipate purchases and production. And sometimes, at the last minute just after the show, you decide the pieces aren’t right, and don’t want to sell them. At the moment you’re forced to impose the products you have. There is no time to digest anything or to reflect. I think we have to create desirability, and give people time to see all the collections and think about them. The see-now-buy-now concept treats customers like milking cows. Of course, this system can work when applied to important pieces the designer is sure to keep, as it’s also vital to give these pieces longevity. The clothes and accessories offered immediately after the show play an central role, but the concept can’t be applied to everything.
There is in fact talk of ill-advised pricing policies, which damaged Mulberry for a while as the brand turned its back on its young and European client base. Are you looking to return to a more affordable offering?
There were a few unfortunate events under the former CEO, but they were all strategic choices. It’s essential to understand how to fix the right price/quality ratio and remain reasonable. We’re not here to get rich quick. I oversee everything that happens here. I always put myself in the customer’s shoes, and ask myself if I would want to buy each piece. Today we’re closer to the pricing from before, and are focused on honesty and fairness. That being said, the price is not something that holds back the design itself.
Mulberry is revisiting its Instagram and setting itself up on Snapchat. Is buying into the social networks inevitable?
I don’t personally have Facebook or Instagram, but it’s a good idea for a fashion house to offer an image and a direction to the public. A lot of customers want to know all about the newest products, and when a brand doesn’t have an international network of boutiques they have to offer the client a way of browsing new products and buying online. You shouldn’t overdo it, but the social networks are an efficient communication channel which can also be used to display a brand’s image. That’s the system we find ourselves in today. Smartphones are everywhere. This is our age.
Today many people criticize designers who focus more on their image and selling a concept than creating clothing. What do you think about it?
I teach at Central Saint Martins, and I advise my students to exteriorise their world, creatively speaking. When you meet a new designer, the thing that sets them apart is their particular creative side. They aren’t asked to churn out commercial pieces, but to show what they can bring to the market, what makes them better than the others.
An increasing number of brand are combining menswear and womenswear collections in their shows. Does menswear have a place at Mulberry?
I’ve certainly put a lot of thought into menswear. Mulberry is in a legitimate position as when it was founded there was already a selection of prêt-à-porter menswear. But we need to take our time to do things right.
How do you see the future of your brand? What are you objectives in terms of growth and creation?
Mulberry is entering into a new age, both in terms of its image (I worked on branding, packaging and the web) and its international dimension.
The majority of our business is on the English market. We do have an enormous number of boutiques in Europe and the United States, but two-thirds of our activity is in England. We now have to look at developing in Asia, Europe and the USA. From a creative point of view this new approach is fascinating, as I have to design products that appeal to an international market. When I arrived I thought it was important to develop prêt-à- porter, shoes and jewellery, as they consolidate to form a truly global message. We chose to partner up with Onward Luxury Group, who offer know-how for questions of quality and price. I wanted to do everything right to ensure the brand enjoyed as much credibility as possible. We’re working with a large-scale structure, which is reassuring. I’m also responsible for everything that happens after the design process. And now we have signed with the right partners, we can focus on developing extensively for the future.
From issue #4 by Aurore Hennion
Portrait by David Bailey

Mulberry

Johnny Coca

You began your career by studying at the National School of Fine Arts and the Ecole Boulle design school in Paris. How did you go from architecture to fashion?
I actually started at an industrial and nautical design school. I then spent five years studying at the School of Fine Arts, the Ecole Boulle and an architecture school in Paris. I think it’s important to not focus on one discipline alone, but to combine architecture, product, furniture and interior design and the technical knowledge I acquired while studying at more industrially-minded design institutions. Fashion was a logical next step.
Can you tell us a bit about your last collection?
It was a long process. When I arrived in July I spent a lot of time getting to know the House’s world, how people worked and the brand’s history which began in 1971. I went to the workshops to see how development was managed, and to visit the archives. The whole journey began with understanding the company, and seeing which direction I wanted to take it in. Mulberry has a more rustic, chilled-out and feminine image, in both its prêt-à-porter and leather goods collections. Drawing on my experience, I wanted to inject a little modernity while respecting the original world created by the English brand. I decided to move slightly away from the “British countryside” aspect and provide a more global vision, focusing on London, art, music and the streets. I drew my inspiration from what I saw in the street, including uniforms, attitudes and even footwear. I wanted to create a more contemporary and more classic woman, with an English twist. These were instinctive references for a strong, eccentric English woman.
Everyone talks about Alessandro Michele from Gucci, who started out in accessories. You were also head of accessories at Céline. Do you think that today’s designers have to come from several different worlds in order to become good artistic directors?
I’ve always done things in stages. I started in leather goods for Vuitton, then I worked in jewellery before going to Céline with Michael Kors. I then moved onto footwear and eyewear. I need to be able to master every category in a sector before moving onto the next one. We know that accessories are a brand’s driving force, and that prêt-à-porter collections are there to reinforce the house’s world. The idea is to create coherence between the accessories and the prêt-à-porter, beyond the brand’s image.
But aren’t people talking about the end of the It bag?
For a while people were so focused on each fashion house’s iconic bags that each fashion house was forced to have one! But the important thing is to create the right product for the company you work for. Then, you have to offer the right functions and uses to go along with it. The It bag wasn’t designed to be what it became. The consumers decided on their own to make it an iconic piece. Of course, some companies just push the design process to get products made. But you can’t just create an iconic bag. Customers always expect something different when it comes to function, volume, treatment and materials. And each house should follow its own codes in order to design unique products.
Do you think you’re under a lot more pressure now the first collection is done? How does it affect your work?
Whatever you’re doing it’s important to spend a proper amount of time on it. I’m against this system that tries to speed up the design process to accelerate sales. Creatively speaking, you need time to digest everything. Everyone thinks the rhythm is imposed by the system, but you can always decide to do things your own way. If I decide it’s impossible to have any perspective when I’m forced to design between four and six collections per year, it’s my choice. I think it’s hard to design the right product with just three or four months to come up with something. If I don’t think the product is of a high enough quality, I prefer to wait until next season. That way you don’t have any regrets. You can’t put take on too much external pressure. We all do that to ourselves anyway! It’s essential to keep the fashion world magical.
"Everyone thinks the rhythm is imposed by the system, but you can always decide to do things your own way. If I decide it’s impossible to have any perspective when I’m forced to design between four and six collections per year, it’s my choice." [Mulberry]
So there won’t be any “see-now-buy- now” at Mulberry then?
That approach was a way
for certain brands to make a name for themselves. I’m still waiting to see what they’re going to do.
It would be better to say “here are the pieces, and you’ll be able to buy them in six weeks’ time, no sooner!” But the customers ultimately
decide what they want, and when. Changing the current rhythm would be a chance to overturn the system and the immense pressure it puts on the fashion industry. It would also mean we could anticipate purchases and production. And sometimes, at the last minute just after the show, you decide the pieces aren’t right, and don’t want to sell them. At the moment you’re forced to impose the products you have. There is no time to digest anything or to reflect. I think we have to create desirability, and give people time to see all the collections and think about them. The see-now-buy-now concept treats customers like milking cows. Of course, this system can work when applied to important pieces the designer is sure to keep, as it’s also vital to give these pieces longevity. The clothes and accessories offered immediately after the show play an central role, but the concept can’t be applied to everything.
There is in fact talk of ill-advised pricing policies, which damaged Mulberry for a while as the brand turned its back on its young and European client base. Are you looking to return to a more affordable offering?
There were a few unfortunate events under the former CEO, but they were all strategic choices. It’s essential to understand how to fix the right price/quality ratio and remain reasonable. We’re not here to get rich quick. I oversee everything that happens here. I always put myself in the customer’s shoes, and ask myself if I would want to buy each piece. Today we’re closer to the pricing from before, and are focused on honesty and fairness. That being said, the price is not something that holds back the design itself.
Mulberry is revisiting its Instagram and setting itself up on Snapchat. Is buying into the social networks inevitable?
I don’t personally have Facebook or Instagram, but it’s a good idea for a fashion house to offer an image and a direction to the public. A lot of customers want to know all about the newest products, and when a brand doesn’t have an international network of boutiques they have to offer the client a way of browsing new products and buying online. You shouldn’t overdo it, but the social networks are an efficient communication channel which can also be used to display a brand’s image. That’s the system we find ourselves in today. Smartphones are everywhere. This is our age.
Today many people criticize designers who focus more on their image and selling a concept than creating clothing. What do you think about it?
I teach at Central Saint Martins, and I advise my students to exteriorise their world, creatively speaking. When you meet a new designer, the thing that sets them apart is their particular creative side. They aren’t asked to churn out commercial pieces, but to show what they can bring to the market, what makes them better than the others.
An increasing number of brand are combining menswear and womenswear collections in their shows. Does menswear have a place at Mulberry?
I’ve certainly put a lot of thought into menswear. Mulberry is in a legitimate position as when it was founded there was already a selection of prêt-à-porter menswear. But we need to take our time to do things right.
How do you see the future of your brand? What are you objectives in terms of growth and creation?
Mulberry is entering into a new age, both in terms of its image (I worked on branding, packaging and the web) and its international dimension.
The majority of our business is on the English market. We do have an enormous number of boutiques in Europe and the United States, but two-thirds of our activity is in England. We now have to look at developing in Asia, Europe and the USA. From a creative point of view this new approach is fascinating, as I have to design products that appeal to an international market. When I arrived I thought it was important to develop prêt-à- porter, shoes and jewellery, as they consolidate to form a truly global message. We chose to partner up with Onward Luxury Group, who offer know-how for questions of quality and price. I wanted to do everything right to ensure the brand enjoyed as much credibility as possible. We’re working with a large-scale structure, which is reassuring. I’m also responsible for everything that happens after the design process. And now we have signed with the right partners, we can focus on developing extensively for the future.
From issue #4 by Aurore Hennion
Portrait by David Bailey